Developing Palatability Tests for Pet Food

Have you ever wondered how pet food flavor chemists create flavors? There are many factors that determine what flavor materials and processes they use to create products that your pet loves. How does your pet tell us what flavors, foods, and treats they like? Palatability (PAL) testing is critical to determining what flavor to use in a product. Since pets cannot speak to us, we must use other methods to learn what they like.

When creating flavors for dogs and cats there are several key factors to consider. The first factor is the type of pet (dog or cat). Along with knowing the type of pet, we must consider the raw material choices for the food or treats, and how the food is processed. Raw materials like grains, coupled with a low-cook process will need more flavor work and palatability enhancement than a diet consisting of meat as the main ingredient, even when processed under similar conditions. Extrusion, baking, and canning, all have their respective key raw material sets, and can vary widely in addition to processing conditions (cook time, temperature, pressure, flavor introduction points). The flavor profile will depend on whether the flavor will be applied post processing, during processing, or included in the raw material mix. Lastly, animals can also be conditioned through experience to prefer certain flavors and textures, due to age, location, and health conditions.

Once the final product is created, it must be tested for palatability. The most common type of testing is a split plate, two bowl test. During this test, animals are given two bowls with different profiles and asked to indicate their preference. On the second day, the bowls are switched to negate handedness and to ensure that a clear choice is made. The feeding process can be videotaped, visually monitored, or animals can be fitted with RFID chips to determine what bowl the animal chooses and eats from. First choice, consumption ratio, and total intake are measured. The data is then analyzed to determine if a statistically significant choice is made.

Knowing the differences in preferences between cats and dogs helps in designing palatability tests. In general, dogs tend to make choices with their noses. In standard two bowl testing, the correlation between first choice and total consumption is very high while in cats it is not. Cats tend to “graze” for longer periods, while dogs tend to eat within 10-30 minutes. Dogs tend to prefer more roasted, cooked, and umami flavors. Cats tend to prefer proteins (proteinaceous notes) as they are carnivores. Another thing to consider is that cats lack the ability to grind food and lack lateral jaw movement which makes texture and salivation type flavors important. Cats also eat for metabolic needs unlike dogs. When deciding on the right flavor for a pet, it is critical to have knowledge of all the raw materials, processes, and potential application points. This enables the flavorist to create winning flavors that delight both pets and owners.

The process of flavor creation and application for pets is very involved and requires great knowledge of the raw materials, products, processes, and testing methods to win in the market! Flavor is critical when developing a product for palatability testing, so please contact TEI to discuss your flavor needs.

Doug Gledhill

Doug Gledhill is a pet food flavor consultant with 30+ years of experience in the flavor industry. His expertise includes specializations in beverage, sweet, and pet food flavors. Doug owns several patents for flavored products and has a publication with the Society of Flavor Chemists. He is skilled in flavor compounding, sensory analysis, Maillard reaction flavors, spray drying, protein hydrolysis, product development, R&D stage gate, Six Sigma, Lean, QA/QC, and DOE/modelling (Design of Experiments). Prior to working with Trilogy, Doug worked for Proctor & Gamble for 12 years, and AFB International for 8 years. He has owned his own business for the past 5 years where he offers consulting services for flavor and product development. Doug graduated summa cum laude from Columbia College with degrees in Chemistry and Biology.