The present study is the first to compare lifestyles of owners and dogs according to the dog’s diet in France. Moreover, there are very few data about the habits of French pet owners in terms of owner food choice for their dogs . Last, but not least, this survey is focused on the Internet population, which is a highly active population as far as BARF and raw diets are concerned but still under-researched. Information collected in this study highlights differences between owners/dogs using NCD versus owners using CD. Owners using NCD lived more frequently outside of the metropole of Paris, had fewer children, and dewormed less than owners using CD. These results are consistent with the analysis by Morgan et al., , where pet owners who fed raw animal products were in majority without child (61%) and only 28% lived in an urban area. But in contrast to Morgan et al.  results, owners using NCD were mostly 40 years or younger. This difference can be explained by the earlier presence of the trend of raw diets and homemade food in the US compared with France or an age population more present on internet (40 years or younger). This difference must be more studied in future survey. The present study results draw a profile of a home in a residential setting, less urban, and a family more focused on “nature”. It would be interesting to explore the compliance of these owners with veterinary counselling or dog vaccination. It may well be those owners using NCD vaccinate less their dogs due to lack of veterinary trust, as observed in Morgan studies, with a tendency of pet owners feeding raw products less likely to vaccinate and deworm. This assumption agrees with the origin of the recipes used by owners using NCD. In our study, only 14 owners using NCD (9%) reported a veterinary recipe prescribed for the dog, 14 owners used a NCD recipe found in a veterinary book and the majority (83%) used recipes from the Internet or non-veterinary books, or personal prescription. Another online survey reported similar results, with only 14% of the interviewed people having asked a veterinarian or a nutrition-trained expert for advice for raw meat-based diets . For these owners, veterinarians were not the first source of information about nutrition, which confirms the important role of other sources of information like the Internet . When compared with owners using CD, the first source of information about food quantity was the manufacturer (47%), and veterinarians were the second (28%). This proportion of owners using veterinarian information, even if higher for owners using CD, is still low and in accordance with observations of other surveys [10, 12, 14]. There is a need of increased veterinarian communication about nutrition as suggested in a recent publication , especially on the Internet, where owners are searching information. This naturally suggests a requirement for more nutrition training in veterinary schools to prepare students  and a better vet communication about their ability in canine nutrition. This lack of trust regarding veterinarians may also have implications for animal and public health. Indeed, raw homemade food are more and more present on the market and this dietary practice is known to be associated with microbiological risks both for pets and their owners [5, 19]. Studies have reported mineral deficiencies in home-prepared diets, mainly calcium (Dillitzer et al., 2011; . The Dillitzer study reported in 2011 that 60% of bone and raw food ration had major nutrient imbalances. The present study’s results confirm this danger, with only 28% of the French online respondents feeding NCD already using a mineral and/or vitamin supplement to balance their recipe. The improvement of communication regarding nutrition between veterinarians and owners using NCD may be a benefit to dogs’ health with an appropriate modification of the NCD if imbalanced.
In order to improve communication, there is a need to better understand the audience (NCD owners in the present case). This survey helps to better define the characteristics of NCD French dog owners. Compared to owners using CD, they had more frequently other animals at home, provided more often daily access to the outside to their dogs (outside of the garden and the house), and walked them more frequently off-leash for more than 6 h per week (which may be associated with a more rural lifestyle). These life-conditions provide an enriched environment for dogs  and closer to the species’ ethological needs. These observations may relate with the fact that the majority of owners using NCD lived outside the metropole of Paris, but even in an urban environment, there is possibility to walk a dog each day. Another hypothesis is the new trend to “natural foods”, which takes inspiration from the human food marketing . According to Moscato and Machin , in human marketing the term “natural” is associated with authenticity, and with the idea of being a good mother. The “natural” adjective may help to simplify food decision [11, 15] by luring consumers into purchasing the idea of some health-giving properties. The trend “back to nature” is also present in pet foods, with an increased demand for this sector and a market corresponding to 25% of the total value of the pet food market in the US in 2016 . This can be explained by the humanization of pets and the fact that owners transposed their own dietary choice for “natural food” on their dogs. Two common reasons for choosing raw diets are their perception as “more natural” and “healthier” . In terms of communication, dogs are often compared to wolves as model of wild canids eating natural food. The comparison between dogs and wolves is very present in the online community, which may explain a choice of dog breeds with higher body weight for owners using NCD. The major argument is that, since wolves are dogs’ ancestors, food found in wild conditions by the former is supposedly optimal for a dog. This frequent comparison may have led owners using NCD to take care of ethological needs (more off-leash walk, more often daily access to the outside) of their dogs more carefully than owners using CD because of comparison with wolf lifestyle (in group, living outside, …). To explore this hypothesis, it will be mandatory to compare the ethological knowledge of owners using NCD versus owners using CD. Ethology could be a promising approach angle to discuss nutrition with owners using NCD rather than focusing only on canine dietary requirements if this hypothesis is confirmed.
Although expected, lower neutered prevalence in the NCD population compared to the CD population as presented by Morelli et al.  was not evidenced in our data.
The present study was centered on the online population, which is a highly active community about canine nutrition and one of the main source of information for owners . Due to the social media recruitment, the high prevalence of owners using NCD in this survey is not representative of the owners using NCD in the French population as NCD owners may be more active and present on internet compared to CD owners. Nonetheless, the objective of this study was not to quantify the prevalence of owners using NCD in France. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that owners who have access to social media have a different lifestyle compared to owners who are not social media users.
The definition of “non-conventional” diets has no consensus yet . The term “alternative” could be used as suggested by Parr and Remillard , but this expression included the trend of “grain free” and” vegetarian” kibbles in France. In the present study, “non-conventional” diets referred to “raw, homemade, vegetarian” as suggested by the WSAVA Nutritional assessment guidelines . As no vegetarian diet was reported in the survey, “non-conventional” diets only included “raw” and “homemade” diets. The distinction “commercial” versus “non-commercial” was not appropriate as some new raw recipes are industrially made. A comparison between owners using raw products and owners using cooked products should be conducted to explore the profile of NCD owners and adapt communication. The low percentage of owners using cooked products in this study did not allow such comparison. The body score index was not included in the survey, due to the difficulty for owners to correctly answer the question on a internet survey. Images of the dog were requested but only few owners sent quality pictures to assess the body condition. This study was not designed to assess differences in body score index according to diet choice, but difference of format and body score should be included in a future survey.
These results led to questions about differences between owners using NCD and owners using CD, like the reason of their choices, their economic and social status and their personality profiles which can influence food choice . Moreover, this study did not compare owners who used a mix of NCD and CD by lack of individuals in this group (7%). It would be interesting to explore their profiles compared to owners using NCD and CD. Additional studies are needed to explore the differences of lifestyle and personality of owners using NCD versus owners using CD in the social media population and general population visiting veterinary clinics.