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JAVMA, Vol 233, No.

11, December 1, 2008 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition 1699
P
et owners necessarily play an active role in deter-
mining their pets diet, and their nutritional choices
are likely to be inuenced by numerous factors, includ-
ing their knowledge of the nutritional needs of their
pets; their perceptions regarding the nutritional value,
wholesomeness, and safety of feed ingredients; their
thoughts about the pet food industry; and their sourc-
es of information regarding the dietary management
of their pets. Communicating effectively with owners
about nutrition and dietary management of companion
animals can be difcult, particularly when the goal is to
persuade a pet owner to alter feeding practices. Circum-
stances frequently arise in which a change in feeding
management may be in the best interests of a pet (eg,
when a patient with organ failure could benet from
a diet restricted in certain nutrients or when a pet is
receiving an unbalanced home-prepared diet). Under-
standing how and what people choose to feed their pets,
as well as behaviors and attitudes that may inuence
these choices, could facilitate better communication
with clients regarding dietary choices for their pets.
Studies
14
have indicated that > 90% of cats and dogs
in the United States and Australia consume commercial
pet food for at least half their intake. However, noncom-
mercial foods, such as table scraps, home-prepared diets,
or bones and raw food, are fed as part of the main diet to
a substantial number of pets (13.1% of cats and 30.4% of
dogs).
4
Attitudes of pet owners toward pet foods
and feeding management of cats and dogs
Kathryn E. Michel, DVM, MS, DACVN; Kristina N. Willoughby, VMD; Sarah K. Abood, DVM, PhD;
Andrea J. Fascetti VMD, PhD, DACVN, DACVIM; Linda M. Fleeman, BVSc, PhD;
Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN; Dorothy P. Laamme, DVM, PhD, DACVN;
Cassondra Bauer, DVM, MS; Brona L. E. Kemp, BVSc; Janine R. Van Doren, DVM
From the Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (Michel, Wil-
loughby); Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824
(Abood, Bauer); Department of Molecular Biosciences, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616 (Fascetti, Van
Doren); School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia (Fleeman, Kemp); Department of Clinical Sciences,
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, North Grafton, MA 01536 (Freeman); and Nestl Purina PetCare Research, Check-
erboard Square, St Louis, MO 63164 (Laamme). Dr. Willoughbys present address is The Animal Medical Center, 510 E 62nd St, New York,
NY 10065. Dr. Fleemans present address is Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Dr. Laammes present
address is Nestl Purina PetCare Research, 473 Grandmas Place, Floyd, VA 24091. Dr. Bauers present address is Southwest National Primate
Center, PO Box 760549, San Antonio, TX 78245. Dr. Kemps present address is Mandeville Veterinary Services, 131 Carlton Ave East, Wembly
HA9 8PN, England. Dr. Van Dorens present address is Laguna Creek Veterinary Hospital, 5060 Laguna Blvd, Ste 129, Elk Grove, CA 95758.
Supported by Nestl Purina PetCare Research.
Presented in part in abstract form at the Nestl Purina Nutrition Forum, St Louis, October 2004, and the Annual Meeting of the American
Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, Baltimore, June 2005.
Dr. Laamme is employed by the Nestl Purina PetCare Company, and Drs. Michel, Abood, and Freeman serve on an expert advisory council
for the Nestl Purina PetCare Company.
Address correspondence to Dr. Michel.
Significant differences have been found be-
tween cats and dogs regarding types of food that
are fed and some aspects of feeding management.
4

In that study, investigators found that a greater
percentage of cats (98.8%) were fed at least half
of their diet as a commercial pet food, compared
with the percentage of dogs (93.2%) receiving at
least half of their diet as a commercial pet food;
hence, significantly more dogs than cats received
noncommercial foods, including table scraps, left-
overs, or home-prepared foods, as part of their diet.
Cats were more likely to receive at least half of
their diet as canned commercial pet food and were
more likely to be fed ad libitum but were less likely
to receive treats, compared with results for dogs.
On the basis of these findings, it may be discerned
that the attitudes held by pet owners regarding the
proper nutrition and feeding management of com-
panion animals reflect differences among cat and
dog owners.
It is important to gain a better understanding of
attitudes regarding nutrition for companion animals
because they are an integral part of feeding behaviors
of pet owners and of successful communication with
owners regarding nutrition. Therefore, the objective
of the study reported here was to investigate attitudes
regarding pet foods and feeding practices held by cat
and dog owners.
Timely Topics in Nutrition
In cooperation with
1700 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition JAVMA, Vol 233, No. 11, December 1, 2008
Materials and Methods
The study reported here was part of a larger survey
conducted to obtain information about pet feeding hab-
its, pet-owner interactions, and owner attitudes toward
their pets and pet care. When required by an institu-
tion, the experimental protocol was reviewed and ap-
proved by the respective institutional review board.
ProceduresA telephone survey was conducted
by veterinary medical students from the University of
California, Davis, Michigan State University, the Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania, Tufts University, and the Uni-
versity of Queensland between May and August 2004,
as described elsewhere.
4,5
Potential participants were
selected from local telephone books by use of a pre-
determined randomization process. The survey was
administered to individuals who were the owner and
primary caregiver of 1 or more cats or dogs. For par-
ticipants who owned both cats and dogs, a computer-
generated, 2-treatment randomization list was used to
determine which species would be the subject of the
survey. When an owner had > 1 animal in a species, the
owner was asked to identify only 1 animal that was to
be the subject of the questionnaire, and all subsequent
questions pertained to that specic pet.
Students conducting the interviews identied
themselves as veterinary medical students from their
respective institutions and stated that they were con-
ducting a survey of pet owners. In addition to questions
regarding signalment, activities, feeding behavior, and
sources of information about pet care, the survey par-
ticipants were read 26 statements related to the pet food
industry and the pet health-care profession and asked
to indicate the extent to which they agreed with each
statement. Respondents had the following options for
each statement: 1, strongly agree; 2, mildly agree; 3, no
opinion or not sure; 4, mildly disagree; or 5, strongly
disagree. Data from all 5 study locations were pooled
for analysis.
Respondents were classied as a commercial feed-
er when 75% of their pets diet was in the form of
commercial pet foods or as a noncommercial feeder
when 50% of their pets diet was from foods other
than commercial pet foods, such as home-prepared di-
ets, table scraps, or other foods prepared for human
consumption.
Statistical analysisAn ANOVA was used to de-
tect differences in attitudes between owners feeding
methods (ie, commercial vs noncommercial feeders)
and between species of pet as well as to nd interac-
tions between these factors. Because the responses were
based on a limited noncontinuous scale of 1 to 5, a
nonparametric analysis also was performed by use of
the Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA on ranks. Results for both
ANOVAs were identical, so the former analysis was
used. Data were reported are mean SD. Differences
were considered signicant at values of P < 0.05. All
analyses were performed by use of commercially avail-
able software.
a
Feeding practice Species of pet
Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog
Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value (n = 449) (n = 621) P value
I want to provide my pet with the 1.18 0.01 1.19 0.05 0.934 1.22 0.02 1.16 0.02 0.011
best care possible.
I trust my veterinarian's advice 1.26 0.02 1.36 0.06 0.122 1.28 0.03 1.25 0.02 0.441
regarding health care for my pet.
I want to provide my pet with the 1.26 0.02 1.17 0.06 0.117 1.28 0.02 1.24 0.02 0.114
best nutrition possible.
I do not trust veterinarians to 4.60 0.03 4.15 0.09 0.001 4.62 0.04 4.53 0.03 0.074
provide sound nutritional advice.
*Respondents had the following options for each statement: 1, strongly agree; 2, mildly agree; 3, no opinion or not sure; 4, mildly disagree; and
5, strongly disagree. Respondents were classied as a commercial feeder when 75% of their pets diet was in the form of commercial pet foods
or as a noncommercial feeder when 50% of their pets diet was from foods other than commercial pet foods, such as home-prepared diets, table
scraps, or other foods prepared for human consumption. Values were considered to differ signicantly at P 0.05.
Table 1Mean SD scores* for pet owners about statements reecting attitudes toward pet care on the basis of feeding practices
and species of pet.
Feeding practice Species of pet
Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog
Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value (n = 449) (n = 621) P value
The quality of ingredients used for 1.44 0.02 1.37 0.08 0.421 1.43 0.03 1.43 0.03 0.992
my pet's diet is important to me.
Dogs (or cats) are carnivores so 2.38 0.04 1.93 0.13 0.001 2.30 0.05 2.35 0.05 0.470
they need a meat-based diet.
Whole wheat, corn, and other 2.60 0.03 2.77 0.10 0.114 2.65 0.04 2.59 0.04 0.290
grains are good sources of
nutrition for dogs (or cats).
Dogs (or cats) need a variety 2.64 0.04 1.57 0.14 0.001 2.61 0.06 2.50 0.05 0.152
of different foods.
See Table 1 for key.
Table 2Mean SD scores* for pet owners about statements reecting attitudes toward feed ingredients.
JAVMA, Vol 233, No. 11, December 1, 2008 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition 1701
Results
A total of 18,194 telephone calls were made from the
5 study sites; 1,104 (6.1%) owners representing 469 cats
and 635 dogs completed the survey. At least 200 surveys
were completed for each site. Owners of 17 (3.6%) cats
and 11 (1.7%) dogs reported that their pets were fed
therapeutic diets. Additional data were not collected for
these pets; thus, responses to the statements were from
owners of pets fed nontherapeutic diets. An additional 3
cats and 3 dogs were removed from the data set because
of incomplete data. Thus, data from 449 cat owners and
621 dog owners were included in the study.
Among cat owners, 429 (95.5%) met the criterion
for a commercial feeder and 12 (2.7%) met the cri-
terion for a noncommercial feeder; the remaining 8
(1.8%) cat owners did not meet the criterion for ei-
ther feeder category. Among dog owners, 539 (86.8%)
were classied as commercial feeders and 62 (10.0%)
were classied as noncommercial feeders; the remain-
ing 20 (3.2%) dog owners did not meet the criterion
for either feeder category. There was a signicant dif-
ference in the feeding practice between cat and dog
owners (P < 0.001). The proportion of commercial
feeders was greater among cat owners, whereas the
proportion of noncommercial feeders was greater
among dog owners.
Statements were grouped into 5 broad categories
reecting attitudes regarding pet care (Table 1), feed
ingredients (Table 2), food processing (Table 3), com-
mercial pet foods (Table 4), and raw and home-prepared
diets (Table 5). Signicant differences were found be-
tween commercial and noncommercial feeders for 19 of
26 statements. The responses of noncommercial feeders
reected greater mistrust of commercial pet foods and
food processing than responses of the commercial feed-
ers. The noncommercial feeders also were more posi-
tive in their responses to the statements regarding raw
and home-prepared diets, compared with responses for
the commercial feeders.
Feeding practice Species of pet
Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog
Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value (n = 449) (n = 621) P value
Processed foods for pets are 3.01 0.04 2.45 0.13 0.001 2.98 0.05 2.98 0.05 0.966
unhealthy.
Cooking destroys nutrients 3.25 0.03 2.76 0.12 0.001 3.25 0.05 3.18 0.04 0.235
in pet foods.
Genetically modied foods and 2.90 0.04 3.34 0.13 0.001 2.89 0.05 2.97 0.04 0.222
ingredients are safe to use.
Processed foods for people are 2.46 0.04 2.30 0.14 0.258 2.47 0.06 2.43 0.05 0.650
unhealthy.
Organic foods are safer and 2.80 0.04 2.32 0.13 0.001 2.78 0.05 2.75 0.05 0.677
healthier than other foods.
See Table 1 for key.
Table 3Mean SD scores* for pet owners about statements reecting attitudes toward food processing.
Feeding practice Species of pet
Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog
Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value (n = 449) (n = 621) P value
Information on pet food labels is 2.59 0.04 2.83 0.13 0.079 2.58 0.05 2.64 0.05 0.332
easy to understand.
I trust pet food manufacturers to 2.25 0.03 3.01 0.12 0.001 2.22 0.05 2.38 0.04 0.012
provide nutritionally sound,
quality products.
Dogs (or cats) need more meat 3.20 0.03 2.33 0.12 0.001 3.18 0.05 3.09 0.04 0.179
than provided in commercial
pet foods.
Ingredients used in commercial 2.41 0.03 3.37 0.11 0.001 2.36 0.05 2.57 0.04 0.001
pet foods are wholesome
and nutritious.
Information on pet food labels 3.22 0.03 2.75 0.11 0.001 3.22 0.04 3.16 0.04 0.294
is misleading.
Additives used in pet foods have 3.04 0.03 2.45 0.11 0.001 3.02 0.04 2.97 0.04 0.358
unhealthy side effects.
Pets are living longer today, 2.34 0.03 3.18 0.11 0.001 2.35 0.05 2.45 0.04 0.079
in part, because of the good
nutrition provided by
commercial pet foods.
Good-quality commercial pet 2.08 0.03 2.78 0.11 0.001 2.02 0.05 2.23 0.04 0.001
foods contain all the nutrition
my pet needs.
Most pet food companies place 2.25 0.03 3.05 0.12 0.001 2.17 0.05 2.42 0.04 0.001
a high priority on pet health
and well-being.
See Table 1 for key.
Table 4Mean SD scores* for pet owners about statements reecting attitudes toward commercial pet foods.
1702 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition JAVMA, Vol 233, No. 11, December 1, 2008
An interaction between feeding practice and spe-
cies was detected for only 2 statements. In 1 situation (I
do not trust veterinarians to provide sound nutritional
advice), there were signicant differences between com-
mercial and noncommercial feeders when the responses
of cat owners and dog owners were analyzed separate-
ly. Both dog owners and cat owners who fed primarily
commercial foods were more likely to disagree with this
statement. The mean SD value for owners who fed
their cats commercial foods (4.64 0.04) was signi-
cantly (P < 0.001) higher, compared with the mean val-
ue for owners who fed their cats noncommercial foods
(3.75 0.23). For dogs, the mean value for owners who
fed commercial foods (4.57 0.03) differed signicantly
(P = 0.001), compared with the mean value for owners
who fed noncommercial foods (4.23 0.10). For the
second statement (Good-quality commercial pet foods
contain all the nutrition my pet needs), dog owners who
primarily fed commercial foods were signicantly (P <
0.001) more likely to agree with the statement (2.13
0.04) than were the noncommercial feeders (2.95
0.12). However, there were no signicant (P = 0.73)
differences between cat owners who were commercial
(2.01 0.05) or noncommercial (1.92 0.28) feeders.
When responses to the statements from cat owners
were compared with those from dog owners, signicant
differences were found for 8 of 26 statements. However,
for only 1 statement (I want to provide my pet with the
best care possible) could the difference clearly be attrib-
uted to pet species rather than feeding practice. Further-
more, although the difference in response was signi-
cant, both dog and cat owners were in strong agreement
with the statement (Table 1). For the other 7 statements,
there were signicant differences in responses based on
feeding practice as well as type of pet owned. Responses
were more divergent when respondents were categorized
on the basis of feeding practice than when categorized
on the basis of species of pet owned. The responses of
dog owners reected greater mistrust of commercial pet
foods and food processing than did responses of cat own-
ers. Dog owners also were more positive in their respons-
es to statements regarding raw and home-prepared diets,
compared with responses of cat owners.
Discussion
Recognition of how perceptions about proper diet
and feeding management of companion animals can
differ among pet owners is an important consideration
for veterinary health-care professionals with regard to
being able to communicate effectively on these topics.
Frequently, circumstances arise in which a change in
diet or feeding practices will be recommended for a pa-
tient. To succeed in persuading a pet owner to adhere
to those recommendations, it is necessary to obtain in-
formation regarding how the pet is currently fed and
develop an understanding of the rationale for those
practices.
Analysis of results of the study reported here sug-
gested that there is an association between concerns of
pet owners about commercial pet foods and the prac-
tice of feeding substantial amounts of noncommercial
or home-prepared foods. In general, owners who fed
noncommercial foods as 50% of their pets diet had
more concerns and misgivings about commercial pet
food, food processing, and the pet food industry than
did owners who fed commercial pet food as 75% of
their pets diet. They were also more positive in their at-
titudes toward raw and home-prepared diets in contrast
to the attitudes of commercial feeders. Although there
were some differences between cat and dog owners,
clear-cut differences in responses to the survey were
found much more frequently between commercial and
noncommercial feeders. One possible reason an owner
may have for feeding a noncommercial diet is the en-
joyment gained from preparing food for the pet, and
having this perspective could potentially inuence the
responses for statements about variety and quality of
ingredients in commercial pet foods.
On the basis of these ndings, veterinary health-
care professionals should be prepared to discuss con-
cerns owners may have about commercial pet foods, es-
pecially when a dietary history reveals that the pets are
fed alternatives to conventional pet foods. Pet owners
were queried in this survey regarding how they obtained
information about pet nutrition, and 71 (15.8%) and
105 (16.9%) of cat and dog owners, respectively, cited
the Internet and other media as their primary sources of
information, as has been reported elsewhere.
4
The qual-
ity of information from such sources is quite variable
and can be strongly biased toward a specic feeding
practice. Correcting misperceptions or directing own-
ers to reliable sources of information regarding com-
panion animal nutrition can help to allay concerns and
aid in negotiating any dietary modications, whether
they be a recommendation to switch to a commercial
pet food or to a properly balanced home-prepared diet.
The necessity for veterinary health-care professionals to
Feeding practice Species of pet
Commercial Noncommercial Cat Dog
Statement (n = 968) (n = 74) P value (n = 449) (n = 621) P value
Raw bones can safely be fed 3.62 0.04 2.64 0.15 0.001 3.80 0.06 3.32 0.05 0.001
to pets.
I enjoy preparing foods for my pet. 3.10 0.04 1.95 0.14 0.001 3.14 0.06 2.91 0.05 0.003
Raw meat provides better 3.68 0.04 2.57 0.13 0.001 3.64 0.06 3.53 0.05 0.167
nutrition than cooked foods.
Foods sold for human consumption 3.79 0.03 2.78 0.12 0.001 3.79 0.05 3.65 0.04 0.029
provide better nutrition for pets
than commercial pet foods.
See Table 1 for key.
Table 5Mean SD scores* for pet owners about statements reecting attitudes toward raw and home-prepared diets.
JAVMA, Vol 233, No. 11, December 1, 2008 Vet Med Today: Timely Topics in Nutrition 1703
have the capability and condence to converse knowl-
edgeably on such subjects underscores the importance
of nutrition education in the veterinary curriculum and
after graduation.
Only a small subset of owners classied as non-
commercial feeders (< 3%) were exclusively feeding
home-prepared foods. Because others in this category
fed commercial pet foods for a variable portion of up to
50% of the diet, it is curious that noncommercial feed-
ers often had signicantly different attitudes toward
feeding management of companion animals, compared
with attitudes for owners who were commercial feed-
ers. In this survey, we did not collect information about
the specic brands of pet foods being used by the re-
spondents; however, it could be speculated that some of
the noncommercial feeders were more likely to be feed-
ing commercial pet foods that were marketed as alter-
natives to mainstream products (eg, commercial foods
marketed as natural, organic, or holistic).
The pets represented in this survey appeared to be
typical of the general pet population because the signal-
ment characteristics of the study sample resembled those
of patients at primary care veterinary clinics.
4,6
However,
there may have been factors related to the likelihood of
an owner agreeing to participate in the survey that could
have introduced bias with regard to attitudes toward the
feeding management of companion animals. For exam-
ple, the students who conducted the interviews identi-
ed themselves as veterinary medical students from their
respective institutions. This information may have made
some owners more or less willing to participate, and
it is conceivable that some owners may have provided
different responses to an interviewer who was not afli-
ated with the veterinary profession. Another limitation
of the study was that the number of cat owners in the
noncommercial feeder category was small. It is possible
that in situations in which responses to a statement dif-
fered both by feeding practice and species of pet owned,
the difference between cat and dog owners was driven by
the greater percentage of dog owners who were noncom-
mercial feeders.
Analysis of the results of this survey suggests 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 training in
nutrition and access to reliable sources of information to
be able to address issues related to proper diets and feeding
management of companion animals, including concerns
about commercial pet foods. Communicating effectively
with pet owners about these matters and directing them to
factual and unbiased sources of information are of particu-
lar importance when a dietary history reveals that the pets
are being fed alternatives to conventional pet foods.
Clinical Summary
The objective of the study reported here was to in-
vestigate attitudes regarding diets for companion ani-
mals and feeding practices held by cat and dog owners,
and it was designed as part of a larger survey conducted
to obtain information about feeding habits for pets and
pet-owner interactions. The study was conducted as
a telephone survey during which cat and dog owners
were contacted in 5 geographic areas (4 in the United
States and 1 in Australia). Data were pooled, and pet
owners were categorized as commercial feeders or non-
commercial feeders on the basis of their practices for
feeding their pets.
Owners representing 469 cats and 635 dogs com-
pleted the survey. Attitudes of owners who fed their
pets 50% of the diet as home-prepared foods (non-
commercial feeders) reected greater mistrust of com-
mercial pet foods, food processing, and the pet food
industry and were more positive toward raw and home-
prepared diets, compared with attitudes of owners who
fed their pets 75% of the diet as commercial pet foods
(commercial feeders). These data suggest that there
is an association between pet owners concerns about
commercial pet foods and the practice of feeding sub-
stantial amounts of home-prepared foods to cats and
dogs. Veterinary health-care professionals need the ca-
pability and condence to address issues of pet owners
related to proper diet and feeding management of com-
panion animals, including concerns about commercial
pet foods, especially when a dietary history reveals that
the pets are fed alternatives to conventional pet foods.
a. SAS, version 9.1, SAS Institute Inc, Cary, NC.
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