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Fat Cats and Doggy Bags: Why Pet Parents Count Calories and Monitor Quality

Summertime backyard BBQs often mean our pets get a sampling of burgers, hot dogs, drumsticks, and other scrumptious scraps that inadvertently (or advertently) make their way to the ground.

But many pet parents actually aren’t cool with Rufus chomping on your brother Billy’s unfinished spare ribs or Fluffy taking a delicate bite of your BFF’s unfinished burger. Today more than ever, pet owners are watching what their four-legged friends consume very closely, like a cat locked in on the red dot of a laser pointer.

The worry about what goes into their pets’ bellies is real, and it’s not limited to table scraps and treats. Recent research estimates that 25% of pet owners in the U.S. are concerned that what they feed their pets day-to-day is making them (their pets, that is) obese.

Pet owners are right to fret over fat. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimates that 54% of U.S. dogs and cats are overweight or obese. And it all starts with the food in the bowls. “The most important decision a pet owner makes every day is what they feed their pet,” APOP founder Ernie Ward tells the Los Angeles Times.

Walk down any pet food aisle and you’ll likely be instantly overwhelmed by that decision. Grain-free, gluten-free, organic, raw, wild, frozen, premium, super-premium, human-grade…so many choices, so many questions. How many calories are in this? How much crude protein? Can I really trust what’s on the label? What IS that on the label?

It’s a delicate balancing act between cost, quality, trust, and – of course – lbs.

Just as it is with what we eat (consider the current “war” on Big Food – thanks Millennials!), so too are pet parents’ behaviors and attitudes influencing changes in the pet food industry. Many will do whatever it takes to keep their pets healthy, happy, and by their side for years to come. That includes keeping the pet pounds down.

After all, no matter where we live, we treat our pets as beloved family members; studies differ as to why. If you need a bit of proof look to the UK, where dogs are loved more than mothers-in-law. Or Germany, where seven in ten pet owners admit they treat their pets more like children; and two out of three apply the same quality standards for their pets’ food as their own.

Pet food suppliers and retailers need to understand more deeply the motivations driving what people feed their pets; they must fundamentally empathize with pet parents’ concerns, behaviors, shopping habits, and daily routines, then embed this knowledge into all levels and departments of the business. Best of all, taking a pet parent-centric approach can inspire myriad opportunities – from new product development and innovation to finding better ways to educate owners about pet health and wellness. Working with pet parents is the best and fastest way to ensure everyone grows healthy and happy.

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