By Dr. Becker
The pet food industry as a whole has begun to feel the prolonged effects of the global economic downturn, with the exception of one tiny segment of the market.
According to the U.S. Pet Market Outlook 2011-2012, prepared by Packaged Facts, sales of refrigerated, frozen and dehydrated pet food are on the rise.
Per PetfoodIndustry.com, this "… small segment of pet food producers is experiencing an impressive and remarkable amount of growth."
The fresh/refrigerated, raw/frozen and dehydrated pet food segment accounts for less than one percent of total pet food sales, but analysts expect the segment to grow by 25 percent annually through 2015.
What these figures tell me is an increasing number of pet owners are taking baby steps toward providing better nutrition for their dogs and cats.
I like this trend a lot and certainly hope it continues!
Let's take a closer look at three types of 'alternative' pet food in this small-but-growing segment of the industry.
Fresh/Refrigerated Pet Food
In 2010, refrigerated dog food grew 10 percent over prior year, and refrigerated cat food – which had virtually no activity in 2009 – brought in over a half million dollars in sales.
In terms of the species-appropriateness of this food, it seems to depend on which variety you choose.
For example, DogFoodAdvisor.com gives three 'slice and serve' varieties of one brand 5-star ratings, but the canned variety doesn't fare as well.
Also worth noting is that I've found some pet owners confuse cooked refrigerated food with raw food.
Pet foods found in the refrigerated section of the store are cooked; pet foods found in the freezer section are raw. Cooked/refrigerated foods are still considerably fresher than kibbled and canned foods, but should not be confused with living foods, which are raw.
Raw/Frozen Pet Food
There are several pet food companies now offering excellent quality raw food diets.
This is the best type of commercial food you can feed your pet, in my opinion, and second overall to raw, nutritionally balanced homemade meals. Raw food has not been heated so the nutrient value has been retained. This means less synthetic vitamins and minerals have to be added back in because the food is still nutrient-dense.
Currently, raw pet foods can only be found in small specialty stores or online. You won't find them in the big box pet food stores (Petco, Petsmart) or the grocery store.
If you're just starting to investigate raw food diets for your companion, I recommend you visit a local specialty pet food store and talk with someone who works there about the ins and outs of feeding raw. The staff in these stores will in most cases have the experience necessary to help you make good decisions about what food would be best for your dog or cat.
Some commercial raw pet foods are nutritionally complete, meaning they meet AAFCO guidelines for nutritionally balanced nourishment.
Other raw foods are incomplete, meaning you'll need to add ingredients to create nutritionally balanced meals for your pet, or feed them only intermittently.
Unless you're already preparing meals at home for your dog or cat and are familiar with all the elements of a nutritionally balanced meal, I recommend you go with a 'complete' raw food blend that is AAFCO compliant for all life stages (feline or canine).
I also recommend you stick with raw foods made in the U.S.A.
Commercially prepared frozen raw food is available in a wide variety of brands, flavors and protein sources. Ultimately what you decide to feed your dog or cat will depend on what he will eat.
One thing to keep in mind is that commercial raw diets can be high in fat. Make sure to check the fat content in the guaranteed analysis on the package label, especially if you have a pet with a medical condition like pancreatitis that requires a lower fat diet.
As a general rule, the following fat content guidelines apply:
- Food with less than10 percent fat on a dry matter basis (less than 17 percent of calories from fat) is considered low fat.
- Food with 10 to 15 percent fat (between 17 and 23 percent of calories from fat) is considered to contain moderate fat.
- Food with over 20 percent fat is considered high in fat.
Dehydrated Pet Food
Dehydrated pet food has had the moisture removed through a drying process (freeze-drying is one form). But unlike most kibble, the ingredients in dehydrated foods aren't cooked at high temperatures for long periods.
Dehydration helps preserve nutrients in the food and also prevents spoilage.
Dehydrated pet food can be either cooked or raw, but dehydrated raw isn't truly raw. It's an option, for example, for pets being transitioned from dry food to raw, or for pet owners who can't or don't want to feed true raw.
The food is rehydrated with warm water before feeding, which transforms complete blends into biologically appropriate food with about 70 percent moisture content. There are also dehydrated mixes available that are designed to be mixed with fresh foods to form nutritionally balanced meals.
As with commercial raw food diets, unless you really know what you're doing in terms of preparing a balanced diet for your pet, I recommend you go with a dehydrated blend that is complete, meaning it's AAFCO approved as nutritionally balanced for all life stages.
Dehydrated raw pet foods are highly digestible and contain a nice variety of protein sources. They can be an excellent choice for pets with sensitive digestion or who are recovering from GI surgery.
It's All about Variety in the Food You Offer Your Pet
According to PetfoodIndustry.com:
"Marketing messages have … been incredibly successful in increasing acceptance of rotational diets that incorporate multiple types of pet foods (dry/wet/fresh, for example) by emphasizing the health and wellness benefits of such a diet and of the alternative food forms."
As my regular readers know, I'm a huge fan of feeding a wide variety of foods to pets.
If you are unable or unwilling to feed an entirely fresh food diet, I think it's extremely beneficial for healthy cats and dogs to be fed a nice rotation of a wide variety of fresh, raw, dehydrated raw and high quality canned foods.
Last on the list would be kibble, because even very high quality dry pet food lacks moisture content. Moisture is a key component in species-appropriate nutrition for dogs and cats.
However, if you want to include a dry kibble in the mix of different types of foods you offer your pet, look for a grain-free, low carbohydrate formula that has whole meat at the top of the ingredient list, followed by several other foods in whole form.
By mixing up the types of food you feed, you're providing enormous health benefits to your pet.
And if you're a careful comparison shopper, mixing things up like this can also make it more affordable to feed excellent quality nutrition to your furry family member.