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#16 Our pets' nutrition can be greatly improved thanks to in-home testing

Our pets' nutrition can be greatly improved thanks to in-home testing

Owners of dogs or cats want the best for their pets, and that includes healthy food. Pet food must meet certain nutritional requirements in Europe, as set by FEDIAF (The European Pet Food Industry). However, there is a catch: tests for pet food are carried out in kennels and are not always representative of pets of all shapes and sizes. In-home pet food testing, carried out by the owners themselves, could therefore be the future. "This has the potential to take the whole market to the next level," stresses Evelien Bos, researcher at Wageningen University & Research (WUR).

The last four years have seen a special collaboration between animal feed companies and WUR. The companies jointly donated €325,000, allowing Evelien Bos to start her research on in-home testing. Pet owners conduct the tests themselves. They collect data and send samples back to the lab. In addition, video analysis provides insight into food preferences of the animals.

Digestibility studies for dogs started in 2020 (The Golden Dog Turd), followed by a test for cats (Kat in 't bakkie) and taste tests. Participants were spread throughout the Netherlands. Between 30 and 127 animals participated in each study.

The main conclusion from the study: "It was always thought that testing for up to 10 days is required before you know anything about the palatability and digestibility of pet food. But this turns out to be absolutely not the case. In many cases, we have reliable results within just a few days."

The research is essential, emphasises Bos, who completed her PhD last year. "Tests with dogs and cats in kennels are not fully representative of the home situation. For instance, there is a difference between pets and animals living in kennels. After all, pets differ in size and activity level. As a result, there is room for improvement."

Developing new food

Nine companies from the pet food industry were involved in the study, including Prins Petfoods. "If in-home testing becomes the new industry standard, it would be a good step towards better animal welfare. When developing new feeds, we want to involve consumers in this, right from the early stages. We see that owners also really enjoy thinking along. Ultimately, tasting the food can also be done in the owner's home. After all, they know their pet best. It is great that this is now substantiated and set up from the university," says Willemijn Lootens-Veen, product development manager at the company.

Innovation is happening abundantly at Prins Petfoods. The company recently launched pressed food containing insects, for a lower carbon footprint, among other things. The company is also, for example, exploring AI to support the Prins CareTeam, which answers dozens of pet owners' advice questions every day.

A chance

Meanwhile, there is a new dot on the horizon for Bos. "I have started a start-up called Pet Panel, where I am now making the research methodology I developed during my research available to the industry." The researcher (and now entrepreneur) recently signed the papers at the notary: the official launch of the company. "I noticed that there was already a lot of demand from industry during the research, so I decided that my work should not just end up on the bookshelf."

The first in-home tests for industry are already planned. Bos is confident: "With the help of in-home testing, the entire animal feed market can be taken to the next level."