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Pet food attitudes quantified courtesy of Nestle-Purina dollars…and vet student legwork

Posted Jan 14 2009 5:47pm

Got a dog or a cat? Check. What do you feed him/her/them? Check. Would you say that more than half their diet comes from commercial foods? Check. Do you trust your veterinarian’s advice on diet and nutrition? Check.

In the Dec 1st, 2008 edition of JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) there’s a short paper describing pet owner attitudes towards pet foods, nutrition and feeding.

Funded by Nestle-Purina and executed by five different veterinary schools (Penn, Tufts, Queensland, Michigan and UC Davis), the study is based on a large-scale telephone survey conducted by veterinary students.

In it, 1,104 owners spoke for 635 dogs and 469 cats on a wide variety of subjects related to their pets’ diets. They were then stratified into two additional camps based on whether they reported they fed their pets a mostly commercial or mostly non-commercial diet.

Among the 25 questions, which owners had to agree or disagree with on a scale of one to five, were the following:

•    “I want to provide my pet with the best care possible.”

•    “I do not trust veterinarians to provide sound nutritional advice.”

•    “Dogs (or cats) are carnivores so they need a meat-based diet.”

•    “Dogs (or cats) need a variety of different foods.”

•    “Processed foods for pets are unhealthy.”

•    “I trust pet food manufacturers to provide nutritionally sound, quality products.”

•    “I enjoy preparing food for my pets.”

Interesting survey. I wish I could offer it to all of you. The best I can do, however, is refer you to the paper's abstract. Any of you really interested parties can pay a fee on the JAVMA website to receive the entire article.

In case you’re wondering, the goal of the survey is purportedly to clue in the average veterinarian to the shocking revelation that some pet owners—particularly the ones most likely to feed non-commercial diets—often do not trust pet food companies and may even disparage their very own veterinary nutritional recommendations.

And here’s the end of the concluding paragraph under “Clinical Summary”: “These data suggest that there is an association between pet owners’ concerns about commercial pet foods and the practice of feeding substantial amounts of home-prepared foods to cats and dogs. Veterinary health-care professionals need the capability and confidence to address issues of pet owners related to proper diet and feeding management of companion animals, including concerns about commercial pet foods, especially when a dietary history reveals that the pets are fed alternatives to conventional pet foods.”

Now, this all may seem like a no-brainer conclusion, but an unspecified number of veterinary students in five institutions made over 18,000 calls to get this data. For this reason alone, I do not want to disparage this study—much less its obvious findings. After all, even the obvious becomes significant once it’s been included in a respected journal’s annals.

I’m also gratified to read that the focus is on what veterinarians should do, though I’d be even more gratified if I could believe that the study was designed by the veterinary faculty and that the students were paid a fair hourly wage to conduct this study. After all, this is market research these vet students were engaged in. It’s information that benefits Purina economically and enhances its reputation among veterinarians.

But there’s one more little thing that irks—and maybe that’s just because of my personal slant as a non-commercial feeder—I do detect a whiff of a bias in the closing arguments. And it’s not in favor of feeders like me.

Or am I just being overly sensitive?

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