14 August 2012

You Are What You Eat - Pedigree Feeding Trial Pt I

When it comes to dog food, there is a myriad of choices for owners, matched equally by a  whole host of opinions (depending on who you talk to) on what you should and shouldn't feed.  I'll admit, I've always been pretty sceptical of the big brands - especially those that you can buy in the supermarket.

That scepticism is partly due to the 20+ years I've worked in marketing. Whilst I may not have worked for a major FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brand, I can't help but have my marketing radar on alert when a new dog food hits the shelves. It's such a competitive market and it's easy to be suckered in by clever advertising and pretty packaging.

In reality, the UK pet food market is dominated by two main companies - Nestlé Purina and Mars Petcare. These two, well known,companies are estimated to command around two thirds of the dog food market and around 80% of the cat food market*.

Pedigree's new 'Vital Protection' food
Some of our most well-known dog foods are either produced or owned by these companies.  Bakers Complete, Winalot, Purina Proplan and BETA are all owned by NestlĂ© Purina and Royal Canin, James Wellbeloved, Chappie, Cesar and Pedigree are all owned by Mars Petcare.

Then add to this, newer brands (in relative terms) such as Burns, Lily's Kitchen, Bob & Lush, Acana, Orijen, Markus Muehle, Barking Heads, Applaws and not forgetting the BARF (biologically appropriate real/raw food); it's no wonder that many pet owners plump for something they can pick up with the weekly shopping.

Personally, I've never been a huge fan of the brands available in the supermarket. Yes, I may buy the occasional treat but more often than not, I'll make my own treats and I buy the hounds' food direct from the wholesaler.  Mina is intolerant of many foods (you don't want to know what bones or cereal do to her!) so she is on a cereal free kibble, whilst Stevie and Jasper are currently on Autarky (I wish I could afford to feed them a higher end kibble, but unfortunately I can't and a BARF diet isn't practical for us in our current situation).

As part of my university studies, I've been introduced to canine nutrition and next year I'll be studying a whole module on canine nutrition and behaviour.  So, when I was invited to attend the Waltham Pet Centre (where all the research into Mars Petcare and nutrition takes place), I jumped at the chance.  I was eager to see what went on behind the scenes and also ask some questions about pet food - mainly why is there so much cereal in today's foods?

A handy resource for my studies
Despite what I may think of such a global brand as Mars, I couldn't help but be impressed by their facilities and the research that has been published as a result.  It was the scientists at Waltham who, back in 1982, made the discovery about the amino acid, taurine, and its place in the cat's diet. Taurine is an essential amino acid which means that cats cannot synthesize it within their bodies and as such it needs to be provided by their diet.

They've also undertaken some recent research into safe upper limit vitamin A levels with puppies (something that is really of interest to me due to my puppy school classes).  The paper is  Morris,P.J. et al (2012) Safety evaluation of vitamin A in growing dogs. British Journal of Nutrition / FirstView Article / August2012, pp 1-10

What is really handy though, is their pocket book of essential nutrition for cats and dogs (pictured) as it provides a breakdown of what is required in both the diets for both cats and dogs. It will certainly be useful for my uni studies.

One of the outcomes of my visit to Waltham was the opportunity for Stevie to take part in a 3 month feeding trial**. Pedigree has just launched Vital Protection - available as a complete dried or wet food - and the trial involves feeding Stevie a mix of the wet and dry food. I'll blog more about in future posts and will share how the trial is going along with details of what's in the food and other things I learned whilst at Waltham.

*Mintel Cat and dog food, UK, report – March 2010
**Disclosure: I have been provided with  3 months' supply of Vital Protection food by Pedigree  as part of a feeding trial.  I have not been paid for my views and all views expressed are my own.

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