Pet Food and Health: The Veterinary Angle

Pet Food and Health: The Veterinary Angle

A good indication of the prevalence of pet pampering is that a substantial majority of dog owners (77%) and cat owners (71%) get special gifts or treats for their pets during the Christmas/Winter holiday season, reports Packaged Facts in the new report Veterinary Services in the U.S.: Competing for the Pet Care Customer, 2nd Edition. Despite the growing importance of health-based nutritional claims in the pet food market, pet pampering can be a countervailing force—especially when dogs and cats (including senior pets) won’t eat the healthy food their owners well-meaningly buy and pay a premium for.

Packaged Facts survey data show that while only a small percentage of dog and cat owners indicate that their pets do not like the taste of their food, a larger percentage (about one-third) only somewhat agree that their pet “loves the taste of its food.”

While pet pampering and pet foods with high taste-appeal unambiguously drive market sales growth, the problem lies in the prevalence of overweight and obese pets. Although pet overweight/obesity is largely preventable, most pet owners don’t recognize—or want to admit—that their pet is overweight.

Packaged Facts survey data indicate that only 13% of dog owners and 19% of cat owners consider their pets to be overweight. In fact, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention’s 11th annual survey, conducted in October 2018, pet weight problems/obesity affects 60% of cats and 56% of dogs. The APOP survey found that 26% of cats and 37% of dogs were overweight (body condition score (BCS 6-7), while an additional 34% of cats and 19% of dogs were obese (BCS 8-9), representing an estimated 50 million dogs and 56 million cats that are above a healthy weight.

As with pet health choices generally, veterinarians should play a proactive role in guiding their customers to balanced choices.

While dollar-wise pet food is small potatoes within the veterinary sector, it’s essential for vets not to overlook the importance of pet food and pet feeding and treat-ing patterns to animal health.

Even in companion-animal exclusive veterinary practices, according to data from the 2018 AVMA Market for Veterinary Services Report, food sales account for only 4% of total revenues. Nonetheless, the top pet owner question about pet care generally, and pet health care specifically, is what to feed their pets.

With a new degree of intensity, today’s dog and cat owners want their pets to have long lives and healthy, happy days, and therefore are honed in on finding pet food with the optimal quality, nutrition, and suitability for their individual pets. Success in veterinary services will skew to veterinarians who are proactive and engaged partners in this customer priority.

-- by Shannon Brown, senior pet market research consultant