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Dog Food Trends Follow American Diet Trends

Karen Richards

Salmon and sweet potato or chicken with blueberries. All gluten free and organic, of course. These are not choices on the menu of Eugene’s newest restaurant, but options in the pet food aisle. Pet owners are spending more on specialized food every year.

About one percent of Americans has celiac disease, and is allergic to gluten. Market research says ten times as many people are on a gluten-free diet. Similarly, only one genetic strain of Irish Setter has been proven to be gluten intolerant. Yet gluten free pet food is an exploding industry. Dr. Dean Beyerinck is a veterinarian at Bush Animal Hospital in Eugene:

Beyerinck “Pet food trends tend to mimic the way people feed themselves. And so the current big thing out there is that gluten is a big, big problem.”

Beyerinck says in his practice, allergies have not increased in recent years:

Beyerinck: “I don’t know that we’re seeing more of it than we were previously. I think it’s probably fairly similar. I think we have a lot more ways of dealing with it than we did before.”

Other locals do think allergies are more common. Trish Cole owns Suds ‘Em Yourself dog wash. She says she’s noticed a significant change in the past year:

Cole: "I can't explain what to attribute it to, but boy we see a lot of allergies. And because of that, dogs are getting very specific diets recommended by their veterinarians. Lamb based to fish based to venison, to bison. I mean, it's crazy. That's been a real new thing.”

Cole says she used to be able to give any customer’s pet any treat, but now she has to be aware of dogs on gluten free or wheat free diets.

Credit sudsemyourself.com
Eugene's Suds 'Em Yourself dog wash.

Ryan Garity started his company “Not for Dogs Only” after trying to find a treat his golden retriever could eat without getting sick. He makes gluten free treats in a health-department approved kitchen in Cottage Grove:

Garity: “We use all organic human grade ingredients in our products. That’s kind of where the name came from.”

Reporter: “So in theory, people can eat these too?”

Garity: “Absolutely.”

Reporter: “Have you tried them?”

Garity: “I have. We often will take these on a hike with our dog and have a little snack for ourselves as well if need be.”

More and more, dogs are being treated like members of the family. This spring, Saturday Night Live aired a parody ad for a pet food brand called Blue River:

Woman: “Our animals, they’re like part of the family, right peanut?”

Man: “We have kids too.”

Woman: “But the animals, we’ve had longer. And I want the best for them. That’s why we switched to Blue River dog food.”

Credit Karen Richards
Laurie Ball and Brett Sliger of The Healthy Pet

Feeding pets food fit for people is extreme, although not uncommon. Dr. Marion Nestle, author of “Feed Your Pet Right,” warns if all the pets in America ate this way, it would be like feeding an additional 42 million people.

It’s also expensive. Specialty dog food can cost three or four times as much as standard kibble. But people will pay to feed their pets what they consider to be good food. Brett Sliger manages The Healthy Pet in Eugene:

Sliger: “We’ve definitely had record years as far as growth with customers, and sales, and we’re definitely seeing more and more people seeking certain dietary needs.”

The U.S. pet food industry brought in over 21 billion dollars in 2013. Natural and organic food has been taking a bigger piece of the pie every year.

Dr. Beyerinck says all the major brands are offering higher-end choices. Even Costco now sells a gluten-free dog food.

Credit bushanimalhospital.com
Dr. Dean Beyerinck

Beyerinck: “Whether or not it’s a valid concern is up for debate. But they’re definitely responding to what people want.”

It used to be that all dog food was beef based. Dr. Beyerinck says, when veterinarians want to test for allergies, they like to use foods the animals haven't eaten before:

Beyerinck: “The problem we run into is that people will choose all these different foods and have exposed their dogs to all these different things over time, before we can even step in and try to help ‘em out.”

At a local dog park, several dogs try samples of gluten-free treats. Rebecca Sprinson has a 5-year old King Charles spaniel named Henry:

Sprinson: “He loves food. Gentle. Gentle. Good boy. What do you think? It’s pretty hard huh? That’s why mama doesn’t eat gluten free stuff either.”

Stanley is a Jack Russell terrier. Erin Carmichael has him on a grain free diet:

Carmichael: “He kind of has some skin issues. So I’ve been trying that for a little while.”

Stanley refused the biscuit. Out of four dogs, two ate the treats and two did not. Pet parents whose dogs don't like certain foods have no reason to fear. There are plenty of choices available, and more being added every day.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.
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