Many pet parents and owners pay attention to their pets’ diet. Consequently, functional nutrition is a real opportunity for producers. Functional pet food ingredients boost general health or address specific concerns, such as weight management, digestion and immune strength. Specialised pet food formulations have been available for a while. However, today’s health-conscious consumers increasingly pass on their appetite for innovative nutritional solutions to their furry companions.
Research from NeilsenIQ shows that pet owners are increasingly looking for specific attributes, with searches for “protein sources”, “dental health”, “probiotics”, and “food as medicine”, all rising in popularity. Here are some of the key functional pet food ingredients and trends for producers looking to tap into this growing market.
Natural sources and functional pet food ingredients
As owners search for products with more natural and organic ingredients, producers must keep innovating. Novel ingredients such as turmeric, hemp and ashwagandha are being used in pet foods and treats. Interestingly, a team of researchers recently experimented with producing dog food using curcumin – which derives from the turmeric plant – as a replacement for synthetic antioxidants. They found that curcumin improved animal health by stimulating the antioxidant system while having an anti-inflammatory effect without causing increased weight gain.
Supplements and vitamins
With the pandemic creating more focus on health and wellness, pet owners are increasingly seeking preventive health or treatment solutions for their pets. Research indicates that 90% of consumers would rather try a more natural supplement than head to the pharmacy.
Consumers are now looking to natural remedies such as CBD supplements to address issues such as anxiety, pain management, and inflammation not just for themselves but also for their pets.
Probiotics and superfoods such as avocado, berries and quinoa, which are rich in antioxidants, are another growing area of popularity. Pet food producers are now adapting this trend, using recognisable ingredients that we associate with health and wellness. Pet food brand Nood recently launched in the UK with the promise of “nutritious meals” for cats and dogs, with each dish full of proteins, including cage-free chicken and sustainable salmon, and nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Dishes contain unique blends of superfoods such as pomegranate (rich in antioxidants), green pea (full of Vitamin K), and apple extract (a source of Vitamin C).
Digestive health and weight management
Amongst functional pet food trends gaining momentum are those promoting digestive health and weight management. Research suggests that pet microbiomes are more similar to the human microbiome than once thought, which means brands are now using human digestive health ingredients for pets.
British health food brand Pooch & Mutt has introduced a new range of wet dog food for dogs with sensitive digestion or gastrointestinal diseases. The formulations use natural ingredients such as fresh white fish, high in Omega 3 fatty acids, low in fat, and easily digestible protein sources to support digestive issues such as pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Skin and coat health
According to a recent survey, 22% of dog owners visit a vet due to skin conditions, including skin allergies. Skincare nutrients can improve skin and coat conditions and reduce pets’ seasonal itching. Pooch & Much also launched a functional dry food with protein-rich fresh herring. It’s rich in essential fatty acids as well as collagen, a structural protein that promotes healthy skin. It also contains probiotics to support skin allergies and biotin, a B-Vitamin that is already popular in human products for healthy skin, hair and nails.
Today pets can also enjoy the comforting flavours of an old-fashioned broth – reimagined for dogs and cats. Pet food brand Cary recently introduced a range of “naturally nourishing” Grass-Fed Beef and Free Range Chicken Bone Broths. The broths are made by slowly simmering natural bones with the addition of organic carrots, organic celery and organic parsley. The broths are also infused with Marine Microalgae Oil, which is said to be naturally rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. The promise is a nutrient-rich dish that is as good as homemade food.
Pet owners are increasingly looking for formulas containing added vitamins and nutrients that boost immune system health – for example, formulations with the right amount of vitamins D, C and E, beta carotene, and Omega 3 fatty acids. Pet food brand Wellness have launched a range of ‘CORE bowl boosters immune health toppers’ for dogs. The toppers are formulated with nutrient-rich ingredients such as cranberries, papaya, carrots, sweet potatoes and kelp, and zinc and Vitamin E to promote optimal immune health.
Today’s innovations are also shifting toward functional formulations that promote dental health. Hill’s Pet Nutrition has developed a “therapeutic” dry food formula to improve dental health in dogs and cats. The formula contains a hydrolysed protein and a starch high in amylopectin with one or more reducing sugars. The clinically proven formula is said to use “innovative dental technology”, whereby one or more amino acid groups in the hydrolysed protein are covalently bonded to the reducing sugars to promote dental efficacy.
Emerging company MYOS RENS Technology – which manufactures muscle-building performance supplements for dogs and humans – has created what they call an “all-natural, advanced nutrition product” made from fertilised egg yolk, which has been clinically shown to reduce muscle atrophy in dogs and help them recover from injury. The invention can be used as a food ingredient or additive and comprises egg yolk, egg white or whole egg. A patented low-temperature manufacturing process eliminates harmful pathogens from the formula while preserving the beneficial bioactive molecules.