Global Cat Food Market Trends

Cats worldwide are enjoying better food and longer lives, multiple studies show. If you are the owner of a feline, you are helping to drive that trend. By the year 2017, demand for pet food is expected to boost sales to $95.7 billion across the globe, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. (GIA).

This report and others help reveal pet food trends in other countries. Here’s a look at what is happening now in some key locations:

Australia

Down Under, the number of dogs and cats per household is actually declining a bit, suggests industry analysis firm IBISWorld. Some of that is due to increasing urbanization, since farmers tend to care for more animals in general. Pet food and other product sales are booming, though, just as they are in many other countries. The reason: increasingly spoiled pooches and kitties. “Though declining in number, the average pet now enjoys better food, more treats and even inclusion in sophisticated human products like health insurance,” says IBISWorld analyst Craig Shulman.

Online sales of pet food are going up in Australia, with the Internet market “in a growth phase, brought on by expansion of products and services.” Over the past five years in Oz, online sales of cat food and other pet products have doubled. Shulman and his team credit this to improved technology and infrastructure supporting such purchases.

Europe
GIA concludes that the European pet food market is now primarily influenced by four factors: health-oriented products, foods for cats at different life stages, breed-specific diets, and treats. Health concerns are paramount, though.

Cat ownership is on the rise in the United Kingdom, says Lee Linthicum, head of food research at Euromonitor International, a market analysis firm. While Brits clearly love their cats, the tough economy is taking a toll on families, requiring them to work more hours while still limiting their budgets. “It burdens those owners that want to offer the best for their pet but cannot afford to do so.” Nevertheless, people are working hard in an effort to feed their cats the best and healthiest foods possible.

Asia-Pacific

This large, widespread region is enjoying the fastest-growing market for pet foods. GIA found that in Vietnam, India and China, product pricing and value for money are extremely important to cat owners.

Japan is somewhat similar to Australia. As for that nation, many families in Japan own older pets, so people are interested in buying new products appropriate for aging and elderly kitties. That’s a good sign, further supporting that cats are living to advanced ages.

In Singapore, South Korea and Japan, four factors are fueling pet food sales:

1.    Innovation

2.    Shorter product lifecycles (customers want to feed the freshest possible foods to their pets)

3.    Healthier products

4.    Convenience

Shared Trends

In most places around the world, the following seem to hold true, based on the GIA findings:

· Dog food sales are growing at a faster pace than cat food sales, but food sales for felines remain strong.

· People are mostly buying their pet food at retail grocery chains, at pet superstores and on the Internet.

· There are good signs that the economy is now post-recession, so leading companies are gearing up with new food product launches.

“The pet food industry continues to grow and expand,” says Stephen Zawistowski, science advisor for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Even during the toughest economic times, owners want the best for their pets.”

Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute in Washington, D.C., agrees. “Pets have become like every other member of the family, and this is increasingly reflected in how people feed their animals.”

“Pet foods are looking more like people food,” adds Ekedahl. “Consumers are into organic, natural foods now, and that’s what you’re seeing on pet food shelves. The industry has really come a long way in the past 10 years in meeting this growing interest.”

Can New Cat Feeders Help Solve Mealtime Problems?

Take a look at the food bowls offered online and in pet stores, and you’ll find more than a handful of newfangled bowls designed to solve various food-related problems -- especially overeating.

The DuraPet Slow-feed Bowl, for example, claims to be “ideal for overweight cats or cats that throw up after eating too quickly.” The Drs. Foster and Smith Bridgeport Slow Down Bowl for Cats has a “fish-shaped ‘slow-down’ feature that curbs air gulping and flatulence.” And the makers of the Break-fast Cat Bowl mention, “Slower eating makes an animal feel fuller and reduces instances of re-eating.”

The bowls themselves are pretty standard, except they have anywhere from one to three raised bumps in the middle that cats have to work around to get their kibble. They don’t tend to cost much more for this minor design change (prices range from $5.99 to $16.99), but whether or not they actually work is debatable. Many online customer reviews indicate that they can indeed slow down cats’ eating. But whether the slower pace can aid weight loss, digestion or flatulence is a question better left to veterinary professionals.

Aiding Digestion, but Not Curbing Weight Gain
“Slowing food intake could potentially aid in digestion by reducing the incidence of vomiting,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Food gulping can be associated with the swallowing of excessive air that may lead to flatulence, however, this is seen more frequently in dogs.” Dicke says it’s unlikely that these bowls can help overweight cats lose weight. “Techniques and apparatuses used to slow down food intake in cats are more about controlling vomiting than weight,” she says.

Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, agrees. “Weight loss is achieved by portion control of the appropriate food and increased activity level,” she says. “If you’re serving too much of the wrong food, a bowl won’t make any difference.”

Dicke, who has worked with teams of nutritionists and researchers, says switching to a food that’s been scientifically designed for weight loss can additionally help. “Look for special ingredients, such as L-carnitine -- also known as the ‘fat burner’ -- to promote loss of fat and maintenance of lean muscle,” she says.

Cat Food Bowls for Play
If slow food bowls have iffy benefits, other interactive slow food bowls could make eating fun for any cat. The Stimulo bowl by Aikiou ($28.95) is genuinely novel in that it looks nothing like a bowl. Rather, it is a collection of vertical tubes of different heights in which you can stash food. Your cats must then work at getting their meal.

The manufacturers tout this as something that taps into cats’ instincts for hunting and play. “It will depend upon the personality of the individual cat,” says Nelson. “Some will decide it’s not worth the wait, others may find it quite stimulating.”

Dicke says she would take the idea of the Stimulo and expand it across a wider area. “Small amounts of food hidden throughout the house may provide multiple benefits, including mentally engaging the cat, slowing food intake and providing exercise (which could provide a weight loss benefit),” she says. Dicke also suggests a homemade version of standard slow food bowls -- just place a golf ball or very large marbles in the feeding bowl. Small amounts of food placed in an egg cartoon container can also serve to slow food intake by increasing the difficulty of getting it.

For the granddaddy of fancy cat food bowl designs, look no further than the Dog-proof Cat Feeding Station, sold by Frontgate. Resembling a side table with a smooth walnut finish, the feeding station is essentially a handsome cage that can hold and protect a cat food bowl. A cat can slip into the station and eat in peace.

It’s a great idea if you have a dog that goes after your cat’s food. But considering its $199.95 price tag, you may prefer to come up with a homemade solution for this one too.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/MJN123

Improve Your Senior Cat’s Eating Behavior

Has your cat developed a loss of interest in eating? Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian based in North Carolina, found that a revised diet that favored particularly odorous foods -- or food that could be enhanced in terms of smell -- can help improve a cat’s eating behavior almost immediately.

Out of Smell, out of Mind
To understand what a decline in the sense of smell means to a cat, consider the fact that they have an extra organ tucked in the upper back area of their mouths. It serves to detect pheromones and thereby smell mates or prey. “We don’t have this,” says Ward. “As humans, we’re visual sensory creatures, but animals are more predominantly smell and sound. So it’s hard for people to put themselves in the place of a cat that can’t smell.”

If you notice a loss of appetite, or if your cat generally becomes more finicky (especially preferring more aromatic foods), your first step should be a veterinarian visit to rule out other factors. Decreased eating could be due to serious oral or dental problems, or one of several treatable medical issues that affect the sense of smell.

“Many people bring their cats in for decreased appetite, and it often turns out to be an upper respiratory infection,” says Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, a Virginia-based veterinarian and member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council. “The inflammation and nasal discharge causes a decrease in the functionality of the olfactory senses.” She adds that appetite usually returns to normal once the illness is treated.

But for senior cats, starting around age 11, it’s often just a basic (and permanent) age-related decline. And while it’s unlikely that your cat would let itself starve to death, any level of malnutrition during the senior years is a concern you should try to address.

Tricks for Feeding a Finicky Cat

  • Switch food. Wet/canned food tends to be more pungent than dry food. Or, try mixing some wet food in with your cat’s normal food to give it an added aromatic punch. When switching to a new food, stick to high-quality formulations that are tailored to seniors.
  • Heat the food. In general, heated food tends to be more aromatic than room-temperature food. Take care not to overdo it and risk mouth burns, and avoid using plastic or metal bowls in the microwave.
  • Season the food. Many pet food companies now offer what are generally called “toppers.” They may come as small bits of freeze-dried meats that can be mixed into a bowl of food, or as aromatic, savory sauces that can be poured over dry food. “A lot of these products seem more tailored to dogs,” says Ward, “but I’ve had success using them with cats, so it’s worth a shot.”

Consult Your Veterinarian
As with any change in diet, consult your veterinarian before moving forward. As long as you rule out more serious health causes, an aromatic tweak to the food can usually improve appetite.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/v777999

How You and Your Cat Can Go Green

With so much focus on the environment these days, cat owners are becoming more and more interested in making environmentally responsible decisions. “I think for all my clients, sustainability takes a backseat to nutrition,” says Dr. Patricia Joyce, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners. “With that said, most pet owners would love to make ethical environmental choices in all aspects of their lives, including what they feed their cats.”

The pet food industry is taking note. In a recent survey conducted by the trade magazine Petfood Industry, 62 percent of respondents reported believing that consumers value sustainability and cited consumer demand as one key reason for their operations adopting green practices. Below, Joyce and Virginia-based emergency veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson weigh in on balancing your cat’s nutritional requirements with environmental responsibility, and other ways to protect the planet while caring for your cat.

Cat Nutritional Needs

Cats are obligate carnivores, subsisting on diets that are high in animal protein. “A cat cannot be a vegetarian, no matter its owner’s preferences,” says Nelson. “Do your research and find a pet food manufacturer that emphasizes humane treatment of its protein sources, but do not force a vegetarian diet on your cat.”

If the resources it requires to bring beef to your pet’s dish offend your sensibilities, fish offers a healthy alternative for cats, and the cat food industry is taking particular pains to make environmentally sound fishing choices. The World Wildlife Fund, for example, is working with some companies to develop a fish sustainability program, making sure products do not include overfished species.

Some protein sources raised on land also leave a relatively small environmental footprint. For example, because of a chicken’s size, transporting it “from farm to fork” results in a substantially smaller amount of greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation of beef does.

Other Ways to Help the Environment

“At the end of the day, the goal is to feed your pet the best-quality food,” says Nelson. “If that’s beef, then it’s beef. You can try to reduce your environmental footprint in other ways that don’t negatively impact your cat’s well-being. Ride your bike rather than drive. Recycle.”

Joyce also suggests using biodegradable kitty litter in place of clay litter, 2 million nonbiodegradable tons of which are currently dumped into landfills each year. And surf the Web to start researching the following nonfood aspects of your cat’s kibble company:

  • Packaging. Look for companies that use renewable or recycled materials for their packaging. For example, some dry cat food now comes in resealable plastic bags that can be returned to the grocery store after use for recycling.
  • Energy consumption. Some commercial pet food makers have made public commitments to using renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power. Look for these commitments, as well as manufacturing plant Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • Giving back. Corporate philanthropy often supports green causes. Pet food manufacturers in North America are involved with all sorts of philanthropic programs -- from dedicating a percentage of their profits to supplying clean water to children, to supporting local conservation efforts.

With the pet food industry coming on board to support a whole host of changes that are environmentally friendly, cat owners can feel more optimistic about reducing their cats’ carbon paw prints.

Cat Food: Then and Now

Domesticated cats have been with us since at least predynastic Egyptian times -- about 6,000 years ago -- but commercial cat food dates back fewer than 200 years. So what were cat owners feeding their pets way back when? How did packaged cat food emerge and evolve?

Early 1800s
Although the Industrial Revolution was well underway in the early 1800s, many people at the start of the 19th century were living a rural lifestyle. Cats were valued allies, particularly on farms, because they ridded the land of pesky rodents. Those who lived on the farms may have set out bowls of meat and cream for the cats. These were more supplemental foods and served as attractants, meant to keep the cats healthy and ready to feast on mice and rats.

James Spratt’s Mid-1800s Breakthrough
The world’s first commercial alternative to feline farm life vittles emerged in the mid-19th century, according to Stephen Zawistowski, science advisor for The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. At this time, James Spratt -- an electrician from Ohio -- was selling lightning rods, which might have fueled his own mental light bulb. “He watched how dogs would eat up hard tack biscuits on fishing docks, and thought, ‘Wow, I could make something similar,’” says Zawistowski.

Spratt compressed beet root, various other vegetables, meat and wheat into cakes, baked them, and the first manufactured pet food was born. He called it a “Meat Fibrine Dog Cake” and cleverly printed ads on the opposite side of dog show flyers, which he printed and controlled with business partner Charles Cruft, founder of Crufts dog shows.

Cat aficionados soon latched on and bought the cakes too. At this time, small-business owners -- often working through farm animal feed operations or veterinary offices -- started selling their own pet food products to locals. Horsemeat was a popular ingredient in early cat foods, since horses were plentiful then.

Regulated Products and the Birth of AAFCO
With the growing popularity of commercial pet products came a need for regulation. In 1909, the Association of American Feed Control Officials was founded to oversee pet food quality. To this day, quality pet foods feature an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement that indicates that the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage. Kurt Gallagher, communications director of the Pet Food Institute, indicated that AAFCO paved the way for canned cat foods, with regulations established in 1917 for canned pet food products. Store-bought items were thought of as elite, since only wealthy individuals shopped beforehand.

1950s Machinery Breakthrough
The two World Wars put a dent in businesses, but during the high-growth 1950s, snack food manufacturing resulted in yet another ingenious moment. Clever observers, watching cheese puff extruders turn out tasty bites, had the idea that such machinery could produce dry pet foods with yummy nutritious coatings, says Zawistowski. This resulted in the first pellet-sized dry foods, similar to those that are still sold today.

During the early- to mid-20th century, new influential entrepreneurs associated with companies like Purina, Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Iams forged new commercial ground. Paul Iams, for example, “worked as a dog food salesman during the Depression,” according to Jennifer Bayot of The New York Times. “Not even severe economic hardship, he learned, could deter pet owners from paying the price to feed their companions.” Iams created some of the first meat-based, high-protein foods for pets, putting the emphasis on quality and good health. At the same time, interest in pets began to skyrocket. “Cat food sales in 1958 were 52 million,” says Gallagher. “In 2010, they were about 6.5 billion.”

Continued Emphasis on Quality and Growth
To this day, most cat owners feed their pets foods that contain high-quality ingredients with health benefits. The “eat healthy” trend really kicked in during the late 1960s, with momentum building with each year. “The pet food industry continues to grow and expand,” says Zawistowski. “Even during the toughest economic times, owners want the best for their pets.”