By ALMA J. BUELVA
St. Louis, MO – Top Purina executives prefer that cats eat more wet food. They say wet food improves cats overall hydration, promotes lean body mass and adds more variety and excitement to their meals.
In an exclusive conference for cat owners here, Dr. Kurt Venator, Purina's Chief Veterinary Officer, and Dr. Janet Jackson, Vice President and Director of Research and Development, stressed the benefits of wet cat food in meeting the nutritional needs of cats.
“Feeding (an animal) is a nurturing moment,” says Venator. “Our science-based approach to pet food is designed to help cats live longer as we develop them to be highly digestible and high in protein.”
In the United States today, over 70 percent of cat owners feed their cats both wet and dry food. When cats suffer from diabetes, urinary and renal diseases, veterinarians tend to prescribe strictly wet cat food, said Venator.
“One in every 200 cats has diabetes. A high-protein wet diet can manage diabetes in cats. Renal issues in cats are not really due to the rich protein in their diet, but the high phosphorus level in their food,” he added.
Wet cat food is very good for kittens and senior cats, Jackson said.
“High-protein found in wet cat food promotes strong muscles, cat body construction, fat mass, bone mass and lean body mass. (Without it) so much is lost during a kitten's formative years, while senior cats lose body mass as they age,” she said.
Muscles, ligaments, bones, organs and more are all considered lean body mass or LBM.
Wet food also complements a cat's water intake. Venator said an average cat needs about 20 teaspoons of water per day, but most get only 3/100 per lap of their tongue.
“Our study shows cats that eat wet food is more hydrated. A cat's body is made up of 60 percent water, so they need water to maintain that level to stay healthy, to help them eliminate body waste and to keep their body temperature normal,” he said.
Feeding wet cat food doesn't replace water, but it can help improve overall hydration, said Jackson who has been with the company for 29 years and has worked on over 30 Purina products.
“Feeding a combination of wet and dry food, rather than just dry, is a great way to help cats get more water which helps keep their muscle mass even as they age,” she added.
Both experts pointed out that wet cat food has at least 65 percent or more moisture content, is highly digestible and is 100 percent complete and balanced. It contains all the same essential nutrients as dry food, including vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc and biotin. As cats eat by smelling their food first, the aroma from quality wet food can be irresistible even for finicky cats, they said.
But the choice between wet or dry food is really up to the cat. A wet diet provides cats with extra moisture while dry meals have dental benefits. The best option is perhaps to feed cats both as it also means having variety to keep cats interested, Venator said.
Jackson added that a cat which has been exposed to both kind of food will not reject either as it grows old.
While some cat owners serve wet food as a form of treat, Jackson said it can be given on a regular basis. Feeding amount would vary per cat, especially those that also eat dry kibble. Purina's suggestion is one 3-ounce can per 3 to 3-1/2 pounds of body weight daily for an average-sized adult cat.
Unlike dry food that can be left in bowls for a long period of time without spoiling, wet food cannot sit out for more than a half hour to an hour. Any leftover should be refrigerated and then be allowed to come up to room temperature before serving it again.
Venator said feline-eating behavior is anchored on nutrition and palatability, which is why "we put a tremendous amount of science in every bag or can of Purina product.”
Purina has over 500 scientists such as PhDs, immunologists, veterinarians and toxicologists who are looking at nutrition and the quality and purpose of every single ingredient.
“The level of rigor we put on our product is very high,” said Venator.
SOME key consumer behavioral changes of late toward pet foods are expected to continue as the market continues to zero in on high quality pet food.
Reports published by PetFood Industry underscored the importance of developing pet foods produced as much as possible in the same high standards as human food. The more pets become humanized, the more consumers become discerning that they now carefully read the fine prints in every bag of cat or dog food before they buy or serve it to their pets.
Overall, PetFood Industry believes the following trends will shape the pet food industry in the next 12 months.
1. Natural vs. Processed
Pet foods that are described using words like scientific or lab-tested could cause consumers to shy away from it. What inspires positive feeling are descriptive words such as organic, sustainable, family-owned, humane and environment-friendly as they suggest that the ingredients used were ethically raised and treated. Also, mentions of “no preservatives” or “no genetically modified ingredients” in pet foods put consumers at ease. The less processing it takes to make the pet food, the better.
Malunggay or moringa is a superfood that is common in the Philippines. Many pet owners who prepare their own pet food usually add moringa and other vegetables like pumpkin to their home-made treat. Commercial pet food that claim to be enriched with superfood such as kale, chia, sweet potato, kelp, broccoli, carrots, apple and raw honey should enjoy some good sales this year.
3. Limited Ingredient Diets (LID)
PetFood Industry believes the market's focus on LID this year will grow further. LID foods became popular as they are supposed to ward off food allergies in pets. As pet owners learn to scrutinize every ingredient that goes into their pet's food, the more they gravitate towards the specialized LID products.
4. Health is wealth
Because veterinary care isn't cheap, demand for holistic diets for pets is on the rise. This opens opportunities for pet food manufacturers to come up with variants that address different aspects of pet health such as related to cognitive nutrition, anti-inflammatory nutrition, lifestyle nutrition and others, said PetFood Industry.
5. Certified ingredients
Consumers prefer to buy pet foods with ingredients that are familiar or have been duly certified by a credible independent industry or government body. Certifications are a clear way to inform consumers about the way in which a food or ingredient is produced. Casual claims of reduced or absence of unnecessary additives or other frowned at ingredients don't satisfy consumers anymore who demand transparency which they hope to find when they read the labels, PetFood Industry's report states.
6. Grain-free and raw diets
Grain-free and raw diets are here to stay, said CEO Scott Glover of Mid America Pet Food, in an interview with PetFood Industry. But Glover believes raw diets, in particular, will always play a very small percentage of the overall market.
“When it comes down to it, the foods that are going to be here for the long term are those that offer good ‘nutritional values’ to the pet owner and those brands that keep their formulas up to date with the latest scientific advancements,” Glover added.
Meanwhile, BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) will show further growth, particularly in Western Europe, but isn't likely to grow beyond the stage of an interesting niche, said PetFood Industry.
RESEARCHERS in Chapman University in Orange, California in October 2014 discovered that a lot of commercial dog and cat food are being mislabeled based on their DNA analysis of food samples.
The tests, which were initially conducted to find out if horse meat was being used in pet foods, showed that of the 52 food samples almost 40 percent had a meat, usually pork, that was not listed on the label. While 31 have been labeled correctly, 20 were mislabeled and one with an unidentifiable meat substance.
TODAY interviewed assistant professor Rosalee Hellberg, co-author of the study, who said some products even claim to have beef as a number one ingredient but had no no beef in the product at all. Hellberg said the issue of mislabeling occurs less in wet pet food.
Giving manufacturers and resellers the benefit of the doubt, the researchers claim the mislabeling could be either accidental or intentional. Still, Hellberg said it could be a form of economic fraud considering the billions of money people spend on pet food every year. In addition, the mislabeling of pet foods could have dire consequences to a pet with food allergens.
TODAY said the Chapman report did not include a list of the products tested or those that were found to be potentially mislabeled as it was supposed to be an industry study that is not meant to single out particular pet food brands.
In reaction to the Chapman report, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued this statement: “Consumers should be able to trust that what is on the label is in the product. Pet foods do not require the FDA’s approval before being marketed; however, all ingredients are required to be listed on the label using their common or usual name. The FDA has taken action in the past when ingredients are not properly listed on the label or when one ingredient is substituted for another ingredient.”