What're You Feeding Your Dog Tonight for Dinner?

The business of manufacturing pet food in the U.S. is big business; the American Pet Products Association estimated that in 2011, we Americans spent $50.9 billion on our pets. And big business saw to the rise of the pet food industry because, to a significant degree, it paralleled that of the processed food industry.

Today the pet food industry is dominated by some of the biggest names in food with Nestle, Mars, Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Del Monte being among the better known multinationals manufacturing pet food. Mars and Nestlé dominate the global market for dog food.

Nestle manufactures Purina One, Purina Pro Plan, Purina Veterinary Diets, Beneful, Puppy Chow, Mighty Dog, Beggin'; Mars manufactures Nutro and Pedigree; P&G manufactures Eukanuba and Iams; Colgate-Palmolive manufactures Science Diet under the Hill's name; Delmonte's brands are Nature's Recipe, Meaty Bone, Kibbles 'n Bits, and Gravy Train.

Feeding kibble and canned food to dogs became a popular way to feed our pets following WW II, despite the fact dogs became domesticated about 12,000-15,000 years ago. In the years since manufactured dog food first appeared, it has established such a grip on us that many consider feeding kibble or canned dog food is the only way to feed pets.


You and Your Vet Are the Focus of Pet Food Manufacturers

Pet food manufacturers devised a two-pronged marketing approach with one prong targeting consumers.

Putting pet food on grocery store shelves and spending huge amounts of money advertising pet food to consumers helped convince pet owners that manufactured food was the way to feed pets. Purina executives, for example, decided that instead of distributing their pet food via their nationwide network of feed stores, the company would sell their pet food through supermarkets. By the late 50s Purina Dog Chow was the best-selling dry dog food in the world.

The second prong targeted veterinarians.

Vets are trained to perform surgery, diagnose and treat disease, and prescribe drugs. They typically receive little meaningful training in animal nutrition in vet school because there are no degree or certificate programs related to the specific field of canine nutrition. And what they do learn is often from sales reps who work for the multinationals that own the pet food companies. Despite these facts, vets are considered by many to be authorities on what to feed our pets.

What this means for us as pet owners is that asking the typical vet for advice on what to feed your dog or cat is about as helpful, say, as asking your dentist why your leg hurts or your shoulder is sore.

Pet Food Manufacturers and Vet Schools

The degree to which the pet food manufacturers focus their attention on vet students is clear when you look at some of the top vet schools in the country including Cornell University, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, Colorado State University, and Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. This is unfortunate given the fact that many popular brands of dog food contain ingredients that many would find surprising including artificial colors and flavors; beet pulp; brewer's rice; corn; rice, soy, and wheat flour; sugar and other sweeteners; and vegetable oil.

Each year a fourth year vet student at Cornell is awarded the Hill's "Buddy" Award, bestowed by the manufacturer of Science Diet, Hill's Pet. The Canine Reference Family DNA Distribution Center at Cornell is a collaborative arrangement between the university and Ralston Purina. Purina also sponsors research done by faculty at vet schools including at Cornell, sponsors residency clinical training programs at schools like NCSU, and Nestle sponsors seminars throughout the year for vet students. Hill's pledged $510,000 over six years to sponsor nutrition education programs at UC Davis, and Nestlé Purina funded, designed, and installed nutrition centers at several veterinary teaching hospitals including those at UC Davis, Michigan State, and Colorado State.

At vet schools the kibble manufacturers fund the student chapters of the American Veterinary Medical Association. For example, at Colorado State, Hill's provides Science Diet formulas and Prescription Diet products to veterinary students/faculty/staff at a very reduced cost. Funds from sales help support the student chapter of the AVMA and a scholarship program for veterinary students.

Hill's has a similar program, College Feeding Program, at NCSU. NCSU is ranked third among the nation's top 28 colleges of veterinary medicine by U.S. News and World Report.

The manufacturers also are major sponsors of student clubs and societies; Nestlé Purina, for instance, is a major sponsor of Texas A&M's Comparative Gastroenterology Society.

"There's virtually no national funding out of the federal government for research on the health and well-being of cats and dogs," said Bennie Osburn, the dean of the university's School of Veterinary Medicine. "We have not seen N.I.H. show interest. The U.S.D.A. has not shown interest. The federal government will provide basic funding for ornamental flowers, but not companion animals."

Multinationals that own the companies that manufacture pet foods, vets who are often biased in their advice on what to feed our pets, ingredients in lots of pet food that aren't biologically appropriate.

Where does this leave us?

In the position of doing research, using resources like Dogaware and Dog Food Analysis, and reading historical analysis such as the pet food industry's Learn from the Past, and articles such as They Eat What We Are.

And, above all, thinking about what we put into the bowls we put down for our pets to eat.

Published by Dorianne Almann

Born in New York City (uptown in Inwood on Dyckman Street), I live in New Hampshire on a former organic farm. Dogs, and training and performance showing them, bees, reading, digging in the dirt of a dozen pe...  View profile