Premium Pet Food Research

March 2016

A study of the nutritional value of high value pet food that contains beef, lamb and venison

Dogs are carnivores and need meat but how nutritious is their food? It has been hard to answer that question because worldwide, the nutritive value of dog feeds has not been scientifically assessed. Dog nutrition advice has been based on studies of humans.

In the past, petfood manufacturers were usually attached to abattoirs making use of offal waste as ingredients. Many of these offals now have a higher value as human food, exported especially to China. Today, cheap beef and lamb cuts are the main pet-food ingredient.

Main markets for New Zealand-made petfoods are the United States, Japan, Europe and Hong Kong.

A team led by AgResearch senior research scientist Dr. Emma Bermingham is investigating the nutritional value of dog foods made from New Zealand beef, lamb and venison with premium pet-food manufacturers ZiwiPeak Ltd, Bombay Petfoods and K9 Natural Ltd. Also involved is the Centre for Feline Nutrition at Massey University.

The aim of the three year Ministry for Primary Industry funded study is to add value to top-line dog foods by backing packet claims of nutritional benefits with science.

Research headed by Dr. Bermingham should help petfood manufacturers target health conscious export markets with especially designed and scientifically tested products made from New Zealand grown meat.

High value, raw, air-dried and freeze-dried protein rich dogfoods are often sold through veterinary clinics who want scientific data to support recommendations to clients, especially in Japan. Making this information available should give the New Zealand manufactured and tested products a market edge in main markets such as the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and Europe.

“Diabetes and obesity are the up-and-coming dog health concerns,” says Dr. Bermingham.

Three years of preliminary trials funded by AgResearch confirmed that dogs had better intestinal health eating a diet of raw red meat than high end kibble products. The protein in the raw meat was more digestible, giving more energy per gram consumed than manufactured products.

The Ministry of Primary Industries is funding three further years of this study, aimed at adding value to premium dog foods.

What Dr. Bermingham describes as “intestinal health markers” are being studied. This involves sampling blood, saliva and urine, measuring the bulk and consistency of faeces and identifying microbes they contain. “Bum and breath are health indicators for pet owners,” she says. “What they’re looking for is sweet-smelling breath and firm faeces.”

The study is likely to add value to the meat industry as cheap cuts of beef and lamb can fetch more money exported as value added petfoods than as food for people in low-return markets.

A report produced for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise by research company Coriolis in 2014, identified the petfood industry as an emerging area in the primary industries sector, with strong export volume and value growth. Super-premium products were especially profitable.

Globally, pet owners spent $67 billion on dog and cat food in 2012.

Dr. Bermingham said in the export market, premium dog food was being sold for roughly $30/kg compared with around $10 to $12 on the New Zealand market.

Study participants K9 and ZiwiPeak respectively produce freeze-dried and dried dog food to preserve nutrients while reducing product weight. Jimbo’s dog food is preservative, colour and flavour-free and includes ingredients such as possum, venison and mussels as well as beef and lamb.