In-home dog food feeding trials provide digestibility data

In-home feeding trials could serve as a valuable adjunct to tests conducted in dedicated kennels.

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(Photo by Andrea Gantz)
(Photo by Andrea Gantz)

Feeding trials with dogs and cats provide the digestibility data that scientists need to establish that a particular recipe meets pets’ nutrition needs. However, these feeding trials and digestibility tests usually occur in kennels dedicated to that research. At these canine research facilities, researchers control conditions, such as dog breed, housing, feeding level and schedule, along with interactions with other animals and staff.

While this standardization makes the results more reliable, uniform and reproducible data, conditions in a kennel vary greatly from how dogs live in pet owners’ households. What’s more, feeding trials in kennels can be expensive and may not be available for smaller pet food brands and start-ups. Even for pet food companies that can afford feeding trials, the number of animals in the tests are often smaller than the quantity required for true statistical significance.

The millions of dogs and cats living in homes around the world may provide researchers with a citizen-science solution to these limitations of feeding trials. Scientists at Wageningen University conducted an experiment to determine how in-home feeding trials could provide results that are more applicable to dogs living in real-world conditions. The scientists worked on validating and standardizing in-home feeding trial protocols.

In-home dog food feeding trials

The researchers recruited participants using an online survey. The in-home feeding trials included 60 dogs of various breeds and ages. The testing lasted 14 consecutive days. For seven days, owners gave their dogs either a relatively low or highly digestible complete dry extruded food containing titanium dioxide as a tracer. After seven days, they switched to the other diet in a cross-over experimental design. Dog owners collected their pets’ feces twice each day. Dog owners froze this feces, which was later analyzed by scientists at Wageningen University for titanium concentrations and digestibility of nitrogen (N), dry matter, crude ash, organic matter, crude fat (Cfat), starch and gross energy.

“One day of fecal collection yielded reliable digestibility values with additional collection days not reducing the confidence interval around the mean,” the researchers wrote in the British Journal of Nutrition. “Depending on the accepted margin of error, the food and the nutrient of interest, the minimal required sample size was between nine and 43 dogs. Variation in digestibility values could in part be explained by a dog’s neuter status (N, crude ash) and age (crude ash, Cfat), but not sex and body size.”

The results of this study suggest that in-home feeding trials could serve as a valuable adjunct to tests conducted in dedicated kennels.

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