An annual survey by American Pet Products Association (APPA) found that dogs are still America’s favorite pet — half of U.S. homes include at least one dog. APPA analysts gathered responses from nearly 3,500 pet owners and balanced it with U.S. Census data to determine that an estimated 63.4 million American households include canine companions.

Those dogs often eat better than their owners. More than half (55%) of millennials admitted that they feed their dogs high-quality food that surpasses their own diet. (Millennials are also the generation that’s most likely to own a dog.)

Dogs outrank other family members in more than just their diet. According to a survey published by Merrick Pet Care, dogs are the favorite housemate among 69% of owners. And their spending habits prove it:

  • 40% of dog owners say they spend more on their dogs than on themselves
  • 25% considered their dog in car or home purchasing decisions
  • 62% buy holiday gifts for their dogs

Feeding trends

So what are we feeding man’s best friend these days? Of the $30.32 billion Americans spent on pet food in 2018, most of it went toward premium dog food brands, or foods made with higher quality ingredients. Overall, pet owners are paying more attention to labels, too — 92% check the ingredients before purchasing new foods.  

Here are a few things pet owners may be looking for on those labels. (As it turns out, pet food trends have a lot in common with what consumers are looking for in human food.)

Natural

Almost half of the participants in one survey indicated they’d rather buy pet food labeled as “natural.” Another survey found that 29% of consumers don’t want any artificial ingredients in their pets’ diet.

Human grade

“Human grade” food is “stored, handled, processed, and transported” in ways that meet human food standards. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food has any benefit over standard kibble, but consumers may interpret this term as indicating food safety and quality.

Less processing

Gone are the days when pet food was restricted to two formats — dry or wet. Air-dried, freeze-dried, frozen raw, fresh, and gently cooked options are on the rise. The idea is that these minimally processed foods retain more of the original benefits of the ingredients, thus more closely resembling the food animals consume in nature.

Vegan

The addition of fruits and vegetables — such as pumpkin, blueberries, and sweet potatoes — can boost canine health. But some owners are moving toward diets for their pets that are completely meat-free. One survey found that 78% of vegan owners and 35% of owners overall would be interested in feeding pets a plant-based diet. But some are hesitant, as there isn’t enough research yet to determine what health risks may exist for diets absent of meat.

CBD

Hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) treats and supplements are also on the move in the pet industry, mainly to address pets’ emotional needs. Almost 85% of dog owners say their pup suffers from stress and anxiety, and CBD has shown some promise for these pets anecdotally. Some CBD products also claim to address issues with digestion, joint pain and arthritis, and itchy skin and allergies.

At the end of the day, most owners consider their dogs an important part of the family, and they want to treat them as such. This includes providing premium nutrition and investing in products they believe will boost their pets’ overall quality of life, right up there with including dogs in holidays, vacations, and big life decisions, and saving space for them on the couch.