According to Pet Food Institute (PFI), which has been representing pet food manufacturers since 1958, the science of pet nutrition originated in the late 1800s, which continued to evolve throughout the 20th century. In the 1980s, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council published the nutritional requirements for dogs and cats, updating the profiles in 2006 to reflect the evolving science and understanding of animal nutrition.
PFI reports that, for dogs and cats, veterinary researchers have identified more than 40 essential nutrients, which are provided by the ingredients used in a pet food recipe. Nutrients can be generally grouped into four categories: proteins, fats, carbohydrates and vitamins/minerals/independent amino acids. Most commercially prepared pet food is formulated to be “complete and balanced,” which means each serving is a complete meal and provides total nutrition. As such, pet foods are made with carefully prepared recipes crafted by veterinary scientists and experts in companion animal nutrition.
Champion Petfoods, maker of premium pet food brands ORIJEN and ACANA, announced in September 2021 that it had initiated a five-year grant to the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario – one of the world’s leading institutions in the field of veterinary medicine and animal science – to advance the study of pet food nutrition and train the next generation of scientific leaders in the pet food industry. As part of the grant, the university has named Dr. Anna Kate Shoveller, an associate professor in the university’s Department of Animal Biosciences, as the inaugural Champion Petfoods Chair in Canine and Feline Nutrition. Dr. Shoveller, who earned a Ph.D. in nutrition and metabolism, is a veteran academic leader who has also amassed eight years working for leading companies in the pet food industry to advance the understanding of protein and energy. She is a past chair of the American Society of Animal Sciences’ Companion Animal Committee and has received numerous awards for her contributions to the advancement of dog and cat nutrition.
Champion’s grant will support the ongoing study of several topics in conjunction with other international research experts to expand the foundational knowledge of pet nutrition for the health of pets. In addition, this grant provides opportunity for training students in preparation for roles in the pet food and nutrition industry.
Jeff Johnston, senior vice president of research, innovation and product development at Champion, believes the company’s support of Dr. Shoveller’s work will combine the strengths of the university and the company to drive innovation in current and future pet food products. Champion has a team of Pet Nutrition experts — including PhD-level nutritionists, food scientists, and in-house and external veterinarians — who pursue the advancement of nutrition and wellness for pets. By partnering with Dr. Shoveller and the University of Guelph, the combined team will be able to continue applying the latest developments in animal nutrition to develop food that will help dogs and cats thrive.
“This is a commitment to the future of our industry,” Johnston said. “At Champion, we focus exclusively on making the best, most nutritional food to support a pet’s long-term health — the best there is today and the best that’s possible tomorrow. The science that will carry us into that future holds the promise to benefit not only Champion and the University of Guelph, but our entire industry and people everywhere who value the health of pets.”
With sustainability and green initiatives at the forefront of many purchasing initiatives and a clear shift toward cleaner eating, pet parents are becoming very conscious of ingredient panels and sourcing regulations.
Founded in 2006, Nature’s Logic is a line of 100 percent natural, premium quality pet food and treats that contain no synthetic vitamins or minerals and focus on the benefits of natural whole food nutrition. The company’s mission is to apply the logic of nature to everything they touch, which means creating all-natural nutrition from whole foods and being a voice for sustainability. Sustainability is not only a tenet of the mission behind Nature’s Logic, but also a key factor in the company’s growth along with a focus on all-natural pet food and an unwavering support of the independent pet retail channel.
“More and more consumers care about 100 percent natural nutrition for their pets and sustainability for their planet,” said David Yaskulka, Nature’s Logic’s CEO. “We’re thrilled to be a leader in sustainability as millennial and Gen Z consumers are demanding better, so we work alongside our independent retail partners to make sure these customers have healthy, natural, sustainable options.”
Nature’s Logic continues to expand its sustainability measures and programs. The brand’s Clean Food, Clean Energy program purchases 1 kWh of renewable energy for every pound of pet food Nature’s Logic sells. The company’s headquarters is powered by 100 percent renewable electricity, as is the manufacturing of its dry pet food and bags. A growing number of Nature’s Logic’s products, including its Distinction line, Raw Frozen and Lightly Cooked Frozen, come in Certified Plastic Neutral packaging, the first in the pet industry. In addition, the brand is building an array of products with sustainably sourced ingredients, including Distinction Grain-Free, which contains MSC certified seafood. Recently, the company announced that it has achieved carbon neutrality in its shipping and warehousing.
When it comes to pet food nutrition, Portland Pet Food Company believes strongly in the benefits of a limited-processed, human-grade diet for dogs. Portland Pet Food Company’s products are entirely sourced and made in the U.S.A. and are produced without any additives or synthetics. All meats and vegetables are not only USDA-inspected but approved to be sold to humans too.
The decision to do so fits in line with the nutrition philosophy set by Katie McCarron, founder of Portland Pet Food Company: “If you can’t pronounce it or don’t know what it is, why would you feed it to your best friend?”
Because of this, Portland Pet Food Company is proud to boast such few ingredients in its products – no product includes more than 11 ingredients, which McCarron says can cause a bit of confusion with pet parents: “Occasionally we have customers who think we are hiding our ingredients because they can’t find it on the packaging. In reality, though, we have such a small list that it gets lost.”
“In all food industries — human, dog, etc. – consumers are looking more than ever for wholesome, natural products that are sustainably made,” McCarron added. “In the pet food sector, this looks like two things: First, consumers are increasingly becoming more involved in preparing their pet’s meal or treats at home. Pet owners are either making these completely from scratch or are incorporating a mixture of wholesome toppers and fresh ingredients into their routine. This experience gives owners the enjoyment of feeling as though they are giving their pet the best.
“Secondly, pet owners are looking for brands that are transparent, sustainable, and stick with ingredients that are recognizable to the average consumer,” she concluded. “Pet owners are becoming more and more knowledgeable about what is in their pet’s food, driving manufacturers to analyze the quality of their products and how to cater to today’s healthier dog.”
There’s been much debate regarding the topic of raw food, which is widely considered more nutrient-dense and nutritionally complex than traditional, cooked pet food. Raw diets have been linked to such health benefits as better digestion, healthier skin, shinier coats, more energy and help with food sensitivities. In addition, raw pet food comes in a variety of forms, such as refrigerated/frozen, dehydrated and freeze-dried. Raw food advocates also note the limited number of ingredients in raw food recipes. Many customers feel less intimidated by new products when they recognize everything on the ingredients label.
According to ZIWI, raw and raw-alternative diets that are high in meat and organs have seen steady growth within the independent pet retail channel. The brand has found success with pet parents who are seeking food in its most natural state to allow their companion animals to eat meat as they would in nature. Crafted at their own kitchens in New Zealand for peak nutrition, ZIWI’s PeakPrey air-dried recipes feature inclusions of pure New Zealand meat, organs, seafood and bone, with added superfoods for a nutritional boost.
“At ZIWI, we believe that cats and dogs can only thrive when they eat a high meat, whole prey diet that satisfies their biological needs as carnivores. Our gently air-dried foods combine the best of raw diets with the safe convenience of dry foods.” said Heather Hickey, ZIWI’s senior VP of sales.
Hickey points to the brand’s mission to deliver “Peak Nutrition Without Compromise” through the brand’s air-dried process, ethical ingredient sourcing and PeakPrey recipes, which contain 96 percent free-range meat, organs, sustainable wild-caught fish and green-lipped mussels. The result combines the nutrition of raw diets with the convenience of dry foods with a shelf-stable product — simply scoop and serve.
Perfect for carnivores, ZIWI’s PeakPrey recipes lead with the first eight-plus ingredients being meat with unmatched inclusions and a variety of five or more organs. ZIWI’s foods are also free from glycerin and unnecessary carbohydrates such as grains, potato or tapioca starch. For the ultimate nutritional boost, every ZIWI Peak recipe also features up to 40 percent Z-BOOST superfoods, which are a blend of cold-washed green tripe or poultry heart, whole New Zealand green mussel and organic kelp. Z-BOOST superfoods are nature’s powerhouse source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support brain, heart and joint function, while contributing to skin and coat health.
Primal is a brand that also believes in elevating the health of pets through species appropriate nutrition. This mission originated in 2000, when Primal founder Matt Koss created his own species appropriate pet food for his ailing dog, Luna. After a short time on the raw diet that was based on bones and biologically appropriate raw food (BARF), not only did her appetite drastically improve, but she also showed an increase in energy and overall happiness. After seeing the powerful results of raw feeding firsthand, Koss set out to bring Primal to market so that other pets could enjoy a happier, healthier, more vibrant life.
Every product in the Primal Pet Foods lineup is produced using the highest quality ingredients. The brand uses antibiotic- and steroid-free USDA proteins without added hormones, certified organic produce and unrefined vitamins and minerals.
Stella & Chew’s is another brand that believes in the power of raw, which is why it includes raw in every kibble. Headquartered in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Stella & Chewy’s dog and cat diets include frozen patties and morsels, freeze-dried dinners, stews and baked kibble.
The brand offers both Raw Coated and Raw Blend kibbles all made in the brand’s own kitchens. Raw Coated kibble uses high protein kibble, which is then coated with freeze-dried raw. Raw Blend kibble features the raw coated kibble with added pieces of freeze-dried raw mixed in. All kibbles, which are available in grain-free and grain-inclusive varieties, are made in the U.S.A. and use responsibly sourced animal proteins and ingredients.
In 2019, Stella & Chewy’s announced the launch of two new cat kibble lines, raw coated and raw blend kibble, along with Marvelous Morsels wet food for cats.
“We’ve been listening to our pet parents – many who have blended dog and cat family – and that’s the key reason why we will continue to introduce broader range of products for their feline family members,” said Marc Hill, CEO of Stella & Chewy’s. “Like with our dog food, the cat kibble includes probiotics for optimal digestion. Overall, our products offer the most complete and balanced pet food for all ages.”
Tiki Cat recipes come in a variety of forms, including a frozen raw food line called Tiki Cat Raw, which is made from uncooked ground poultry or meat in bone broth, an ingredient not found in many raw cat food brands. Bone broth gives Tiki Cat Raw added hydration while also being extremely palatable and creating the smoother texture that many cats prefer. Tiki Cat Raw is ideal for consumers who want to give their cats the benefits of a natural raw diet with no GMO ingredients, fruits, veggies or grains.
For consumers who prefer a non-raw diet, Tiki Cat offers moisture-rich, high-protein conventional wet foods in more than 40 different flavors and textures. Inspired by a cat’s natural-prey diet, these range from our popular Tiki Cat Luau, real chicken and fish formulas like seabass and tilapia in a hearty consommé, to Tiki Cat After Dark, nutrient-rich organ meat served in either a finely ground pate or as wholefoods in broth.
When it comes to cat nutrition, Tiki Cat has been launching diets that support a cat’s innate behavior, with a specific focus on wet diets that offer great nutrition.
According to Tiki Cat, there are several explanations as to why felines drink so little water compared to their canine counterparts. One is that they evolved in dry desert climates where water was scarce. In nature, cats are obligate carnivores, relying on animal protein from their prey for all of their essential nutrients. The lack of moisture in their environment also forced them to derive most of their hydration from their prey, which contained approximately 70 percent water. To this day, many domestic cats prefer getting moisture from their food as opposed to lapping up liquids.
Since cats evolved to get water from their prey, one of the most effective steps cat owners can take is to “go with the flow” and build on this innate behavior by making sure their cat’s food contains a high degree moisture that will be absorbed during the eating process.
Tiki Cat foods are formulated to nutritionally mimic the way a cat eats in nature, and this includes providing the supplemental hydration that they would receive from their prey. All Tiki Cat wet food recipes consist mainly of fresh meat or seafood, offering up to 95 percent animal protein, since cats, who are obligate carnivores, rely on these proteins for all of their essential nutrients such as taurine, arachidonic acid and vitamin A. But another important benefit of Tiki Cat’s fresh-meat formulations is that they are extremely rich in moisture and an excellent hydration source.
In the small pet category, such animals as rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, mice and rats require diets that feature wholesome ingredients, in addition to supplements that will fulfill their dietary needs.
Rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas are herbivores, therefore they require a diet that is high in fiber to keep their teeth and digestive system in good condition. In practical terms, this means they need a high-fiber concentrate food in addition to a body-sized portion of hay per day. On the other hand, omnivores like mice, rats and hamsters do not have such high-fiber requirements and do not need to eat hay, but they still need a healthy diet tailored to their needs.
Supreme Petfoods is known for Science Selective and Tiny Friends Farm (TFF), two of the strongest performing brands in the small pet food sector. As the widest range of veterinary recommended species-specific foods for small pets, Science Selective supports optimum digestive health and meets the unique nutritional needs of small animals. The range is developed by veterinary experts and nutritionists, and its life stage diets (junior, adult, mature) ensure that the pet’s exact nutritional needs are met throughout life.
Multi-award-winning small pet brand Tiny Friends Farm was launched over 20 years ago. Developed by nutritional experts, TFF is made with high quality natural ingredients for optimum digestive health. This wholesome range, including Russel Rabbit and Gerty Guinea Pig, provides pets with nutritionally balanced diets and is trusted by consumers to meet their pet’s specific needs.
As with most pet care categories, the pet food sector is greatly impacted by human trends, especially now that pets are considered members of the family. A brand with a unique method to pet nutrition is Side by Side Pet, which combines Western “whole-food science” with Eastern Food Therapy (EFT) to balance a dog’s pH and support health and healing from within. The company uses clean, species–appropriate whole food ingredients sourced from U.S. farms and freeze dries them to retain 97 percent of the critical nutrients that pets need.
With the help and guidance of veterinarians trained in both EFT and Western medicine, Side by Side Pet has crafted warming, cooling and neutral diets that are designed to restore a pup to balance from within. Each recipe includes carefully selected ingredients that are sourced from local, U.S. farms and then combined for their pure functional benefits at the cellular level in providing healing benefits. These ingredients include chamomile and calendula for their soothing and cooling benefits, as well as ginger powder its warming property.
“In the pet food industry, you often hear the phrase ‘complete and balanced’ to describe proper nutrition,” said Carol Bramson, Side by Side founder and CEO. “This means that all minimum and maximum levels of required nutrients are being met for each pet’s meal. In human terms, we’d strive for a healthy plate of food. In the pet sector, the intention is to get all these healthy plate elements into every bite of a complete and balanced meal.
“At Side by Side Pet, we take it even further by evaluating whether the nutrients are being delivered in the best possible way to allow for the body to fully absorb them,” she continued. “When your doctor recommends you eat broccoli, they mean real broccoli, with all of its nutrients. The natural combination of nutrients like fiber, calcium, iron and zinc is how our bodies were meant to absorb them. This is why we focus on clean, whole food ingredients that are appropriate for pets. It’s about getting back to nature, feeding your pet what they would have eaten in the wild. We believe this is the only way to truly deliver a ‘complete and balanced’ meal and we have the testimonials to prove it.”