The pet industry in Brazil is one of the fastest-growing markets, with pet food products accounting for more than 73% of its income. In 2020, the sector as a whole had an increase of 13,5%, concluding the period with a revenue of more than 40 billion BRL. This can be explained by the humanization of animals — which made them an integral part of the family. Brazil has about 52 million dogs and 22 million cats — thus being second country with the largest pet population, staying behind only of the United States.
Given these data, it is natural for tutors to invest more and more in the health and well-being of their animals. In addition, being cautious about nutrition is also a part of the context of responsible custody, according to the World Animal Protection organization.
Important facts in pet food formulation
Cats and dogs are animals with carnivorous anatomies — well-developed canines, an extremely acidic stomach, an absence of salivary amylase and a shorter intestine than omnivores and herbivores. They can also regulate blood sugar without the presence of carbohydrates in their diet.
However, evolutionarily, dogs adapted to a more omnivorous diet in nature due to their domestication period and coexistence with human beings. Meanwhile, cats remained strictly carnivores. Since they fed on small game, such as birds and rodents, cats adapted their metabolism to utilize protein and lipids as sources of energy, therefore presenting a higher protein requirement than that of the dog. These factors must be considered in feed formulation, since it is based on the characteristics of each species that we determine their nutritional needs and, consequently, provide a complete and balanced diet.
Digestibility is another factor to consider when analyzing food quality. It defines the potential the ingredient has to be digested, absorbed and used by the body. Foods with low digestibility are underused, causing the animal to demand a greater amount of food to meet its daily nutrient requirements while also provoking an increase in the volume of feces, since part of the food has passed through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested and absorbed — that being considered a relevant issue for pets that live indoors.
Usually, the tutor cannot perceive that he is providing his pet with a low digestibility diet, as the pet does not stop eating, but rather increases its food consumption. The problem will only be identified when the animal presents health problems or inappropriate eating behaviors, being more easily noticeable in cats and dogs with restricted access to food. Therefore, in this article, we will emphasize digestibility and alternatives that increase its coefficient in pet food.
Digestibility and the diet of pets
The correct feeding management of cats and dogs must take into account some requirements related to digestibility. As mentioned earlier, the anatomy of carnivores makes it necessary to provide a highly digestible diet. Meat, offal and derivatives are well digested by these animals. However, plant-based ingredients such as grains, vegetables, fruits and leaves, generally need to be industrially processed to ensure better utilization. Some technological processes, such as extrusion, manage to expose nutrients, solubilize fibers, inactivate protease inhibitors and anti-nutritional substances, and modify particles sizes, thus improving nutritional value and the digestibility coefficient of the food.
The ability to digest certain types of food can also vary with age, requiring specific nutritional management for each stage. The physiological and health status of the animal also requires an exclusive diet. For example, during pregnancy and lactation, the bodies of female cats and dogs require a high level of nutrients for milk production, to ensure the growth of kittens and puppies and the maintenance of maternal metabolism. Therefore, providing highly digestible food is recommended. Regarding health, it is known that high digestibility ingredients require less gastric, pancreatic and intestinal secretion to be broken down and used by the body — an important factor in animals with problems in the gastrointestinal tract.
The composition of the diet is also very important and directly impacts digestion. The amount of carbohydrate, fiber and fat, as well as the presence of antinutrients, such as tannin, can affect food digestibility. The high intake of fiber and calcium, for example, makes digestion and absorption of vitamins and minerals difficult.
Alternatives that improve digestibility in pet food
Technological developments and research in the animal nutrition field are essential for the development of increasingly complete, balanced and appropriate diets for pets. Tutors are becoming more demanding and exigent when choosing food for their pets, leading companies to invest in raw materials of high nutritional value and superior quality. Based on this demand, BRF Ingredients offers promising alternatives that have a high degree of digestibility and are excellent options to integrate into the diet of cats and dogs.
Poultry Meal - Low Ash
It is a premium meal made by cooking, pressing and grinding poultry offal, giblets, cartilage and meat shred. It possesses lower ash content and an increased proportion of crude protein, which is a key element in the diet of carnivorous animals. It has a minimum digestibility rate of 85% in 0.002% pepsin and it is produced with fresh and standardized raw material.
Pork Crackling Meal
This solution by BRF Ingredients is also a premium meal, with ingredients made from fresh raw materials. It results from cooking, pressing and grinding unprocessed pork skin, pork mask and its crackling. As a benefit, it has a high content of crude protein — being 80% its minimum rate. Furthermore, it has a low mineral matter content and is naturally pleasant and attractive to the taste of animals (high palatability). As for digestibility, this ingredient is a pet food trend and has a minimum rate of 90% in 0.002% pepsin.
One research indicated that replacing poultry viscera meal with Pork Rind Meal in the diet of adult dogs increased nutrient digestibility and metabolizable energy. Consequently, this product proves to be a good choice of protein source for this animal species.
Chicken Protein Hydrolysate
Chicken Protein Hydrolysate is an alternative that provides highly digestible proteins (a minimum of 95% in 0.002% pepsin) for pets. It also possesses a high crude protein content (a minimum of 75%) and a balanced essential amino acid profile.
To improve nutrition quality and reduce anti-nutritional factors that can be associated, chemical, enzymatic or microbial methods have been used to manufacture peptides in a standardized way, without as many variations as can occur in the digestive process in the animal organism.
In the case of Chicken Protein Hydrolysate, the enzymatic hydrolysis process is used, in which the protein is broken down, originating the so-called bioactive peptides. These peptides are formed by a short chain of same-sized amino acids, all of them possessing a molecular mass below 3000 Da — making them more easily absorbed and utilized by the body. This availability of bioactive peptides favors the immune system and provides antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-adipogenic functionalities.
Due to these characteristics, this product is one of the main ingredients to choose when formulating special feeds and clinical diets, as it acts as a supporting food in the treatment of dogs with gastrointestinal disorders or with hypersensitivity and food intolerance.
It is estimated that food hypersensitivity occurs in 10% of cats and dogs with skin problems. It is triggered when exposed to a food allergen —usually a protein. For this reason, Chicken Protein Hydrolysate is strategically used to reduce this allergic condition. Because it possesses peptides with low molecular weight, its particles are not recognized by the immune system as an allergen. One research carried out with dogs showed that the diet with Hydrolyzed Protein was efficient in treating food allergies and reducing the signs of itching in a subset of the animals.
In regards to cats and dogs affected by gastrointestinal disorders (like gastritis, malabsorption syndrome and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), Chicken Protein Hydrolysate is essential since it is easily digested and absorbed, thus not demanding from the organism a great number of digestive enzymes to process it.
The pet market is growing as cats and dogs have come to be considered important members of the family, thus generating greater demand for products with quality, especially in the pet food sector. For this reason, it is essential to invest in technology and research in the animal nutrition field, seek ingredients with high-quality and high nutritional value, and always consider the nutritional demands of each species and its stage of growth. Poorly formulated diets or diets with low-quality ingredients directly impact the health of animals and may provoke malnutrition.
Chicken Protein Hydrolysate has excellent digestibility and a great profile of essential amino acids that aid in the health of animals — therefore being one of the most promising alternatives on the pet food market. By undergoing an enzymatic hydrolysis process, the protein is broken down into bioactive peptides, which have a short and uniform chain, ensuring greater use and absorption of these molecules by the organism of the animal. These peptides have an important biological activity in metabolism, favoring the immune system and providing antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-adipogenic and antioxidant functionalities. Hydrolyzed Protein is also used in therapeutic diets, acting as a support in the treatment of diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and reducing clinical signs of food hypersensitivity. Poultry Viscera Meal and Pork Rind Meal are also good options to increase ingredient digestibility in the nutrition of cats and dogs.
In such a competitive market, companies that invest in certifications, establish strict quality standards, guarantee the traceability of their products and innovate with ingredients that improve the health of animals are the ones that earn the trust of their customers.