It’s all very well that we pack our doggy dinners full of nutritious ingredients, but those nutrients are no good to any dog if they can’t be digested: absorbed by the canine body and put to their optimum use. These nutrients have the potential to build immunity, strengthen bones and nourish your pup’s skin and coat so we need to know that they are bioavailable. What does that mean? In simple terms, it means that rather than simply pooping the good stuff straight out, your dog’s internal systems take them in and reap the benefits.
Happily, THE PACK do extensive testing to ensure that every portion of our wet food has over 90% digestibility. Compare that to the 70-80% industry average and you can see why we think our pet food is the mutt’s nuts!
The Science Bit
So how exactly do we test the digestibility of our food? THE PACK use ‘in vitro testing’, which means testing outside of the animal, now the standard in humane pet food testing. Thankfully this is just as effective as invasive old-fashioned methods, which were horribly cruel. In this blog post, we describe the old practice of ‘gavage’ digestibility testing, which involved painful force-feeding for days, even weeks, as a pet food formulation was adjusted. Now, in vitro tests simulate the canine stomach and intestinal tract’s digestive processes.
We start by taking a sample of THE PACK food and drying it out. We then ‘mill’ it to break the food down in the same way it would be if your dog had chewed it. Then the science ramps up, the test simulating digestion without the dog.
Each sample has two incubation phases. The first lasts two hours, introducing pepsin enzymes, gastric lipase and HCl to the food sample. This is called the ‘gastric phase’ and it mimics what would happen inside a dog’s stomach. The second phase lasts four hours, and uses phosphate-bicarbonate buffer, pancreatin and bile salts. This is the ‘intestinal phase’ – you’ve guessed it, it replicates the journey the food would take through the dog’s intestines!
The samples are kept at 39 °C, the same temperature as inside a dog, and are constantly ‘agitated’ or shaken up throughout, as they would be during real digestion. At the end of the intestinal phase, the undigested leftovers (what would be your dog’s poop) are separated from the digested nutrients. Those leftovers, what we call the ‘pellet’, are dried and then analysed for nutrients. Ideally, we don’t want to see many nutrients at all in that leftover pellet, because they should have been absorbed by the stomach and intestines (that is, successfully digested).
This method allows THE PACK to understand the digestibility of our dog diet without the use of laboratory animals. And our results have been in line with, if not better than, those for meat-based dog food!
In-home Testing For The Future?
In the future, we’re not adverse to exploring other cruelty-free methods of digestibility testing. One possibility is ‘in-home’ testing, where pawrents collect their dog’s poop after they’ve eaten our food and send samples back to us for lab analysis.
A recent scientific paper investigated the effectiveness of in-home dog food digestibility testing and found positive results. Over two weeks, pawrents fed 60 dogs of different breeds and ages two nutritionally complete dry foods, one with relatively low digestibility and one with high digestibility. Every day, the pawrents collected their dog’s poop and this was analysed in a lab. It was discovered that the digestibility results were accurate after just one day’s collection. It’s early days, but this shows promise for further research. We’ll certainly be watching this space…