Many dog owners today treat their dogs like family members and consequently, they consider a wide range of important variables, other than price, when selecting a diet for their dog. Now a team of researchers at the University of Guelph has found that dog owners who are on gluten-free, organic or grain-free diets are likely to look for the same characteristics in the dry dog food they purchase.
“Grain-free brands make up more than 40% of dry dog foods available in the United States,” said Sydney Banton, a master’s student in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph.
“We wanted to identify the variables that predict why dog owners choose grain-free food for their pet.”
The scientists surveyed 3,300 pet owners from Canada, the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
Participants were asked where they get their information about dog food, where they buy it and the most important factors in their choices.
Just over 215 said they look for ‘no grain’ as an attribute that influences their purchase.
Dog owners in Germany showed the highest preference for grain-free dog food at 30%, followed by 27% in the United States, 22% in Canada and 8% in France.
“The pet food industry is highly influenced by human trends and what pet owners believe about nutrition,” said Dr. Anna Kate Shoveller, also from the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph.
“Researchers focused on pet food innovations for dogs and cats must consider consumer trends and try to supply the best food formulations for consumers’ beliefs.”
“We felt to best understand the risks associated with feeding a pet food formula without grains and with legumes, we should understand the consumers that chose that food and whether they do anything else that may put their dogs at risk for secondary metabolic disorders, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).”
“While some pet owners feed their dogs diets similar to their own, it is unclear why vegetarian or vegan pet owners would choose grain-free for their dog,” Banton said.
“And while most European and North American food-based dietary guidelines recommend consuming whole grains as part of a healthy diet, grains are perceived as unhealthy for dogs by many pet owners.”
“This is happening despite there being no scientific evidence that grains are detrimental to the health of dogs. Marketing strategies in the pet industry may be influencing these attitudes.”
“Research can provide a lot of scientific evidence for the development of pet foods, but it comes down to what the consumer decides,” Dr. Shoveller said.
“They are the one making the choice at the pet store.”
“If we can understand fully how they make decisions, we are better able bridge the gap in knowledge and assist them to make the right choices.”
The results were published in the journal PLoS ONE.
S. Banton et al. 2021. Grains on the brain: A survey of dog owner purchasing habits related to grain-free dry dog foods. PLoS ONE 16 (5): e0250806; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250806