Is grain-free food worth the price?

Los Angeles Times - - THE PETS ISSUE - By Elise Ober­liesen health@latimes.com

For some pam­pered pups, the days of smelly food from a can are a dis­tant mem­ory. In­stead, they might dine on freeze-dried tur­key hearts or pheas­ant pat­ties, or­ganic raw food or gluten-free meals. There are many grain-free op­tions, from com­pa­nies big and bou­tique, and those that ad­ver­tise that their food comes from just one source of pro­tein — New Zealand lamb or wild salmon, for ex­am­ple.

“We put our own val­ues into our dogs’ likes and needs. We’ve de­cided, be­cause I only eat nat­u­ral foods and I’m grain free, my pet should be grain free be­cause it’s health­ier for me so I think it’s health­ier for them,” says Jeff Wer­ber, a vet­eri­nar­ian in Los An­ge­les. But chang­ing your pet’s food isn’t al­ways nec­es­sary, he said, es­pe­cially if your dog’s coat glis­tens and she has a healthy stool.

Pet-food sales in the grain-free cat­e­gory are a $3bil­lion in­dus­try, which is 10% of the $30-bil­lion pet-food in­dus­try as a whole, ac­cord­ing to con­sumer re­search firm Pack­aged Facts. Twelve per­cent of dog own­ers and 7% of cat own­ers bought grain-free or gluten-free pet food in July and Au­gust 2014, the firm says.

Some pre­mium items will drain your wal­let faster than a dog chas­ing its tail. At P.C.’s Pantry in Boul­der, Colo., own­ers Mary Lee Withers and her hus­band, Ed, sell their own line of gluten-free and grain-free dog treats. At $14.95 per pound, pet own­ers just might be tempted to give gluten-free treats a try them­selves, es­pe­cially since they con­tain hu­man-grade food. At one L.A. shop, dog treats were as high as $16 for a 3.5-ounce bag. Or just look online: A 12-ounce bag of freeze-dried salmon and cod for cats sells for $23.

Mary Lee says plenty of peo­ple buy gluten-free treats be­cause of known pet food al­ler­gies, but oth­ers buy them be­cause the 100% meat for­mula is ap­peal­ing. “Grain-free dog treats are great for train­ing pur­poses be­cause there are a high-value treat.”

More con­sumers also are ask­ing whether the meat in pet food comes from a feed lot or a field. “They are ask­ing how is the food made, what’s in it, what’s not, who made it,” says Cath­leen En­right, pres­i­dent of the Pet Food In­sti­tute, a trade group based in Washington, D.C.

The Assn. of Amer­i­can Feed Con­trol Of­fi­cials has stan­dards, en­forced by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, that pet foods con­tain a bal­ance of nu­tri­ents aimed at keep­ing pets healthy.

Wer­ber has a sim­ple test: “The most im­por­tant thing when it comes to pet food is that they like it.”

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