Although people have been known to own many different types of pets; from ants to lions, from gerbils to snakes, we will discuss the two most popular; dogs and cats.
The fascinating comparison between dogs and cats versus humans is of course their sense of smell. It is claimed that cats have about 200 million odor receptors versus our 5 million. This results in a cat having about 14 times the sense of smell as a human. (I know the math is not linear)
Dogs on the other hand have 250 - 300 million odor receptors resulting in anywhere from a 10-100 thousand times greater acuity than us. A dog’s sense of smell is so strong that they can track by smelling the cells sloughed off a prey as they walk by. This is described in the parts per trillion. Just for comparison’s sake, a part per trillion is equivalent to a standard desk versus the map of the United States including Alaska.
Developing flavors for dogs and cats can therefore be a challenge. As they are both carnivores versus we omnivorous humans, they are attracted to scents that we often find repulsive. Protein digests, that is meat by-products that have been digested by enzyme known as proteases, are often added to dog and cat products by the food producers to enhance the desire to eat the food. This is called palatability and digests are then palatability enhancers a.k.a. palatants.
These products can have an unpleasant aroma to the human pet food purchaser, so pet food aroma masking flavors are often employed in the flavors make-up.
Flavors can also enhance palatability. Examples of these are amino acid blends and amino acid sugar process flavors made through Maillard processing techniques. The latter can be considered natural according to the FDA’s definition of natural flavorings.
Other tastant ingredients, like hydrolyzed plant protein and autolyzed yeast and a myriad of other pet food enhancing ingredients, can be added both before or through the processed flavor development.
The testing of the efficiency of a pet formula and specifically the usefulness of a flavoring is unique. The tests are usually conducted in a kennel like facility. Bowls both with and without flavoring are introduced to the animal and the amount of food left over is measured to see which one was preferred. Statistical analysis is used to see if the results are statistically significant. Bowls are switched to account for left or right paw preference.
There are some ingredients that cannot be used in dog food flavors. One which is well known is chocolate with dogs as they cannot properly digest the alkaloid theobromine found in chocolate. According to one website, other items that dogs cannot tolerate are avocado, grape and raisin, onion, garlic, and chives, macadamia nuts, alcohol, and raw eggs. Furthermore, according to the American Kennel Club, the other items include almonds, large amounts of cheese, cinnamon. Milk and ice cream (some dogs can be lactose intolerant), should be avoided.
Now cats, on the other hand, have some other issues. Tuna is addictive to cats and a steady diet can lead to malnutrition or mercury poisoning, onion garlic and chives is on the cat's list as well, milk, alcohol, grapes and raisins, caffeine, chocolate, fat trimmings and bones, raw eggs, raw meat, raw fish, repeated amounts of dog food, liver, yeast/dough can harm cats. So, let us speak about the flavorings themselves. Carnivores are attracted to the meat of course. Meat flavor is a complex assortment of both taste and odor molecules for humans but as we said above, Cats and Dogs are much more sensitive to aromas than they are to taste. Taste palatants are subtle and pet food and aroma enhancing flavors are specific to the pet’s nature. Here volatile acids, aldehydes, and sulfur components are used. These can be developed using natural extracts and processed flavors. Although dogs cannot eat chocolate, for example, chocolate flavor can be made in a way that does not utilize real chocolate but uses natural substances. The same goes for natural cheese flavors. Some pets love cheese and a natural cheese flavor using nondairy sources can eliminate the problem of lactose intolerance. Palatability masking flavors are a separate category used at levels that will not offend the pet but cover up some of the aromas pets like but might be off-putting to pet owners.
We are glad we could share these insights with you.