Do THE PACK Test On Animals?
One of the questions THE PACK is asked most often is ‘Is your food tested on animals?’
Some pawrents want to know that ‘Yes, THE PACK’s food is tried and tested on dogs, and proven to be nutritionally complete, palatable and safe’. Others prefer reassurance that ‘No, our food is “cruelty-free”: there is no lab animal testing’.
Happily, we can give both answers, without contradiction! THE PACK do conduct extensive tests on nutritional adequacy, digestibility and palatability, but we do this in a humane way. How? We test the nutritional value and digestibility of our food outside of the animal, and we trial the tastiness of the food with volunteer pawrents and their dogs, non-invasively, at home.
So how is this different to the testing that’s traditionally taken place in major pet food corporations?
The bark history of pet food testing
Since the 1970s, genetically standardised dogs, often easy-to-train Beagles, have been bred specifically for research purposes, and this research includes pet food testing. In many large pet food companies, dogs live in labs full-time as pawrentless ‘bioresources’, waiting to take part in pet food feeding trials. Of course, these dogs are generally treated well, and given enrichment, veterinary care and time outside, but they don’t have pawrents to advocate for them. There are no loving guardians to take them home to play.
It’s important to recognise that today’s pet food feeding trial facilities take the well-being of their dogs more seriously than previous generations of testing facilities. Take, for example, the scandal uncovered by PETA in 2003, at a US testing facility contracted by a large pet food company. We’ll save you the upsetting details, but safe to say that the laboratory didn’t provide minimum veterinary care and pain relief to suffering animals, failed to provide dogs with adequate living space, and didn’t adequately train laboratory workers on basic animal handling and care.
In some cases, laboratory dogs would not only be used to trial nutrition, digestibility and taste of new pet foods, but also be used to test for suspected or known toxins in contaminated pet food. For instance, 10 years ago in the US, there was a mass recall of meat-based dog food contaminated by pentobarbital, a euthanasia drug (terrifying in itself!) to determine whether the level of pentobarbital in the food was harmful to pets, the Center for Veterinary Medicine conducted an eight-week feeding trial using 42 Beagle puppies. These dogs were fed pentobarbital-laced food, then killed and their organs tested for toxicity. Researchers found no obvious harm to the puppies from the pet food but, of course, the study itself was deadly.
We’re pleased to say that this sort of barbaric pet food testing is confined to history. However, the fact remains that ‘kennel farms’ still exist, stocked with Beagles whose ‘purpose’ is to sit in captivity, testing different foods for our own companion animals. Just take this recently exposed breeding facility in the US that were found to be breeding Beagles to sell to laboratories for drug experiments. Thankfully 4,000 of these precious dogs have been rescued but so many of them will have been through such a traumatic and cruel experience.
A more compassionate way: at-home dog food trials
THE PACK, like many other ethical pet food start-ups, refuses to use laboratory dogs for feeding trials. Instead, we conduct exhaustive nutritional and digestibility laboratory analysis on our food without involving dogs at all (see below for more on this) and then we trial palatability in the private, stress-free homes of volunteer pawrents.
During THE PACK’s at-home ‘two pan test’, you present your pup with two different options of food at the same time and he or she decides which one they like best; it should be immediately obvious to you which one they go for! In this way, not only are we not testing on laboratory subjects, we’re helping you give your dog more choices, which is hugely important for wellbeing. Often our own fur children are our first taste testers, trialling THE PACK in their familiar, fear-free home settings.
This sort of in-home pet testing is not only a more compassionate way of ensuring the palatability of dog food, but it also provides more accurate results. After all, trialling food on different breeds in real-life settings reflects the actual scenarios in which your dog will be eating our food. The different breeds and personalities of pet dogs, volunteered by loving guardians, better represent the variety of taste preferences of real-life dogs.
What’s more, pawrents are better able to read their dog’s responses than a scientist who doesn’t know the individual pup. You know how your furry friend normally reacts to their diet, and you can detect any subtle physiological shifts or behavioural changes. In fact, during these customer taste tests, we also ask you to report on the quality of your dog’s stools, providing a stunning chart of the wonderful varieties of poop appearances to guide your feedback (it’s worth volunteering as a taste tester just to get a copy)!
Nutritional analysis sans puppies
Chemical analysis has been proven for decades to be a safe and effective means to ensure nutritional adequacy in pet foods and it’s the current method by which most pet foods are approved for sale in the UK. THE PACK’s food is trialled using biochemical analyses in the lab before it goes anywhere near your pup’s jaws: not just once, but every time a new batch is created. This ensures consistent high-quality nutrition and means pawrents can sleep easy knowing their specific cans of food have proven complete nutrition.
Testing digestibility without the discomfort
Human medical research is shifting toward ‘in vitro testing’, which means testing outside of the animal, just like we describe above. This is now the standard in humane pet food testing too and it’s just as effective as old-fashioned methods which were horribly invasive and cruel. For example, not so long ago, a test known as ‘gavage’ involved inserting food into a porous bag and force-feeding it to the dog, then retrieving the bag to see how much had been digested. A dog could be subjected to these painful tests over and over again, for days, even weeks, as a pet food formulation was adjusted. Now, in vitro tests simulate the stomach and intestinal tract’s digestive processes without involving an animal at all.
How? Here’s the science bit! A sample of THE PACK food is dried and milled (broken down, as it would be by a dog chewing), then digestion is simulated. What does ‘digestion’ look like, sans dog? Well, each replicate sample undergoes two incubation phases. The first lasts two hours and takes place in the presence of pepsin enzymes, gastric lipase and HCl (the ‘gastric phase’), and the second lasts four hours with phosphate-bicarbonate buffer, pancreatin and bile salts (the ‘intestinal phase’). This is exactly what would happen inside a dog’s stomach and intestines. The samples are kept at 39 °C, the same temperature as inside a canine body, and are under constant agitation, as they would be during real digestion. At the end of the intestinal phase, the undigested leftovers (the pellet) is separated from the digested nutrients. That pellet (which would be your dog’s poop in real digestion) is dried and then analysed for nutrients.
This method allows THE PACK to understand the digestibility of our dog diet without the use of laboratory animals. So far, our results have been completely in line with those for meat-based dog food.
All this means that THE PACK are proud to be able to say ‘Yes, we do test on animals’ – but not lab animals. Our ‘test subjects’ are happy dogs with loving pawrents, who trial our food in the comfort of their own fur family homes and continue living their best lives without any invasive interruptions.
In fact, we do better than test on animals. We use the most thorough in vitro analysis to ensure that every batch of our food meets your dog’s nutritional requirements and is safely and effectively digested. Yes, every batch. So you can rest assured that not only is THE PACK safe for your dog, but no other dog has been harmed in its creation.