A RECENT petMD survey on the topic of pet nutrition revealed confusion among pet owners regarding the nutritional needs of dogs and cats.
While 57% of respondents look to pet food labels for information about the ingredients in their pet's food, what is written on the labels is often misinterpreted, the announcement said.
"Understanding how to feed our pets properly is critical to their well-being," petMD spokesperson Dr. Jennifer Coates said. "This knowledge gap is worrisome but also represents an opportunity for improving the health and longevity of our beloved companion animals."
The survey's key findings include:
* Misunderstood terms. A majority of survey respondents said they believe that animal hair, teeth and hooves are included in meat byproducts when, in fact, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) expressly prohibits these body parts from being included in a byproduct used in pet food.
* The importance of feeding trials. While the majority of pet owners look to the label to learn about ingredients, they fail to look for other key quality information. According to the petMD survey, only 22% of respondents check the label to see if the food has undergone a feeding trial.
All AAFCO-approved pet foods must display a statement indicating how the pet food manufacturer determined that the particular diet would meet the needs of pets. This can be done in one of two ways: via a computer program or by actually feeding the food to dogs or cats.
According to Coates, "feeding trials are a far superior method for determining whether or not pets will thrive on a particular diet."
* Misidentifying potential allergies. More than 40% of respondents cited grain ingredients as the most common allergens in pet food, with more than 30% specifically implicating corn. However, some studies have shown that the protein or meat source in pet food is the biggest culprit.
* An underappreciation of balanced nutrition. The survey found that 69% of respondents recognized that protein is a key nutrient for pets, yet only 2% knew that about fats, 3% about carbohydrates and less than 25% about vitamins and minerals.
"To satisfy all of the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, pet foods must provide all of these ingredients in the right balance," Coates said. "Too much of one or too little of another can be harmful to a pet's health."
* Skepticism of label accuracy. More than 70% of pet owners surveyed believe that pet food labels do not list all of the ingredients. However, AAFCO regulations mandate that every ingredient contained within a pet food be included in the ingredient list in order from the largest to the smallest contributor by weight.
"Misconceptions surrounding pet food and canine and feline nutrition can lead owners to make ill-informed choices about what to feed their companions," Coates said. "Veterinarians are the best source of information about what to feed pets. They can take into consideration a pet's unique combination of life stage, lifestyle and health to make individualized diet recommendations."
PetMD.com is the leading online resource focused solely on the health and well-being of pets.