Factors that Impact the Reliability of Palatability Testing

At PF, Inc. ("Pet Flavors Inc.") we focus on bettering the lives of people and their companion animals by improving the abilities of owners to administer medications to their animals. In the world of companion animal health products, we work hard to improve the likelihood that a companion animal (also known as a "pet") will willingly and happily choose to ingest medications, supplements, and other health products that are offered to them. We do this by looking for and developing ways to improve the palatability.

What is Palatability?

Simply put, palatability is the term that refers to the measure of attraction an animal has for a substance. Foods with high palatability are more attractive to animals; those with lower palatability are less so. There is a reason palatability is considered when creating medicines and supplements: you cannot reason with a pet and convince it to eat something simply because that something contains nutrients or medicine that it needs. Much like a small child, a pet will eat something (or will refuse to eat it) based solely on how palatable it is.

What Factors Affect Palatability?

As you might expect, taste plays a role in palatability. However, palatability is determined by more than simply how a medicine or supplement tastes. In fact, with most animals, taste is not actually the primary driver in how palatable a medicine or supplement is for them.

Dogs have roughly 50 times as many olfactory receptors in their noses as people do. In addition, the part of a dog's brain that is devoted to processing smells is roughly 40 times as large as that part of the human brain. When all the factors are taken into consideration, some scientists suggest that a dog's sense of smell is from 10,000 to 100,000 times as keen as a human's. Cats, too, are much more receptive to scent than humans.

This means that scent plays a huge role in the palatability of medicine or supplement to an animal. As such, flavoring suppliers for pet medicines or supplements have the task of utilizing various palatants to mask an offensive or "medicinal" scent in the medicines or supplements they present to animals. There are a number of ways to do this, and it is in this area that PF, Inc. excels.

In addition to scent, palatability is determined by taste. While taste is strongly linked to scent, the two factors can sometimes operate independently of one another. Palatant suppliers work to provide medicine or supplement palatability enhancers that improve the taste as well as scent of the medicine or supplement presented to pets.

Finally, the last factor in palatability is its texture or "feel" in the animal's mouth. This is not unlike people who will reject, for example, a banana that has been smashed—the banana tastes and smells normal, but because the texture is off it is not as palatable. This factor may not play as large of a role as taste and scent, but it certainly plays a role nonetheless.

How is Palatability Measured?

Flavor vendors like PF, Inc., work hard to improve the palatability of medicines and supplements. However, because animals are not able to talk and provide feedback, that means we must develop other methods of measuring the palatability of a substance.

To do this, we engage in lengthy studies utilizing various combinations of flavors for pet medicine or food with different edibles to see how animals react. Although there are many ways to test for palatability, the classic method is quite simple: two dishes are placed in front of the animal. One contains a substance with a known palatability score, and the other is the test edible.

We watch to see which bowl the animal chooses. In addition, we keep track of the rate of consumption, the amount of consumption, and just how eagerly (or not) the animal approaches the proffered edible. By keeping track of these, and other factors, flavor concentrate manufacturers can establish a pretty good idea of the palatability of a given substance.

What are Some Factors that Can Affect Palatability Testing?

As with any experiment, a palatability test must account for several factors apart from the edibles being tested. Environmental factors can affect an animal's response and, as such, must be tightly controlled to the greatest extent possible.

In addition to environmental factors such as temperature, noise, and other elements in the testing room, we consider the animal itself. Animals that are sickly or do not feel well may not show much enthusiasm for even the best chewable tablet or other edible. Pet medicine palatability can be difficult to determine unless you know the animal you are using as a test subject is in good health and feels fine.

In addition, we must consider an animal's oral health. Even if the test animal is not sick or feeling poorly, if its teeth hurt due to a cavity or any other consideration, it will not eat the soft chew or other item we are testing, producing a skewed test result. As such, we take great care to monitor and treat any oral health issues.

We also take into consideration an animal's behavioral health. An animal that is frightened or anxious will likely turn away from food that it might normally find to be irresistible. To prevent inaccurate results due to an animal's psychological or emotional condition, we work hard to ensure all our animals are happy, calm, and suffer from no behavioral or psychological issues.

Finally, we consider the age of the test animal. Older animals simply don't have the same appetite that younger ones do. Using animals of different ages in palatability testing can lead to inaccurate results.

At PF, Inc. We Focus on the Science of Palatability.

As you can see, there are many factors that must be controlled to truly determine how palatable a medicine or supplement is. At PF, Inc. we work hard to get everything right so we have an accurate measure of how effective our flavor for pet medicine is.