Dog owners are increasingly showing greater commitment to ensuring their pets receive a high-quality diet, including nutrition that properly reflects their dog's age, breed, lifestyle and activity levels. But a new report has cast significant doubt on the quality of information provided to pet owners when researching pet foods.
The research findings from a study carried out by personalised pet food retailer Paws.com show that as many as 47% of dog owners are struggling to understand the data on dog food labels.
Worse; the study suggests that major pet food labels are sometimes relying on this knowledge gap to mislead conscientious owners by failing to disclose at least one ingredient on the pet food label.
What's In My Dog's Food?
The UK Dog Food Transparency Report examined 1,025 dry and wet dog foods currently available in British supermarkets and via online retailer Amazon's bestseller list.
They analysed the packaging to show the extent to which brands are using generic category labels for their ingredients rather than listing the exact content of their food.
The startling findings showed that 85% of all supermarket own-brand dog food include 'mystery meats', meaning they contain 'meat and animal derivatives' – which could include anything from hooves and beaks to wool and feathers!
Seven in 10 dog owners said they trust the food they purchase to help their dogs thrive, but two-thirds confessed their dog had in fact suffered from obesity or other health concerns such as skin problems, diabetes and runny stools - all of which are potential signs of inadequate nutrition.
One in three owners were honest enough to admit they were unsure if their dog's food was good for them or not and according to the pet food retailer, 42% pet owners said they felt misled when learning that food labelled as 'with chicken' could, in fact, contain as little as just 4% actual chicken, a reality that runs across other meat in dog foods such as beef, lamb or salmon.
All of which led a whopping 89% of owners to say they want dog food labels to list the exact ingredients in the food.
If We Know What's in Our Dog's Food, Could We Combat Obesity?
These study findings arrive at a time when UK pet obesity is considered an epidemic, according to pet health care professionals, with one in two dogs overweight. Weight-related health problems, such as hip dysplasia, diabetes and breathing problems are also on the rise.
To help demystify dog food, Paws has developed the Dog Food Checker, which allows dog owners to vet their dog food, understand its nutritional values easily, and compare it to other dog foods.
Stephanie Wenban, Paws Vet, said: "Good nutrition is fundamental to our pets' health and wellbeing, yet with such a huge variety of choice it can be daunting to know what makes a good food, and if you are selecting the best choice for your dog.
"Just as with humans, inadequate nutrition can have significant health consequences for your pets - leading to complications such as obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis and gastrointestinal disturbances. As we face a pet obesity epidemic in the UK, it is more important than ever for us to bring clarity to the world of dog food and make the process of choosing the right food simple."
On the research, Neil Hutchinson, founder of Paws, said: "We want to radically transform the way pet parents think about the dog food they buy. Currently, most dog food labels aren't helpful and it's easy for well-meaning pet parents to buy something they believe is great for their dog, but actually doesn't even come close to giving them the nutrition they need to thrive.
"Our Dog Food Checker, which has the world's first traffic light system for dog food, aims to empower pet parents to understand the nutritional value of any food at a glance. Your pet is family, so why wouldn't you want to know what you're feeding them?"