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Sizzling Stock: Cat Food

Posted: June 21, 2012, 8:30 p.m. EDT


Feeding the Move Inside
Manufacturers are offering plenty of indoor diet options to meet the needs of pet owners with in-home cats.
By Karen Shugart

As store manager of Pet Stop in Missoula, Mont., Steve Higgins has noted a shift in cat ownership trends. At first, most of his customers kept their cats outdoors. Then, he noticed more were letting their felines roam outdoors as well as indoors. Finally, more customers were keeping their cats inside all of the time, due in part, he thinks, to people living in apartments.

Today, seven out of 10 cats are kept indoors at night—their prime hunting time—said Bettie Hamilton, director of product development for Halo Purely for Pets in Tampa, Fla. While the lifespan-lengthening shift is welcome to many advocates, the move indoors has changed a cat’s nutritional needs.

How, for instance, should a diet be adjusted to reflect less activity? How should it aid a cat in shedding? How could it help reduce litterbox odor?

As a result, several manufacturers have formulated indoor diets that not only help keep in check a common concern—weight—but address many lifestyle issues.

Cat food
Employees can start a conversation with consumers about the potential health benefits of indoor diets. Sherri L. Collins/Bowtie Inc. at Petstop Warehouse
“An indoor lifestyle can protect pets from outdoor hazards, but there are risks,” said Kostas Kontopanos, president of Hill’s Pet Nutrition U.S in Topeka, Kan. “Indoor cats tend to be more sedentary than their outdoor counterparts, gain weight, groom more and have frequent hairballs.”

While indoor diets are typically designed to control weight through lower caloric content, these days the diets focus on overall health, manufacturers reported.

“It’s about the cat’s health,” said Dr. Brent Mayabb, DVM, manager of education and development at Royal Canin in St. Charles, Mo. “There’s been an increased interest in using indoor products for these reasons.”

Indoor cats, for instance, groom themselves more than their outdoor counterparts, in part because they don’t have as much environmental stimulation in a house or an apartment, Dr. Mayabb said.
 
At the same time, cats’ coats are designed to grow in relation to the hours of sunlight available, and when it’s brighter and warmer, they shed more. But indoor cats’ lifestyle throws off that natural schedule.

“Our indoor cats basically have artificial light for what is a summer day year-round,” Mayabb said. “Their year-round base level is just under what would be a summer shedding period for an outdoor cat.”

As a result, he said, “Not only are they grooming more, but they’re shedding more coat.”

That’s why many indoor formulas, such as those manufactured by Royal Canin and others, make hairball control a priority. Kontopanos said Hill’s Science Diet Indoor cat food has proprietary fiber technology that can help cats avoid hairballs in as few as 30 days.

Still, many cat owners aren’t aware that indoor formulas can help control hairballs. Few have come to Chris Achord, owner of The Cat Shoppe and The Dog Store in Nashville, Tenn., looking for an indoor food for such reasons.

Indoor formulas can also take into account the growing numbers of households with more than one cat, Mayabb said. A diet formulated with highly digestible protein—as well as a blend of soluble and insoluble fiber—could reduce litterbox odor, he said. As a result, less material would pass through the colon to be fermented by gas-producing bacteria.

Customers with multiple cats often seek out larger bags of food, Hamilton noted. That’s why Halo came out with a larger 6-pound bag for its dry Spot’s Stew formulas, including its Indoor and new Grain-Free varieties.
 
“This allows [customers] better economy and fewer trips to the pet stores,” Hamilton said.

While a well-balanced diet is important for any cat, indoor formulas must provide complete, balanced nutrition for felines that are “no longer out there looking for prey,” she noted, adding that hydration and amino acids for skin and coat health are part of this equation.

To replicate natural diets for cats, Bravo strives to bring the outdoors inside, the company reported.

“Bravo products are designed to mimic prey and meet the carnivore needs of all cats,” said Bette Schubert, co-founder and national sales director for the Vernon, Conn., company. “We offer blends using single proteins to specialty formulas that provide [the] ultimate flexibility in creating a custom diet to meet [a] cat’s unique individual needs.”

The company’s popular formulas for cats include Bravo Blends in Chicken, Turkey and Lamb, which is new, Schubert added.

In May, WellPet LLC’s Wellness Natural Food For Pets expanded its Wellness Core Grain-Free line for cats with several offerings, including a Dry Indoor Formula. It has 20 percent less fat than Wellness CORE Original, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, marketing communications manager for the company, which is based in Tewksbury, Mass.

“While there’s still a focus on natural, complete diets that will keep a pet’s weight in a normal range, the category has become even more specialized to ensure pets with allergies or who need grain-free diets are able to thrive,” she said. 

This may mean that customers choose products for their indoor cats that aren’t labeled as designed for indoor cats, such as holistic or grain-free options, noted some retailers.

“Those types of foods are more nutritious for the animal and also, with less fillers and stuff in there, there is less waste and you don’t feed as much,” Pet Stop’s Higgins said.

Dan Dowd has been turning more and more to grain-free foods. The manager of Atlas Pet Supply in Minneapolis, Dowd said such foods offer myriad benefits for indoor cats and outdoor cats.

“Grain-free is good for everybody,” Dowd said. “A lot of the vets like the grain-free foods.”

Within the past year, Hill’s launched Science Diet Ideal Balance, which has meat as its first ingredient and contains no corn. It retains the benefits of the company’s Ideal Balance Grain Free formula but also lacks wheat, soy, dairy, beef, and artificial colors or flavors, Kontopanos said.

The company has also recently launched three feline foods that address some common needs of indoor cats, Kontopanos said. Its Science Diet 11+ Age Defying formula is geared toward helping cats feel younger. Two others, Science Diet Healthy Advantage and Prescription Diet y/d Feline Thyroid Health, are available through veterinary clinics.

Education plays a larger role in marketing indoor-cat products, several manufacturers and retailers reported. Many customers might not be aware that indoor formulas can help reduce litterbox odor, Royal Canin’s Mayabb said.

“You can probably grab their attention with that,” he noted.

Once they’re educated, grabbing customers’ attention may not be necessary. While some retailers reported that their sales of grain-free foods are topping indoor formulas, others said the indoor category is showing strong with customers.

“It’s definitely taken off,” said The Cat Shoppe and The Dog Store’s Achord, who adopts cats out from her store only to homes where the pets will be kept indoors.

Such growth, Halo Purely for Pets’ Hamilton said, reflects the continuing evolution of cats as members of the family.

“If you look at cats, they basically started in the barnyard, then the backyard,” she said. “And now they’re in the bedroom.”

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