Animal Nutrition

Alternatives to improve the digestibility of pet food

The development of pet food must follow certain criteria to ensure a safe and quality formulation, that meets the pet’s physiological needs.

These criteria are related to the quality of each ingredient that is added to the feed. For this reason, chemical and microbiological tests must be carried out to help define the nutritional value and the safety of the inputs, before being received by pet food companies.

Another factor that must be considered when choosing an ingredient is information about its digestibility. This is an essential element to provide quality food, as it is related to the amount of food intake and absorption of nutritional compounds in the animals’ bodies.

Pet food with ingredients that ensure digestibility and adequate nutrient profile can be considered high-quality food because it provides greater longevity and well-being to the animal.

Next, we will better understand what digestibility is, its importance in pet nutrition, and which foods are the best options to meet this requirement.

Important aspects in pet nutrition

According to a study by Ciência Rural magazine, the digestibility and palatability of food – together with the bioavailability of nutrients – are completely connected when we talk about animal nutrition.

This is because digestibility refers to the ability of a food or component to be digested and absorbed by the animal’s body. This can vary greatly as the type of food and animal changes.

Palatability, on the other hand, measures how desirable and attractive a given food is for animals. It is worth mentioning that this parameter also varies according to the food and the animal that consumes it. Thus, it is essential to develop an animal formulation rich in digestible nutrients and which is also palatable.

Regarding the bioavailability of nutrients, it relates to the proportion of absorbed nutrients that are transported to the tissues and are available to maintain the organism.

When a highly digestible food provides a higher proportion of absorbed nutrients than a less digestible food, digestibility provides an important measure of a food’s nutritional value and quality.

In general, as the quality of the ingredients increases, the digestibility and bioavailability of nutrients increases accordingly.

In vitro methods are the most common tests to determine the digestibility of ingredients. In vivo methods can also be performed, which are more reliable. However, they require specific infrastructure, time, and care for animals. Therefore, besides there are more accurate results in terms of digestibility, the cost of analysis increases.

Digestibility in pet nutrition

As already mentioned, digestibility can vary because of the food or component, and the animals that consume it. In this article, we will specifically address digestibility for dogs and cats.

Thus, the feeding of these carnivorous animals must have high protein content and high digestibility, usually higher than 80%. Dogs, specifically, need a balanced diet in terms of nutrients, especially protein content.

According to the “Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs” guide prepared by the National Research Council (NRC), it is recommended for adult dogs with a body mass of approximately 15 kg to consume 25 g of crude protein daily. Puppies and elderly dogs, in general, need proteins with high digestibility, therefore, the formulation of feed for these animals must be adapted to the mentioned needs.

Cats’ food, on the other hand, must contain highly digestible proteins, as these animals are called strict carnivores, because most of their nutrition and energy comes from protein sources.

According to the “Your Cat’s Nutritional Needs” guide prepared by the National Research Council (NRC), it is recommended for adult cats with a body mass of approximately 4 kg an intake of 12.5 g/day of proteins.

Otherwise, the animal may present some comorbidities. According to Food Fur Life, diets with high carbohydrates content, for example, damage the cat’s digestive system, particularly the pancreas, resulting in inflammation and pancreatic complications.

For this reason, many of the main diseases that dogs and cats suffer from are directly related to their feed. Therefore, these diseases can be easily avoided by providing dogs and cats with complete nutrition based on suitable foods for each animal.

It is worth mentioning that, for both animals, there is an ideal balance amongst essential amino acids. These are arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Digestible foods for dogs and cats

The digestibility of pet food is determined in feeding studies, as shown by Ciência Rural magazine. Generally, for a specific nutrient, it is calculated from the daily amount consumed minus the amount excreted in the feces. This value is divided by the total consumed to provide a coefficient or percentage.

Animal proteins, such as meat, eggs, and dairy products, are highly digestible by dogs and cats, while cereal grains are poorly digestible. As shown in the study by Ciência Rural magazine, poultry offal meal showed greater apparent digestibility for dogs than soybean meal.

At the same time, according to studies presented in the Whole Dog Journal, poultry meal has greater digestibility (of 80%) compared to lamb meat meal (70%).

Finally, according to the study by the Journal of Nutritional Science, the digestibility of poultry meal protein (from 80.4 to 89.1%) for dogs was higher when compared to meat and bone meal proteins (from 72.6 to 79.4%).

Ingredients to improve the digestibility of pet food

According to the data presented, animal proteins are a great way to improve digestibility, to make palatability available, and to provide the necessary nutrients for dogs and cats.

Thus, animal meals – such as poultry and swine – are excellent alternatives for application in the enrichment of animal feed, both for livestock animals and pet food.

Poultry Meal (Low Ash) is a great alternative to be used as an ingredient in dog and cat feed, as it contains a lower ash content and a 64% to 73% crude protein content. This premium meal is made of fresh, high-quality raw material, which has optimal consistency, in addition to providing greater palatability.

Another premium meal is Pork Crackling Meal, produced with fresh, high-quality raw materials and without the presence of co-products. It is also a rich source of protein, having at least 80% of it, as well as essential amino acids. It is also important to mention that this meal has excellent consistency, low mineral content and is naturally pleasant and attractive to the animals’ taste – in addition to high digestibility and palatability.

Meals produced from poultry co-products can also be applied to animal feed, such as Poultry Feather meal and Poultry Feather with Bood meal. According to the Pet Food Industry, poultry offal meal has the same digestibility as poultry meal. However, the composition and balance of amino acids are different between co-products and products from poultry processing.

A highly promising alternative to improve the digestibility of pet food is the application of chicken protein hydrolysate. Produced through enzymatic hydrolysis, this ingredient has great potential due to the balance of essential amino acids combined with the presence of bioactive peptides – which meet essential functions in the animal organism. All of this with high palatability and hypoallergenicity.

Results of an in vivo test on dogs using chicken protein hydrolysate showed an apparent digestibility coefficient of 92% of crude protein. In fact, the inclusion of 4% chicken protein hydrolysate in the diet decreased the number of feces by 12% when compared to the group fed with a control feed.

Therefore, in order to choose the ingredients to provide adequate digestibility as required by the animals, it is of fundamental importance to carefully select the suppliers of these ingredients. Suppliers who have knowledge in the area of ​​animal nutrition and have carried out experiments to prove the digestibility of ingredients should be evaluated, thus ensuring the formulation of a product suitable for animal feed.

Other aspects such as fresh raw material and 100% traceable processes also guarantee a high degree of reliability when formulating the food.

Conclusion

Digestibility is related to the amount of food intake and absorption of nutritional compounds in the animals’ organisms. Pet food that has ingredients with an adequate composition and digestibility can be considered of high quality, as it will provide health and well-being to the animal.

Dogs and cats have a need for proteins of animal origin, which present greater digestibility for these animals. Thus, the application of ingredients such as animal meals, and chicken protein hydrolysate, result in a great alternative for improving composition and digestibility, thus providing a higher quality for pet food.

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