A burgeoning trend in the thriving and rapidly changing “pet culture” is a significant shift in how pet parents feed their furry family members. No longer willing to buy the cheapest food off the supermarket shelf, people are instead spending time, energy and money to ensure their companion animals are fed just as well as their human counterparts.
In line with this, the annual Top Dog Awards included a new category: Food Consultant. Not only was the number of votes impressive, but also the number of nominees and the variety and depth of their knowledge. This year’s winner, Heather Macfarlane of Balanced By Nature, and Top 5 runner-up Rick Woodford (aka The Dog Food Dude), both specialize in animal nutrition. The 2nd and 3rd Place winners, Green Dog Pet Supply and Evan Smith at Canine Utopia respectively, and those tied for 5th Place, Meat For Cats and Dogs (Heidi Liedeker), are retailers with a wealth of knowledge on animal nutrition. Everyone in the pack is known for working hard to stay on top of the latest medical and industry information, and for stocking their shelves with foods that support a full range of dietary concerns.
A driving force behind the growing appreciation of and insistence on quality animal nutrition is the desire to combat chronic illness and disease. From obesity issues to kidney disease and even cancer, pet parents are turning to more holistic, nutritionally-based approaches to preventive healthcare.
Christine Mallar of Green Dog Pet Supply says it’s common for someone to come to her with a specific health problem affecting their dog, such as pancreatitis, and ask advice on how best to treat that nutritionally. “We’re not vets, but we’ve educated ourselves with what works best for that illness,” she says. “We give them resources so they can educate themselves and talk more knowledgeably with their vet and formulate an opinion about what they feel comfortable moving forward with.”
Many animal nutrition experts believe that providing healthful food choices from the get-go can prevent many chronic illnesses affecting companion animals. However, says Heather Macfarlane, who has specialized in animal nutrition for more than 15 years, zeroing in on an optimum diet for the family pet can be a bit overwhelming. “There are so many opinions out there that it’s difficult for the average pet guardian to decide what’s best for their pet. It is my belief that there is no one perfect food for every pet, just like there is no perfect human food that we should eat every single day. Dogs and cats are individuals, and they are at varying levels of health. Food should be used to achieve balance, vitality, and well-being, and this usually looks different depending on the pet.”