The Price Of Pet Food Research

Dog eating

For some pet food companies that desire the “perfect” pet food to sell to consumers, they conduct research to find what works and what doesn’t. But there is always a price to pay for this research. And the ones that do pay are the animals.

Dr. George Fahey, a professor of animal and nutritional sciences, conducts pet food research experiments at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In the basement of the animal-science laboratory, Fahey keeps a group of dogs to experiment on. But these dogs look different than your normal canine friend.

Each of the dogs have gone through a surgical procedure to string a length of tubing from its intestinal tract to a clear plastic spout that sticks out of the dog’s side. This was all done under Fahey’s orders. By doing this procedure, Fahey can open the spout by hand, fill a bag with what came out of the spout, and be able to calculate how much the dog had digested before whatever the dog had not digested could move down through the body. The plastic tubing was inserted in the ileum, where food absorption ends and fermentation by the microflora and bacteria of the lower bowel begins.

Fahey is able to analyze how much vitamin, mineral, fat or sugar would enter a dog’s bloodstream when the dog is given a sample of food. Fahey’s career has been focused on investigating the metabolism of domestic animals, and his research has been touted as an integral part in defining the nature of pet food.

He also supervises other nutrition laboratories in the University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences. His largest lab is filled with jars of secret-coded dog and cat diets, and piles of commercial pet foods that are sent to Fahey to give to the animals in the control groups of their experiments. Fahey would not reveal any of the specific brands he tests.

Fahey does his research to help pet food companies find the “perfect” cat or dog food. With his academic status and independent financing, his research prevents pet food manufacturers from receiving negative publicity if they experimented on surgically altered animals themselves.

In contrast to the pet food companies, Fahey said dogs can be fine with simply eating corn and soybeans daily. It’s the cheapest diet that a dog owner can put a dog on, and it provides all the vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrates a dog needs, Fahey explained. But, this kind of diet would not sell to consumers, he added.

“People buy diets on the basis of two things,” Fahey said. “The first is palatability. You put it on the floor and the dogs clean up the bowl.”

The second factor is the appearance of the dog’s stool. “It should be half as long as this pencil, picked up as easily as this pencil, Ziplocked — and away we go. We have to have that if they’re keeping the dog in the condo on the 34th floor and they have a white carpet,” Fahey stated.

Throughout all of his research, Fahey realized what all of his investigations and experiments have come down to: the challenge of controlling a dog’s bowel movements. He said premium dog foods contain at least 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat. Dogs don’t need to be fed that much, Fahey added, but this way “you have a total tract digestibility of 88 percent, which is good if you don’t want that dog to go in your house when you’re out for the day. A corn-soy diet can’t do that. The dog can’t hold it.”

A tour of Fahey’s research laboratory shows seven spotless kennels. Each has a short-haired, mixed-breed dog in the kennel, and each dog has a clear, plastic spout on their side. Fahey said his laboratories get inspected by the U.S.D.A.

Each cage for the seven dogs: Wiggles, Bo, Teeny, Dutchess, Flick, Shai, and Todd were described as immaculately clean. The floors sparkled, and the stainless-steel food bowls glistened in the light.

Fahey said all of the dogs were gentle and the ideal animals to work with.

The dogs live in temperature-controlled environments, and the lights turn on at 6 in the morning and turn off at 8 every night. They play with their toys and listen to AM radio all day. Fahey stated their kennels were bigger than federal guidelines for size. He also said the lab assistants took the dogs outside twice a week to exercise, play and get some fresh air. (emphasis ours)

Fahey said: “If you had this much money spent on you, you’d be happy, too.”

One lab technician described the dogs as “spoiled brats.”

Fahey explained the spouts do not seem to bother the dogs.

“If it is put in correctly, it becomes part of them,” he said. “It heals very nicely, and becomes a part of their anatomy.”

At the end of Fahey’s description of the lab’s procedures to his visitor, the room was extremely quiet. The dogs sat there looking as if they were begging for something. Finally when Fahey and the visitor left the room, all of the dogs began to bark, whine, howl, and scream. Their cries were heard throughout the hallways.

The visitor asked why the dogs were so upset.

“They thought you were going to take them out to play,” Fahey said. “Look what you did.”

Source: New York Times (registration required)

(Thanks Maureen)

55 Responses to “The Price Of Pet Food Research”

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  1. Sharon says:

    This kind of thing goes on every day in the Animal Science departments of all the Land Grant universities in the United States. What has changed over the years is money that colleges and universities take from industry to do their bidding. When educational institutions were free from this kind of thing, college students actually received a good education and went on to be productive members of society. Our colleges and universities have become corrupt because they have become politicized. If you examine what has happened to student loans you will see the same thing. I hate Republicans and what they have done. They have ruined our country in every way. There isn’t anything or anyone that can’t be bought.

  2. Kiki says:

    The corporatization of academia…it sux and so does Fahey with his biased enviable industry funding and thus his suspect (read: invalid) research findings. Whatever. Every institution in America is corrupt. None of which deserve any trust or respect.

  3. Stefani says:

    Of course, I found this story just awfully depressing, eye opening, and sickening.

    I have to comment on some of the posts that I too am horrified by the passage of the AETA. I called all my reps/Senators to oppose it but in the end it was passed at night on voice vote with almost no one there. It was cosponsored by a list of people who shocked me. It is horrible, and must be overturned.

    Let me know what I can do on this score. I know it just probably has to be challenged up to the Supreme Court at this point, but the lack of outrage and coverage on this has disturbed me greatly. We have truly gone crazy in this society when the word “terrorist” can be used to describe someone who, through effective protest actions, convinces a company to sever a contractual relationship with a vivisection lab.

    The word “terrorist” has lost all meaning.

    The Toonces Project
    “Is Your Pet Safe at the Vet?”

  4. Jenny Bark says:

    I agree with everyone especialy Sharon. It is done everywhere & they are getting away with it. I didn’t know about aeta, learned something new. Is their anyway we can get it changed. We talk about other places & look what all is going on in our America. I hate it. The poor, sick, old, kids & our animals. I will promise one thing, no one is getting even a dollar from me anymore who gives or uses animals for research.
    I do use animal free testing products but from what I read the ones who say they don’t test on animals just use a third party. I’ve read that a lot of times, I think the last time on consumer products. Cage an animal & do with it what ever you want & call yourself a good caringing person & a gift to the world. Hell is a good place for them.

  5. Whisper says:

    I quit med school because of the research. I was in a PhD/MD program. My undergrad degree was in molecular biology and that is also what I planned on doing my grad work in. Not once as an undergrad was I exposed to animal research. Imagine my surprise when I started grad school and it was everywhere. I refused to participate in anything involving animal research. My professors agreed, but it was everywhere. I would walk into a lab to find animal limbs everywhere. They were blatantly disregarded with no respect. They would treat these animals awfully, and say you really have to be a person that likes animals to do animal research. What sense does that make? I would say that 99% of the research was done for grant money. There was no scientifically significant research being done, and if you questioned the neccessity of it you got no answer. I remember one thing that really upset me and I remember this five years later. One class had to test for proteins in brains of rats. There were five rats in a small cage. I saw the rats before the so called experiment. I refused to take part or be present. To make a long story short, the rats were killed and the brains removed. The machinery used to test protein levels was broken. No one tested that before the rats were killed so they were killed for nothing, and scientist are supposed to be intelligent. I know a degree of research is needed in medecine, but I thought things had changed. I thought we advanced. I quit after one semester. I came home depressed everyday. My breaking point was when I was to be enrolled in a class that used over 300 dogs. I did not stay for it, but I heard from people in the class the dogs were used for things like just to see the heart beat and killed shortly after. Not humanely either. Many would seize badly right before. Sorry for the long post but I just wanted to get that out there. I suffered for two years with depression after going to school for one semester.

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