As millions of Americans work to stay slim or find a meal that will satisfy everyone, some special members of the family are getting the same treatment: cats and dogs.
Animals have become more like family under what's been dubbed the "humanization" of pets. Boutiques sell everything from sunglasses to boots to outfit a pet, and dogs can even enjoy a day at the spa.
Spending on pets in the United States more than doubled from 1994 to 2004 to $34.4 billion, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. This year, the group expects spending to swell to $35.9 billion, with about $14.5 billion being spent on food.
"People have adopted their dogs and cats as children and they want the same choices and selections that they have for their kids," said Kurt Iverson, spokesman for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Iams unit, which makes Iams and Eukanuba brands.
Premium lines, such as Eukanuba and Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Hill's Science Diet, are known for innovation. Now, mainstream brands are promoting more healthy options.
A Purina survey found that six out of 10 pets in the United States are overweight. The company, part of Nestle SA, also found that feeding a dog to its ideal body condition can extend its life up to two years, with a greater percentage of healthy years.
One way pets can lose weight and maintain muscle mass is by increasing the level of protein in diets, somewhat mimicking the Atkins idea recently popular with humans, companies said.
"I think what we're going to see is more understanding of how the actual DNA makeup of a cat or a dog influences it and how nutrition affects that," said Dr. Dan Carey, head of R&D and a veterinarian at Iams. The area of nutragenomics "is just really on the cutting edge."
According to Iams, more than 70 percent of cats in U.S. homes live with other cats. So Iams recently introduced Multi-Cat, a food that helps a variety of cats meet their nutritional needs. The fat burner L-Carnitine can help overweight cats, for example, but will not cause cats at normal weight to lose their muscle mass.
"We're not trying to push the cat's system to be doing something it's not supposed to be doing," said Carey.
Multi-Cat may be the first food marketed for homes with more than one cat, but Purina Cat Chow meets many of the same requirements, said John Vella, Purina's vice president of cat food marketing.
"We have been discussing the fact that Purina Cat Chow is suited for multiple cat households for quite a few years now on packaging; we never took it as an advertising point per se," Vella said. Purina is closely watching the launch of Multi-Cat, but not changing its Cat Chow marketing for now, he said.
The idea of helping a puppy become smarter is also becoming more mainstream. Iams is introducing Smart Puppy food, with docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid that makes up about 5 percent of a puppy's brain. DHA, which was introduced in a Eukanuba product last year and can be found in other brands, can promote cognitive function.
Meanwhile, dog owners looking for a meat-free food, or just interested in the benefits of soy, have a new option. Purina's Beneful brand, a higher-end line, is introducing Beneful Healthy Harvest, made with soy-based proteins instead of meat.
"There's a niche of consumers who are looking for that kind of thing, it's not a groundswell," said Steve Crimmins, vice president of dog food marketing at Purina.