Dogs' pet food ingredient preferences studied with toy

The method requires no more special equipment than a commercially available rubber puzzle dog toy.

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photo by photopix | BigStockPhoto
photo by photopix | BigStockPhoto

An experiment by a Kansas State University researcher pioneered a method for assessing dog’s delight in particular pet food ingredients or formulations. What’s more, his method requires no more special equipment than a commercially available rubber puzzle dog toy.

Pet food palatability rose in importance as dog owners came to view their dogs as family. People want their dogs to delight in their food and may purchase more of a variety that the animals visibly relish. However, few scientific tests have been developed for quantifying dogs’ liking of a particular dog food or pet food ingredient, Kansas State University graduate student Spencer Smith wrote in the abstract of the her paper published in the Journal of Animal Science.

Pet food palatability test with puzzle toy

To determine which pet food ingredients the dogs preferred, Smith placed baked treats impregnated with a specific flavor or aroma chemical into a rubber puzzle toy. Since the dogs had to work to get the treats, Smith surmised that the dogs would work first to get the treats that they wanted most.

“The study confirmed the hypothesis that dogs will work for foods they like,” Smith wrote.

Twelve Beagles were presented with the puzzle toys in over a period of five days for each of the types of pet food ingredients. The experiment separately tested three types of pet food ingredients: fats, proteins and starches. Five varieties of each type were used.

  • Fats: fish oil, butter, vegetable shortening, chicken fat, lard
  • Proteins: liver, chicken, fish, tofu, beef
  • Starches: corn, wheat, tapioca, potato, chickpea

In the fats test, dogs preferred fish oil and butter to lard. Vegetable shortening and chicken fat fell in between the two.  For proteins, chicken liver beat beef, with chicken, fish and tofu intermediate between them. Among the grains, corn ranked above tapioca, potato and chickpea, while wheat was between them.

Pet food palatability stimulates dogs’ senses

Advances in pet food palatability testing methods may help manufacturers optimize pets’ enjoyment while addressing both nutrition and pet owners’ desires to please their pets. Since dogs are led by their noses, strong aromas can entice dogs to dine.

However, despite observably increasing dogs’ dietary delight, high levels of those odors can destroy pet owners’ ability to enjoy their dogs’ mealtimes.

“While dogs may be attracted to pungent odors, owners may be unwilling to tolerate that stink in their homes, said Kadri Koppel, PhD, assistant professor at Kansas State University, during her keynote address at Petfood Innovation Workshop 2017.

Petfood R&D Showcase: Going with the Grain

Pet food professionals can learn more from Kansas State University professors about the science behind pet food palatability and novel pet food ingredients at Petfood Industry’s inaugural Petfood R&D Showcase: Going with the Grain. The event, which will take place October 10–12, 2017, will be held at Kansas State University (KSU) in Manhattan, Kansas, USA, and will include interactive labs and networking events hosted by pet food industry experts.

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