Pet Parents Still Concerned, Confused About Food Recall

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Pet Food Recall and Animal Safety

Four weeks after the initial recall of pet food containing a contaminated ingredient, pet owners across the United States remain concerned and confused about what to feed their pets.

A survey of 400 cat and dog owners, commissioned last week by pet goods retailer PETCO, reveals that nearly three out of every four pet parents believe the pet food they buy may not be safe, although government officials have said the public should feel secure in purchasing pet food not subject to the recall.

Consumer concerns identified in the survey's findings are consistent with what retailers are hearing from their customers, and with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's report of receiving more than 12,000 consumer inquiries about the pet food recall -- the equivalent of two years' worth of inquiries for the entire agency.

"Given the complexity and fluidity of the situation, it's not surprising that consumers have questions and are looking for information," says Dr. Tom Edling, director of veterinary medicine for PETCO. "As pet parents, we want to protect our cats and dogs and provide them with the best care possible. Choosing a food that's right for your pet is an extremely important factor in your pet's health and life span."

Although 90 percent of surveyed pet owners have not changed their brand of dog or cat food, nearly half are now more likely to look at pet food ingredients before making a pet food purchase. In addition, 70 percent of surveyed dog and cat owners don't see a meaningful difference in nutritional value among the various brands and types of pet food.

Those results suggest that consumers want and need more information to feel comfortable making a good food decision for their pets, Dr. Edling says, adding that there are meaningful differences in nutrition among pet food recipes.

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"Only 1 percent of the food on our shelves was affected, and there is a wide variety of high-quality foods, including premium and natural, available to keep your pet happy and healthy," he says. "Most pet foods meet minimum standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO). If the AAFCO name is not on the package, the food is not considered nutritionally complete. Premium brands generally provide the highest quality and level of nutrition available, often exceeding minimum standards."

PETCO has seen increased consumer interest in high-quality premium foods, including natural and organic foods, over the last month.

Dr. Edling suggests that consumers consider the following factors when selecting a cat or dog food:

-- Safety - Pet owners should check all labels and dates of the foods in their homes against the recall lists and should closely monitor their pets' behavior. If a pet displays any signs of increased lethargy or listlessness, drinking more water and/or increased urination, the smartest thing a pet parent can do is to consult a veterinarian.

-- Ingredient list - Many pet owners think the first three ingredients of their pet's food determine the caliber of the food. This isn't necessarily so. "It's important to consider the entire ingredient list and how those ingredients work together," Dr. Edling says.

-- Premium brands - These brands generally provide the highest quality and level of nutrition. While premium foods typically cost more, higher nutrition levels mean that animals need to eat less food and will produce less waste. Premium food typically has greater consistency in its ingredients, so food purchased today will be the same as food purchased in six months. This is helpful in avoiding stomach upset.

-- Activity level - If your dog runs the Iditarod, he'll need a specialized diet. If your dog is a competitive athlete, she'll need a food formulated for higher energy levels. Likewise, a pet that spends most of his days on the couch needs a diet formulated for lower activity.

-- Age - Older animals need foods with lower protein levels to ease kidney work, whereas puppies or kittens need food with more fat and protein to properly develop.

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