ANIMAL CARE: IMPACTS ON PALATABILITY RELIABILITY
At AFB International, we partner with pet food companies around the world to ensure pets have palatable foods they will eat—and enjoy—while meeting their nutritional needs. We measure palatability by “asking” pets to indicate what they prefer through their eating behavior. In addition, we monitor and manage factors that can impact eating behavior to ensure the health and happiness of pets, as well as the validity of palatability data.
Our Palatability Assessment Resource Center (PARC), near St. Louis, Missouri, USA, is where pets can share their feedback in palatant performance trials in a loving, playful, safe setting. In my role as animal health supervisor for the center, I ensure pets are happy and healthy.
PET HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT
Some of the health and environmental factors that can impact palatability research results are described below. If a pet is found to have an issue related to any of these factors, that pet will not qualify for a palatability trial or, if currently participating in one, will be removed until the issue is resolved. If a pet develops a long-term health issue that impacts his or her sense of smell, taste or interest in food, that pet will retire from PARC to a good home.
- Overall physical health. PARC’s animal care program includes 8 to 10 hours of activity a day, both indoors and outdoors. All of our pets are monitored daily by our care technicians and receive regular checkups from our on-site veterinary technicians. Our animal care staff members communicate with our veterinarian to coordinate preventive care and elevate any potential issues. We follow normal vaccination protocols for our cats and dogs. Because our pets spent time together, we include the bordetella vaccine to prevent respiratory issues—which can affect appetite and sense of smell. To protect against viral and bacterial infections, our facilities are cleaned and sterilized regularly. We also monitor weight and food consumption closely. Weight loss, weight gain and increased food consumption without weight gain all can suggest a problem.
- Oral health. The health of a pet’s mouth and teeth can affect the pet’s sense of taste and smell, which can decrease appetite or first choice in a two-bowl test. An oral health issue also may impede the pet’s desire to chew or hold food in his or her mouth, reducing overall consumption. As with general health, prevention is key. We follow a dental prevention program that includes dental toys, chews, and treats to help keep their teeth and gums healthy. An oral check is part of our care technicians’ daily pet monitoring. If an issue is suspected—because of increased salivation, decreased appetite or another symptom—the pet is seen by our veterinarian. In addition, all pets have regular oral health exams to check for inflammation, infection or broken teeth.
- Medications. Some medications can affect a pet’s interest in food or ability to eat. For example, antibiotics can cause gastrointestinal upset, reducing food intake, though antacids or probiotics may be used to counteract the effect. Other medications can stimulate appetite, increasing food intake. Pets on medications that can affect food intake will not qualify for palatability trials.
- Behavioral health. Like people, pets’ behavioral health can affect their interest in food and impact which foods are of interest. Anxiety—such as separation anxiety or kennel anxiety—is a common behavioral health issue among pets, and one pet’s anxiety can affect others in a group. That’s why we take great care in how we group animals together. We spend time with animals both one-on-one and in small groups to understand their preferences, then create animal groups likely to socialize well. Introductions take place in increasing time blocks over a week, with down time and individual time with their caregiver in between. Our goal is always to ensure pets are well-adjusted and happy in their environment, which in turn helps provide reliable data.
- Age. Pet health issues also can arise with age. Arthritis and concerns related to the liver, kidney and heart are among the most common. If the issues require special treatment, we ensure the pets receive it. We also watch for subtle changes in aging pets’ senses of taste and smell, for example the ability to detect the difference between coated and uncoated kibble.
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