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How a New Pet Food is Developed
Drs. Foster & Smith Veterinary Services Department
Katharine Hillestad, DVM
Daily Food Requirements
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When setting out to create a new pet food, the developers usually have a specific idea in mind. They may feel they can make a nutritionally superior food, use a new manufacturing technique, or meet the needs of a certain segment of the market. For a new pet food to be successful, the initial concept must be translated into a product that is wholesome and nutritious, appeals to both pets and their owners, and has a reasonable shelf life.

The correct ingredients for the right life stage

Beagle puppy eatingNutritionists and food scientists must consider several factors when determining the types and amounts of ingredients used. The new food must meet the nutritional needs of the target population. By law, the label on the bag must state the life stage for whom the food is intended, for instance, "complete and balanced nutrition for growing puppies." A food designed for growing puppies will need to have higher levels of protein and fat than a food for an adult dog. A food designed for an overweight cat will have more fiber and fewer calories than a food for a cat who is nursing kittens. A food designed for dogs will not contain the specific amino acids and vitamins that a cat must have to stay healthy. To make a "complete and balanced" nutritional adequacy claim, pet food manufacturers must either conduct a feeding test following the protocol of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) or meet the minimum AAFCO Nutrient Profile for dogs or cats.

Formulas are researched and compared

Sometimes several formulas are developed and small batches of each are made as samples. These product prototypes may have varying ingredients, colors, textures, shapes, etc. Comparing them can help determine which formula will work best in terms of palatability, ease of processing, and length of shelf life. Market research may also be used to predict how consumers will respond to the proposed new product.

The new pet food must taste good

Cat eatingA successful new pet food must also taste good. The most nutritious food in the world is useless if it will not be eaten. Fresh, high-quality ingredients make a difference here. Proper processing is important too, as ingredients that are overcooked or scorched will detract from the taste. Sometimes palatability studies are used to determine taste preferences. It is interesting to note that some animals are particular about what is called "mouth feel," especially with dry food. Mouth feel refers to the physical properties of the kibble, including texture, density, size, and shape. It has been shown that the average dog has a definite preference for dry food that remains crunchy in water, rather than turning mushy. It has also been noted that cats may develop a shape preference with dry food, often based on the food they ate as a kitten.

Packaging must be appealing and informative

Packaging is also an important aspect of a new pet food. Work on the package design usually begins while the product formula is being developed. The food must stay fresh and wholesome for a reasonable length of time. Many foods have a darker-colored plastic coated inner wrap to protect the food from over-exposure to light and air. Packaging may come in a variety of materials, including coated paper, plastic, or a combination of the two. Colors and designs can be added in a wide variety.

By law, certain information must be included on the package. This includes a statement of the life stage for which the food is intended, and a list of ingredients in descending order by weight. Finally, the package must be attractive to consumers. Many decisions must be made, including how many package sizes will be offered, what material the packaging will be made of, what other information will be included on the package, the package design, and what the name of the food will be.


There are many steps in the development of a new pet food including formulation, nutritional analysis, palatability and feeding studies, prototype testing, market research, and package design. These steps are only a lead-in to the actual production of a new food, but they are very important in making a high-quality product.

References and Further Reading

Hand, Thatcher, Remillard, and Roudebush, ed. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition. Walsworth Publishing. Marceline, MO; 2000: 112-126.

Government Regulation of the Pet Food Industry 
How Dry, Semi-moist, and Canned Pet Foods are Manufactured  
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