I was invited again this year to attend the Nestlé-Purina Better with Pets Summit in New York. I had such a great experience last year, I jumped at the chance to go.
Unfortunately, because of the way my travel schedule worked out, I was not able to bring Gretel along this time.
I admit it’s easy to get caught up in all the “corporate” bashing of Purina on social media. However, I choose to keep an open mind and look at the bigger picture of who they are and what they do.
Inherently, a large company is more visible to the public so the fact that they are out to make money, and they emphasize “the bottom line”, is more in your face.
However, it’s precisely because of their size that they are able to help advance what we know about keeping pets healthy, happy, and making the world a better place for them and their people.
They are one of a handful of companies in the world whose commitment to research, and improving the human-pet bond, is shaping the future of pet care.
Purina’s primary passion is pushing pet nutrition forward through rigorous scientific research. That’s not all they are concerned about though.
They regularly forge partnerships in the pet welfare world and help to raise awareness about what pets truly need. Purina exceeds $10,000,000 in annual investments across the company in pet welfare and the pet community.
When I walked in the door of the Brooklyn expo center, I was immediately greeted by the #LetsLiveBig hashtag, a reminder that Purina wants to shape a better future for pets and people and they are shooting for the moon. One of Purina’s mottos is Dream – Solve – Make a Difference.
One way they dream big is to play “imagine if” to help them think big and solve problems.
I saw an example of their “imagine boards”, with a sampling of these “imagine if” questions, at the Summit. There were questions like, “imagine your older dog or cat acted like they used to” and “imagine one more birthday with your dog”.
Figuring out how to realize this future led them to work with neuroscientists, both inside and outside of Purina, to develop the Purina bright mind senior 7+ dog food.
They discovered that around age 7 a dogs glucose metabolism in the brain starts to change. This change can manifest in “senior moments” and dementia symptoms. If you can improve a pet’s glucose metabolism, you can help slow those changes.
Whether you choose to feed this food to your senior pet or not, their scientific discovery will effect product development and choices all across the pet industry.
They also discovered that preserving lean body mass as pets age is extremely important and failing to do so can be detrimental.
I heard this and thought about how Chester has lost a lot of muscle mass over the last year. He gets a senior blood panel done about once a year to monitor his health as he ages but he was sorely overdue for a checkup.
Before I left the summit, I called the vet to make an appointment for him. I guess I just thought losing muscle was part of aging but the summit gave me hope that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I took Chester to the vet and they didn’t say anything about his weight and boniness. In fact, the vet complimented me (again – they do every time) on how fit/thin he was.
However, because of what I heard at the summit, I was concerned and pressed the issue of his weight.
As it turns out, the blood test revealed that there WAS something wrong with him. His body is not absorbing much protein so he is lacking the nutrients to feed his muscles.
Who knows what would have happened if we hadn’t caught this. Thankfully, now we are working on fixing the problem.
I took home a lot of other interesting tidbits from the summit:
The ingredients don’t tell the whole story about a dog food
I learned that, although the ingredients list is helpful, it’s not necessarily a indicator of quality of food.
For example, two companies can list “animal byproduct”. Since the human and pet food system is intertwined, what “byproduct” means is “parts of the animal that humans don’t want to eat”.
What “byproduct” consists of can differ widely in quality. It could mean “chicken lips and assholes” (a silly phrase I’ve heard often meaning of low quality – NOT Purina’s words) or it could mean nutritious organ meats.
Purina always uses the latter in their foods because they want every ingredient to have a purpose.
The research that Purina does benefits ALL dog food manufacturers
I thought of the research Purina does in pet nutrition in a different light. Not only does it benefit them and their foods, but it benefits the smaller companies too.
Smaller, independent pet food companies typically can’t afford to hire top scientists and fund extensive research.
If it weren’t for big companies like Purina making discoveries in the pet nutrition field, they might not have all of the information they need to formulate their own meals.
The saying “you are what you eat” is true for dogs too
I realized that, in many ways, pet and human nutrition aren’t that different.
Both can live a longer, happier, healthier life through taking responsibility for what we do and what we eat (exercise, weight, and good diet).
The trend in both human and animal medicine is to treat ailments with diet first instead of medicine.
The use of sustainable protein sources is a growing trend
I learned that a huge trend in pet food is a move towards more sustainable protein sources for food.
When asked, “what do you think the future of pet food innovation will look like?” one of the Purina panelists said we might start seeing protein sources in pet food like insects and microalgae.
I couldn’t help think about the cricket protein bar for people I saw the other day. It sounds gross but crickets are a delicacy in some cultures (update: I’ve since discovered dog treats made from cricket protein)
The United Nations, in a 2013 report, promoted insect-eating as a protein-packed, more sustainable way to feed the 9 billion people that will live on earth in 2050.
It looks like this “trend” is already starting to happen.
Just like you and me, Purina employees think their pets are part of their family
Besides learning about some of the latest pet research, I really enjoyed meeting some of the Purina employees face-to-face at the Summit. It added a human element to the company for me.
Purina employees consider pets as their family members, bring their pets to work with them, dedicate their free time to animal causes, spoil their pets with a ton of toys and treats, let them sleep in their beds, and have more pictures of their dog or cat on their phone than they do of their spouse or children…. just like most of us.
The whole experience was great and I would go again next year.
Not only did it kick by butt about Chester’s muscle health, it kicked my own but too.
Purina intended to remind me that my PET’S health depends on getting regular exercise, eating healthy, and maintaining a healthy weight. However, I took a good look at how poorly I have been caring for myself and resolved to do better.
Disclosure: Purina paid for my travel and hotel to attend the Better with Pets Summit in New York. Everything I’ve said about the summit is true. (Purina is not responsible for the contents of this article). I wouldn’t say something was good when it wasn’t just because I got a free trip. Thanks for trusting me on that.