Shortage of Canned Pet Food: A Problem Pet Owners Should Be Aware Of During The Pandemic

Autumn Eversman, Staff Writer

Canned pet food is used for a wide variety of reasons. Animals may need canned pet food because they have allergies, urinary tract disorders, kidney stones, liver conditions or are just plain picky eaters. The shortage of canned pet food that has been happening since April 2020 is incredibly scary for pet owners who rely on this type of food for their animals. As time goes on, it is getting more difficult for individuals, pet stores, or animal hospitals to access it.

Cynthia Zeng, ‘23, a pet owner, explains what would happen if her dog were to be unable to consume his normal food.

“Our dog would definitely lack as much nutrition because if there was a shortage, we would not be able to obtain the foods. That may mean we have to use different foods, which he may not necessarily like,” said Zeng. “If that doesn’t work, it’s more expensive to get other brands, and he may not necessarily get the vegetables and proteins from the kibble like he would from the canned foods.”

The canned pet food shortage is a part of a bigger problem. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the food industry has had to dispose of a lot of food and beverages because of the decrease in the demand for certain foods. This is due to restaurants, schools, or other places that need to serve large amounts of food closing or reducing the amount of food they serve.

“There are problems in their supply chain of both the proteins that they use to make the pet foods and also some of the micro ingredients, like the vitamins and minerals and things they add,” said Dr. Megan Claps, a veterinarian at Edina Pet Hospital. “The problem is that when suppliers sell food to a restaurant, they do not sell them in one pound packages, they sell them in 50 pound packages. So all of the sudden all of these industries had to regroup and distribute their food in different ways. The restaurants were not buying 50 pound packages, but the consumer wanted a pound or two, so everything had to change at the industry level […] It’s a lot more complex than that small chain and a lot more complex than what people think. So what happened is that pet food companies are probably bottom of the list in terms of who gets priority in terms of purchasing this stuff.”

For some pets, it is a mild inconvenience to run out of their preferred food. For others, running out of their canned pet food could be life threatening. That is why it is important to find back up brands in the event that the usual brand fed to the pet is no longer available.

“The problem is that there are certain disease conditions in the cat and the dog that veterinarians use specific ingredients to help manage. If these foods are unavailable, there are potentially alternatives, but many of these cats and dogs do not do well if you suddenly switch their food,” Claps said.

She also said that “[Pet owners] have been able to order the food in the past and receive it in two days, so they’re almost out of their preferred prescription cat or dog food, and now they call to order it and there are backorders. I can say, ‘we can try to use food X, we can try food B’ but these animals who have these other medical conditions, you’re not supposed to change their food suddenly. You’re always supposed to transition them slowly. And second of all, they are dogs and cats, and they may not accept the alternative food if we can even attain them because there are a couple of these specialized foods where the type, let’s say it’s a hypoallergenic food, it’s on backorder with both major suppliers. So it is really quite a problem because we are using the food to help manage a medical problem.”

When asked for possible solutions, Claps suggested that it is possible for pet owners to cook their pet’s food if they can find a good recipe on the Internet. However, it is difficult to find any of these recipes. Even if there were recipes online, it may be hard to convince pet owners to follow them.

“We might resort to giving him some human food, like chopping up some pieces of chicken, but I really doubt that because that’s a lot of effort for a dog,” Zeng said. “So we might just let him eat just kibble because some dogs do that, and we still have some dog treats we can mix in.”

Eating kibble is an option for some dogs on the canned food diet and is encouraged if the pet is able to and if the pet’s normal food is inaccessible.

This issue, which is critical information for owners with pets who have life threatening conditions, like a urinary tract disease, is not well known outside of the veterinarian community. This could be because many owners use kibble, making the issue largely irrelevant to them. This could also be because pet food companies are trying to keep the issue unknown.

“I find it frustrating that if you go on [pet food companies’] websites, these shortages and these backorders are not addressed upfront,” said Claps. “They do not have a statement, so the lack of the communication is very frustrating. I think we could all live with the problem a little better if we understood what’s going on, what they are doing to correct it, [or] how long they are anticipating the problem continuing.”

If a pet’s normal brand of food is no longer available, the owner should call a veterinarian and ask for possible solutions. Owners should also start ordering pet food in advance to make sure they receive it on time. Owners should avoid over purchasing, however, as other pets will need it too.