The Citizen Scientist program trains pet owners to conduct palatability studies on their pets and livestock.

The Oklahoma State University Center for Pet and Animal Food Palatability Studies in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA provides clients with a complete range of services including experimental design, data analysis and interpretation of results. A unique aspect of this center is that it can accommodate a wide range of animals, including invertebrates, reptiles, fish, cats, dogs, llamas, horses and cattle.

In addition, the center can design traditional laboratory-based tests in which animals are trained under highly-controlled conditions to perform various responses to determine the palatability of a feed or petfood. The center uses such standard laboratory-based apparatus as operant conditioning chambers (the so-called "Skinner box") suitable for a wide variety of animals, including rodents, fish, birds, crustaceans, llamas and horses. It also has a variety of shuttle boxes (i.e., choice chambers) and Pavlovian conditioning situations suitable for many invertebrate and vertebrate species.

Services available

In return for the services of the OSU Center for Pet and Animal Food Palatability Studies, the client provides an adequate quantity of the product to be tested and funds the project. Fees are calculated in advance and are assessed for student time, materials, travel (if appropriate) and maintenance of equipment. To expand services available and improve response time, Bowser and Abramson have started their own company, PetSci, LLC (www.PetSci.com) to handle projects that don't fit within the traditional scope of the University. PetSci specializes in all types of humane testing of pet and animal products, including AAFCO feed trials.

OSU's services include:

In-home and on-farm animal taste panel evaluation of pet treats, petfood and animal feed.

Traditional laboratory-based palatability studies.

Field-based palatability studies.

Professionally-prepared reports, including video records of findings.

Evaluation of human reactions to the pet products (i.e., ease of use, packaging).

Shelf stability analysis, packaging, recommendations, business planning and marketing assistance, process design, pilot-plant facility, equipment selection and facility lay-out and design.

The Citizen Scientist program

Over the past several years, the Center for Pet and Animal Food Palatability Studies has studied a wide variety of petfood products ranging from fish bait to cat treats. When field tests are needed, the center implements a program called the citizen scientist program.

The Citizen Scientist program trains pet owners to conduct studies (e.g. preference trials and palatability tests) on their pets and livestock. The owners are trained in the skills required to conduct the study and record results. In return for participation, the pet owner receives petfood, or other rewards, and the knowledge obtained from participating in a scientific study.

The latter should not be under-estimated. Many of the characteristics of performing scientific research such as problem-solving behavior, discipline and library research are as useful to the citizens in the general population as they are to scientists. Moreover, the negative perceptions the public might have of scientists can be reduced by participating in the activities that scientists engage in.

The center recently had the opportunity to test a new health treat for dogs by using house pets instead of kenneled animals. The center wanted to directly test the product under field conditions. By working directly with pets in a natural environment, the issue of generalizing from kennel to home is eliminated. An added benefit of using pets is that the center is able to test animals with special characteristics such as blindness, obesity and those on medication. The citizen scientist program also allows the center to test a wide range of breeds.

In-home studies

The typical citizen scientist palatability study involves several steps. First, it recruits "citizen scientists" by creating a website listing. All participants are required to have an animal in good health. Each animal is seen by a veterinarian prior to the study. Participants also are required to have a video camera. Second, center staff members meet with potential participants to explain the purpose of the study.

Those who want to participate are trained to conduct the tests and record data on data sheets and video. The volunteers meet often with center staff to review the data and view training video tapes. During these meetings, changes in experimental design are discussed. Following the experiment, the volunteers are debriefed.

The center for Pet and Animal Food Palatability Studies provides expertise and economical alternatives for petfood and animal feed taste trials for both companies and the general public. The center can accommodate a wide range of animals under both laboratory and field conditions.

For additional information and to initiate your petfood or animal feed taste trial, call the Food and Agricultural Products Research and Technology Center at +1.405.744.6071, or E-mail: bowser@okstate.edu; charles@okstate.edu. The website for the Food and Agricultural Products Research and Technology Center is www.fapc.okstate.edu.

Humane testing services available

PetSci is a result of the creative activities and interests of Dr. Charles Abramson and Dr. Tim Bowser, and the increasing need for humane pet and animal food and product testing. Both scientists are professors at Oklahoma State University, where they engage in a variety of research, teaching and extension activities.

PetSci responds to the commercial needs for humane pet and animal food and product testing by providing fast, economical and reliable services to the industry. Strong university ties ensure cutting-edge technology and a wealth of trained scientists, specialists and skilled student workers.

Contact information: 4914 East Clayton Lane, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74075, Tel: +1.405. 269.9796, Website: www.petsci.com.

The Citizen Scientist® program is an exclusive at PetSci. It was developed primarily by Abramson, in cooperation with Bowser. The Citizen Scientist program provides training to individuals and families who are interested in participating in research programs with their pets or animals. Training, along with some supplies, enables the Citizen Scientist to conduct tests and collect meaningful research data pertaining to their favorite products, brands, pets and animals. All tests are conducted in-home, or on-farm, under no-stress conditions for the animals or their owners. Every test begins with a veterinarian-conducted physical examination of the animal. All products are analyzed by a team of scientists for safety before any testing begins

Benefits of the Citizen Scientist program are numerous, and include:

The opportunity to learn and practice real science.

Activities that bring families, pets and animals together.

Experimentation with new and state-of-the art pet products such as treats, food and medicine.

Humane and safe testing methods.

The advancement of science.

Full-service, scientific, laboratory, field and in-home testing and evaluation of products for pets and animals (food, treats, hardware, medicine, clothing and other accessories).

Citizen Scientist training programs.

Design and evaluation of protocol for in-home testing of products for pets and animals.

Auditing and quality assurance services for in-home pet and animal product testing programs, methods and interpretation of results.

Planning and consulting services for pet and animal product development, testing and evaluation.

Development, formulation, packaging, shelf life studies and robust design of products for pets and animals.

Analytical laboratory services for pet and animal products include: Complete microbiological analysis; feed analysis; elemental analysis; accelerated shelf life study; heat penetration studies; headspace analysis; textural analysis; viscosity analysis; and color analysis.

Process assistance including diagramming, pilot plant studies, HACCP programs, waste reduction and recovery.

Continuous improvement programs based on six sigma techniques including: Robust design assistance; leadership training and evaluation; customer focus training; and planning services.

Process assistance including optimization, waste recovery and evaluation.

Standards development for performance and evaluation of pet and animal products.

Market research for pet and animal products.