Palatability is a term that refers to how attractive a medication is. In terms of the companion animal health products market, palatability references how likely a companion animal (or a "pet" as most people call them) will voluntarily ingest medication without the need for coaxing, force, or mixing it with food.
There are generally three components to palatability when it comes to animals: scent, taste, and texture. In this sense, the idea of developing palatable medications for pets is not too different than it is when we consider making human medications more palatable: it's a matter of working with the three factors until you find the perfect balance that maximizes palatability.
PF, Inc. took notice when pharmaceutical companies started adding flavoring to children's medication and understood that this knowledge could work for companion animals. They realized early on that adapting flavors humans were partial to wasn't enough to help the palatability of pet medicine. Pets have a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans do. And, because smell is linked to taste, this means it can be more challenging to make medications for pets palatable. PF, Inc. focused their research on the specific factors that determined palatability meant to dogs and cats and a company was born.
A palatant for pet medicine is simply a combination of ingredients designed to maximize the palatability of the medication so animals will choose to voluntarily ingest it. By making medications taste and smell better, manufacturers can ensure that pets are obtaining the medication and nutrition that they need to live longer, healthier lives.
At one point, palatants were limited to the use of certain animal proteins like meat by-products. These proteins in the palatant closely mimicked meat in taste and scent, increasing the chances that a pet would eat it. However, today, the sophistication of palatability enhancers is much greater than it once was. PF, Inc. was able to develop flavor profiles that are palatable to such a degree that dogs will voluntarily ingest medications more than 95% of the time, while cats will do so more than 90% of the time.
As noted, at one point palatants were limited to certain proteins that could help pet medicines mimic the scent and taste of a pet's preferred food: meat. However, technology has improved to the point where today's flavoring suppliers have their choice of many different forms for palatants.
PF, Inc. relies heavily on palatants in the form of dry powders. When powders are incorporated into the medication (like soft chews and chewable tablets) during manufacturing, not only are offensive or medicinal scents and tastes masked but the animal consistently receives the correct dosage form. Powders can also be incorporated into creams and pastes and dissolved into liquids.
In the animal health field, pharmaceutical companies usually develop a universal palatant that is attractive to all animals. Given that animals tend to have different taste preferences—and given the physiological distinctions between different species which means they will have different senses of smell and taste—PF, Inc.'s catalogue of palatants includes species specific flavors.
Flavoring suppliers can look to several different sources in creating their palatant ingredients. They can be derived from both animal and plant sources. The specific source of a given palatant needs to be considered to meet certain nutritional claims that a medication supplier wishes to make, such as grain free, gluten-free, non-GMO, and low fat.
In terms of vegetable-sourced palatants, palatability enhancers can come from different vegetables, and will often be tailored to meet specific consumer needs. For example, some consumers will want to avoid all grains.
Of course, because pets cannot vocalize their preferences, it is necessary to engage in extensive testing to determine the effectiveness of a given palatant, and the most effective ratio of palatant medicine. Typically, testers will utilize two bowls: one containing the food or medicine with the palatant being tested, and another containing a medium for which a pet's preference is already known. The bowls are presented to the animal, and researchers record not only the food it chooses, but the rate of consumption, the amount of consumption, and other factors.
Pet food or medication manufacturers certainly have their pick of flavoring suppliers from which they may choose. Pet Flavors, Inc., is one of the premium palatant suppliers in the industry today. Manufacturers such as Elanco (manufacturer of Interceptor®), Bayer (manufacturer of Drontal®), and Virbac (manufacturer of Iverhart Max®) all choose Pet Flavors, Inc.