Written by: Tracy Vogel, Staff Writer - VetCentric.com
Lots of people, at one time or another, have tried it. That doesn’t make them bad, just human.
Curiosity gets the better of you. You glance around, make sure no one’s looking’and take a nibble off the corner of a Milk Bone.
Just to try it, that’s all. It’s not like you’re going to develop a habit, eventually making the transition from casual kibble use to the purer, more potent rawhide chews, and then spend all your time hanging around pet food aisles looking to score.
But you feed this stuff to your dog all these years’you’ve got to wonder what it tastes like, exactly. Does he like it? Would you? (Reportedly, the taste is "dry and biscuit-y.")
It just shows how far people will go to make sure their dogs are enjoying their food. It’s not like you can ask them. Well, you could, but what with the whole kibble chomping episode, that might prove to be the final straw for your spouse, so we don’t really recommend it.
Anyway. Here’s what we do know. Dogs are meat eaters’carnivores’but anyone who’s ever seen a dog beg at the table knows they’ll eat just about anything’including vegetables and fruit.
But animal fats and proteins are the most appealing flavors for dogs, pet food companies said. They know because they research it. "There are dogs that like peanut butter and popcorn and things like that," said Jamie McDougall, marketing manager for Hills Pet Food. "But the old standards that appeal are the meats."
You can’t exactly have dogs fill out a survey on their taste preferences, so the companies study flavor the only way they can’taste trials. At the Iams company, dogs are specially trained as taste testers, taught to make choices between foods, said Dr. Dan Carey, a veterinarian in research and development.
Three basic trials help researchers decide on the tastiness of a food, he said. The first is the aptly named "first bite test," in which two different types of food are placed in two bowls, side by side. The dogs sniff the bowls, and pick the one they like. Researchers, watching the selection, are able to tell from this which food had the best smell to the dog.
Smell is no small factor. A dog’s sense of smell is approximately 200,000 times that of a human, Mr. McDougall said. "Smelling to them is just like tasting ’it’s the aroma of the food that makes it attractive."
Next, the researchers measure how much the dog eats, Dr. Carey said. An entire meal is provided in each bowl, but usually the dog will go back and forth between the choices, eating a few bites of one, a few bites of the other.
Occasionally a dog will prefer one food 100 percent over the other, but that’s rare. Rather, it’s like giving a person an option of pie and ice cream. "I wouldn’t throw either of them out," Dr. Carey said.
The final test measures whether the dog eats to fulfill its needs, Dr. Carey said. If the dog, trained not to gorge itself, doesn’t like the food, it won’t eat enough to meet its requirements. That tells researchers that, even though the dog might have selected Food A over Food B, Food A still wasn’t all that tasty. Food A is the lesser of two evils’not exactly something the dog would snack on for fun.
Now dogs have varied tastes’not all of them are going to love the same food, though some of the flavors’chicken and beef, for example, are standards. Dogs seem to react to lamb the way people do’they either love it or hate it, Dr. Carey said.
Pet food companies play with the tastes by breaking up the proteins in the food to expose different "flavor nodes," Dr. Carey said. "It’s kind of like a raw egg tastes different than a hard-boiled egg."
Owners can enhance the flavor of a dog food by gently heating it ’just to body temperature’to release the potent aromas that dogs enjoy, Mr. McDougall said. Mixing in a little warmed water, or canned food, which tends to be higher in fat and therefore appealing, can also make the food more attractive to a dog.
And though dogs couldn’t care less what a food looks like’those neat little bone shapes are entirely for the owner’s benefit’texture does make a difference. "You can make a food incredibly tasty and make it in the size of sesame seeds, and the dog’s not going to eat it," Dr. Carey said.
A lot of what’s done with pet foods is for the benefit of the owner, Dr. Carey said. "Some folks will try to capitalize on what’s popular for humans."
So you end up with sushi- or tofu-flavored dog treats, bones flavored like vegetables or fruit. "On the other hand, very few dogs will refuse something off the table," Dr. Carey said. "All that stuff will be there, and the dog will eat it and say Wow’thanks.’"
Independent pet treat businesses like Wags and Wishes Pet Bakery, Edmonton, Canada, bank on that diversity in tastes. The shop’s treats include peanut butter; beef and cheese; apple cinnamon; bacon bit pretzels; liver jerky; and treats flavored with tuna or salmon. The owners, Shannon Grabill and Renee Stcherba, have 16 dogs collectively, and use them as taste testers.
"Dogs seem to like beef and cheese; garlic; molasses’anything sweet," Ms. Grabill said. "We use a honey coating and dogs love it. The same with carrots or white chocolate’dogs do have sweet tooths for sure." (Of course, chocolate is toxic to dogs.)
The tests aren’t as scientific as those at dog food companies, but Ms. Grabill is satisfied’especially since her dogs are picky eaters who don’t eat commercial dog foods. "I can tell if they gulp it down really quickly, and lick their chops, and look at me with these eyes that say: More,’" she said. "It’s all in the eyes."
But tastiness tells you little about nutritional requirements. Most people would happily live off chocolate bars if they could, but that wouldn’t make it healthy.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials publishes guidelines on dogs’ nutritional requirements. Dry dog foods should provide, for basic maintenance, a minimum of 22 percent protein, 5 percent fat, 0.6 to 2.5 percent calcium, and 0.5 to 1.6 percent phosphorus. As long as you go with a major brand dog food, you’re likely set for nutritional requirements.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that your pet’s tired of its food just because it didn’t clean its bowl one day, Dr. Carey said. The pet may simply not have been hungry’just as people sometimes don’t feel like eating.
"If we keep providing new flavors, they’ll expect that," Dr. Carey said. "If we condition them to accept a rotation [of tastes], they’ll be fine. Dogs are not as emotional about food as people are."
Article republished here with permission from VetCentric.com
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