Results from an Ipsos national survey commissioned by pet food maker Iams and released today reveal only 11 percent of U.S. pet owners consider the age of their cat or dog as the most important factor when determining which formula to feed their pet.

Propelled by this statistic, Iams is reminding Americans to keep their resolutions to start 2011 off on the right paw by feeding their four-legged friends a life stage-specific diet.

"The new year is a time when we make resolutions to get healthier and improve ourselves, so why not extend that approach to our cat or dog's overall well-being?" said Dr. Katy Nelson, DVM.

Nelson is an emergency veterinarian from Alexandria, VA and also a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council.

She said it’s important for pet owners to choose pet food that has the right ingredients for their pet’s current age and stage of life.

Requirements vary

"Diet requirements, including protein levels, calories and vitamins and minerals, vary over the life of a pet and, in turn, an animal's needs change as he grows from a puppy or kitten, to an adult into a senior," said Nelson.

Oftentimes pet owners are not sure which life stage their cat or dog falls into. As a result, pets might not be receiving the nutrients or nutrients at the right levels critical for optimal health for their age.

While life stage can vary between species and breeds, there are general guidelines owners can look to for help:

  • One to 12 months: Kitten and Puppy formula includes DHA for brain and vision development;
  • One to seven years: Adult formula includes HMP to keep teeth clean during and after meals, as well as balanced omega 6:3 ratio for healthy skin and coat;
  • Seven years and older: Senior formula with L-carnitine helps burn fat and keep muscles lean.

The survey of pet parents also revealed the other factors they consider (or don’t) when purchasing food for their dog or cat:

  • Read Labels -- Only one of out of three respondents (30 percent) rank ingredients as the most important criteria for which food to feed their cat or dog. Reading pet food labels is essential to ensure cats and dogs receive optimal nutrition. Look for foods with meat or fish listed as the first ingredient.
  • Listen to the Experts -- Nearly four out of ten (36 percent) pet owners cite personal recommendations from trusted resources such as veterinarians, as the most important factor of diet selection. Pet parents should consider looking to their veterinarian for nutrition recommendations.
  • Invest in Your Pet -- Nearly one in four surveyed rank price as a deciding factor when choosing their pet's food. It may be tempting to choose the cheapest food, but consider this: it may be cheap for a reason. Feeding pets a proper diet based on age is a lifelong investment in a cat and dog's health.

This year, Iams introduces Iams Premium Protection, a food they say contains the "most advanced nutrition ever" and one they hope will make it easier for pet owners to feed their pets an age-appropriate, balanced diet.

"I always tell my patients that healthy checkups start on the inside. Feeding a high-quality diet specific to an animal's age, like Iams Premium Protection, which offers specially formulated life-stage specific diets, is one of the most important ways to ensure four-legged family members lead healthy, happy lives," said Nelson.