To feed or not to feed (Day -290)

Veterinary Nutrition Education

There are many brands of different dog and cat foods out there, yet often it is Royal Canin that you see in a veterinary practice. After a random conversation with a friend I decided that I should share some of the reasons why it is Royal Canin you often see in vet practices.

Making a pet food is easy, there are no licenses required, and it takes very little to give a list of requirements to a food manufacturer along with the label you want on it. There are production lines that are available to rent out to run smaller batches so companies without their own factories can produce and sell food. There is possibility that food is also white label with the only difference between the two foods on the shelf being the container label and the price.

There are different types of formulation – you can have fixed formulation where the same ingredients are used every time the food is produced so it is the same each time you buy it. Or you can have dynamic formulation where the ingredients are calculated based on material price so the actual ingredients may be completely different each time. This is why sometimes a dog or cat will pass up food even if it is the “same” as normal.

Many of the larger companies have their own factories so that it only produces their food. This allows for strict quality control – for example Royal Canin does DNA analysis on key points within its production line.

Then there is the research that goes into a food – for example Royal Canin own laboratories and research centres. These look at things such as the shape of the food to the shape of the animals teeth, the hardness of the food and how much pressure is put onto teeth to break it up. Then there is extra research into the digestion and excretion of food – measuring how much is in the urine and faeces. There is also research into the growth and the nutrients needed at the different stages of life.

Research into disease to treat specific conditions is also a big part – just like in humans animals can have food sensitivity. There have been major breakthroughs with decreasing food allergies which can cause much distress for patients. Research by Royal Canin showed that the immune response is regulated by the size of the foreign protein particle. From this Royal Canin found the smallest usable and sustainable protein that was possible and used this to make a food that provides nutrition yet is small enough to hide from the immune system so does not have an immune response.

Education is also important – the successful larger companies that you tend to see advertised produce books, share research, and provide training for vets and vet nurses. They give the knowledge needed to know which food should be used and when in different stages of life, and in different disease processes.

This is why these foods end up on the shelfs in vet practices, because they are backed by research, they are trusted with the ingredients known, and they make the effort to educate the vets using them.

Why does Royal Canin use feathers in pet food?

Royal Canin Anallergenic Diet

A year or so ago I was aware that Royal Canin was using feathers in their pet food, to be honest at the time I thought it was an act of desperate cost saving, however it is a whole lot more clever than that!

So a little understanding of immune responses is essential here, basically the body is set up to detect and destroy evil foreign proteins(invaders). Sometimes however it goes wrong and recognises good (or normal) proteins as evil too. In food this causes Adverse Food Reactions, Atopic Dermatitis and so on. Now the immune response is also linked to the size of these proteins – the protein size is measured in Dalton’s which is the measurement for mass on an molecular scale – and the bigger the protein the bigger the response. This can be partly due to it being easier to “see” by the immune system.

The goal of Royal Canin was to produce a food with protein molecules that were less than 1kDa (1000 Daltons) in size to prevent the immune reaction. Now part of the Royal Canin philosophy is for sustainability and so they needed the protein but also a strong continuing supply of this. It took them years to find this, and in the end it was found that the proteins in feather hydrolysate were the correct size, and there is a plentiful supply. Now what this means is that the feathers are specially processed to release all the proteins (around 88%) and oligopeptides (around 12%). This is exactly the same kind of technique that is used with formula for babies that are allergic to milk.

The rest of the formula was adapted as well (72% of it is brand new) to ensure that no other ingredients were included that contained proteins. It took 4 years and 15 prototypes along with 300 palatability tests to come to the final product with a 10 year development time!

Now the production of this food is even more complex than most as its cannot contain even the smallest contamination from other proteins. To achieve this it is produced in only 2 Royal Canin factories in the world, and the production line undergoes extreme cleaning and DNA testing in each stage of the line after cleaning to ensure that it is properly clean!

Royal Canin Anallergenic Diet

Arriving in France…

Arriving in Montpellier for Royal Canin

Well today i finished my journey around 3pm, over 24 hours after i originally set out. I am here to attend a Royal Canin Student Ambassador meeting and my flights and expenses are being covered by them during the time I am here. I will however as always continue writing uninfluenced by this and will be as factual and honest as I can. Without the support of Royal Canin to do this I would never be able to afford to do this myself and so I thank them for the opportunity!

There will be nearly 50 vet students from vet schools around the world (including Taiwan, Malaysia, most of Europe and South Africa) which is pretty cool and I am excited to meet so many new people. Royal Canin is one of the big brands of companion animal nutritional, yet I have no understanding at all of their products or company. The first day of the meeting will be consisting of lectures on different aspects of clinical nutrition before looking at the Royal Canin philosophy. This will be very interesting for me as so far in my studies as a vet student I have only done around 5 hours focused on dogs and cats!

This will be followed by a trip to the beach (it is the Mediterranean after all) which I am extremely excited about. It’s been a long time since I have been to a beach, and even longer since I have swam in the sea! Evening dinner will be a great chance to network and find out more about the world, and then on Wednesday we will be visiting the Royal Canin headquarters in Aimargues. We’re going behind the scenes through the research labs and the complete food production process (sadly for industrial security I cannot get photo’s of this) and also meeting the cats and dogs that help develop the food!

I will try and blog stuff from this as I get time! Its a very jam packed few days and I see myself very exhausted when it comes time to leave…