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Call for clearer pet food labelling

A PET Insurance company has called for clearer labelling on pet food following the results of a study which suggests that a rising number of UK pets are suffering from food intolerances and allergies.

From its survey of 350 vets and 1,700 pet owners, More Than Pet Insurance reports that 55% of vets are seeing growth in pet illnesses relating to diet.

Understanding and recognising dietary intolerance is difficult for pet-owners as recurring signs are often passed off as minor illnesses. Once diagnosed, healing the problem is not easy either.

The company says that the problem is exacerbated by of a lack of legislation governing pet food labelling, which means pet owners cannot always clearly identify what they are feeding their pet.

Currently, pet food manufacturers are not obliged to name actual ingredients and some pet food labels use loose terms such as 'meat by-products' and 'cereal or animal derivatives'. More Than is now calling for those pet food manufacturers to use better, more accurate labelling to assist pet owners and vets in diagnosing and preventing food intolerances.

Nowadays 87% of UK vets are recommending more specialist diets for pets, compared to five years ago.

Sophie de Pelet, More Than's veterinary adviser, commented: "Food allergy and intolerance symptoms that pets suffer from are very similar to those seen in humans, for example, eczema, dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy, all of which can be difficult to attribute to diet alone as this can be caused by so many other disease processes. As a result, diagnosis and treatment can be a lengthy and thus costly exercise.

"Allergy tests carried out by vets can aid diagnosis, but can cost in excess of £200. Exclusion diets (containing unique forms of protein and carbohydrate specifically catered for the animal in question) will be necessary to confirm diagnosis. Most pet insurance policies will cover the costs of testing, so pet owners should check their policy details to avoid unexpected expense."

PFMA veterinary nutrition team question the statistics quoted in the More Than study
The Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association said that it was "disappointed" by More Than’s press statement which it described as "misleading and inaccurate".

A spokesperson for the PFMA highlighted the following points, saying:

1. We feel the More Than study is largely anecdotal. We certainly don’t feel there is scientific evidence to support the claim that 1 in 10 cats and dogs suffer from food intolerances. It is very difficult to get a clear picture of the prevalence of food sensitivities due to the difficulties of diagnosis. There is no single clinical test to confirm or refute a food sensitivity and an elimination diet is the only reliable method. However, work in this area suggests that food allergies and intolerances in cats and dogs are rare (please see the further information document).

2. The problem lies with the animal and the way it reacts to food, rather than the food necessarily being at fault as the statement infers. Susceptible cats and dogs would benefit from a fixed diet formula i.e. the ingredients in the food are the same every time. Many premium life-stage products which are widely available, provide a full ingredients listing and would help owners select a fixed formula product.

3. Pet food labelling legislation is comprehensive and recognises the varying needs of individual pet owners. For the small minority of pets who suffer from dietary sensitivity, there is a specific EU directive for labelling which enables manufacturers to highlight diets which have been designed for particular nutritional purposes. This means the products can be clearly and easily identified by pet owners.

4. ‘Value life stage products’ are more likely to have ingredients listed by category. This enables manufacturers to select ingredients based on supply levels, and to produce a more economical product.

5. Beyond the legislative requirements, manufacturers operate consumer care lines, which will be able to assist with questions related to ingredients of specific products. The contact details are clearly labelled on the package.

It is widely recognised by the veterinary profession that pets are living longer, healthier lives as a result of the advances in pet nutrition and the increased feeding of prepared pet food.