Did you know that approximately 113 percent of dogs are very good puppers who deserve all the treats and walkies? It’s true – ask any dog owner. So beloved are our four-legged friends that we actually empathize with them more than with other humans, up to and including our own partners in certain circumstances.
And yet, according to new research published in the journal PLOS ONE, barely any of us know how to feed our pups properly.
“[The] vast majority of study dog owners were not aware of and did not follow FDA pet food handling and storage guidelines,” the study authors write.
“Exposure to contaminated dog food can have implications for canine and human health. … These risks may be amplified in households with children and/or immunocompromised individuals, which were over a third of respondents’ households.”
If you’re now thinking “wait – there are FDA guidelines on how to feed your dog?” then you’re in good company. Less than five percent of the 417 survey respondents in the study were aware of the recommendations, and not many more even thought of the FDA when the researchers asked who might provide the information, which kind of makes you wonder what people think the “F” in “FDA” actually stands for.
Unsurprisingly, most people not knowing about the existence of FDA guidelines resulted in most people failing to follow them. For example, only around one in five survey respondents reported washing their hands with hot water and soap before feeding their pup, and fewer than two in five reported washing them afterward. But both of those rates are impressively high compared to the number of people who knew to wash their dogs’ bowls and feeding scoop every day: not much more than one in ten participants reported following this guideline.
That may be a problem, because the other half of the study – a swab test of 68 dog bowls before and after study participants were reminded of the FDA guidelines – showed that good bowl hygiene can make a big difference.
“[The] risk of contamination of the household can be mitigated,” the study authors explain. “We concluded that bacterial contamination is impacted by dish washing protocols … However, as only 20 percent of [study] Group A and B respondents reported they were likely to follow their hygiene instructions long-term, and only 8 percent reported likely to follow all given instructions, the need for recommendations that are feasible as well as effective should be emphasized.”
It's not all bad news: nearly all respondents reported following some of the guidelines, like avoiding raw food, checking the food packaging for damage before serving it, and not using the pet bowl as a scooping utensil. But generally speaking, there’s a lot of room for improvement.
“The majority of respondents reported storing their pet food against FDA and most manufacturers’ recommendations, which may have implications as far as increased risk of microbial contamination, nutritional degradation and palatability,” the authors write.
“In addition, some respondents were engaging in behaviors that may increase risk of bacterial contamination that were not addressed in FDA guidelines such as the location of food preparation and storage,” they add.
With the study revealing just how few of us know how to feed our canine pals properly – and in most cases, not even knowing where to look for the information – the researchers say that future studies should concentrate on how to communicate most effectively with pet owners.
“[B]ecause survey respondents indicated low levels of awareness that the FDA was a source of such dog feeding hygiene recommendations, the expected sources of this information including the pet food label, veterinarians and pet food retailers, should consider prominently featuring these public health recommendations for their clients and/or customers,” they advise.
“Finally, further studies identifying ideal cleaning and storage recommendations as well as best practices to communicate these recommendations to consumers would help minimize risk of microbial contamination in pet food … as well as minimize health consequences to both pets and their human households.”