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.
â€œPeople buy diets on the basis of two things,â€ Fahey said. â€œThe first is palatability. You put it on the floor and the dogs clean up the bowl.â€
The second factor is the appearance of the dog’s stool. â€œIt should be half as long as this pencil, picked up as easily as this pencil, Ziplocked â€” and away we go. We have to have that if theyâ€™re keeping the dog in the condo on the 34th floor and they have a white carpet,â€ 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 donâ€™t want that dog to go in your house when youâ€™re out for the day. A corn-soy diet canâ€™t do that. The dog canâ€™t hold it.â€
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: â€œIf you had this much money spent on you, youâ€™d be happy, too.â€
One lab technician described the dogs as “spoiled brats.”
Fahey explained the spouts do not seem to bother the dogs.
â€œIf it is put in correctly, it becomes part of them,â€ he said. â€œIt heals very nicely, and becomes a part of their anatomy.â€
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.
â€œThey thought you were going to take them out to play,â€ Fahey said. â€œLook what you did.â€
Source: New York Times (registration required)