Cal Poly Pomona is widely known for the researchers who study and care for Arabian horses, sheep and pigs on campus, but one group of scholars is staking out new territory in its work with animals.
Thanks to a partnership between Cal Poly Pomona and JustFoodForDogs, faculty and students are developing groundbreaking new clinical research techniques for dogs.
When trying out new dog food recipes, manufacturing companies typically use animals bred in colonies whose sole purpose is to test food processed from scraps left over from human consumption.
“These dogs, maybe for the most part, live their life to be part of these tests. These are not dogs that live at home and are part of a family,” says Shawn Buckley, who founded JustFoodForDogs with the goal of increasing the quality and length of dogs’ lives. The company makes fresh and frozen food for dogs. It also develops carefully formulated meals for dogs with special health issues and nutritional needs.
Buckley was certain there was a better way to test the recipes and recruited Oscar Chavez, a Cal Poly Pomona assistant professor in animal health sciences, to help him find it.
Chavez established a plan to conduct feeding trials with family pets that can be done right in their own homes. The research methodology would provide a better understanding of how well the food performs in real-world applications.
“This is completely outside the box,” says Chavez, who is also a veterinarian. “We are being innovative, embracing a new way of doing things.”
The two spoke with doctors from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), as well as doctors from the Food and Drug Administration and began conducting trials using whole food rather than traditional fare.
“When I talked to a doctor at AAFCO, he told me that, as far as he knew, we would be the first to successfully conduct the research,” Chavez says.
A wide range of students in the College of Agriculture volunteered 30 dogs for the 26-week feeding trial, which began in March. Graduate students Jen Keating and Sherri Reichardt served as a protocol investigators, helping Chavez plan the feeding format, which the other students strictly adhered to.
“The trials very much depend on their consistency, their dedication and their commitment to the 26 weeks,” Chavez says. “They have to feed the diet and only that diet. They also have to bring their dogs in for physical exams outlined by AAFCO. They’re really getting a firsthand account as to what is involved.”
Taking part in these trials gave students a first-hand look at the careful thought and rigorous attention to detail they can expect in professional research. It also stretched their understanding of research techniques.
JustFoodForDogs praises the animal health science program for its willingness to participate in a relatively new, rarely tested method. The company also established a scholarship for students studying animal nutrition.
“We would not have made this come true without the partnership with Cal Poly Pomona. We just don’t have the manpower,” Buckley says. “I see us working with Cal Poly Pomona on a long-term basis.”
Chavez also sees an enduring partnership. In the future, he hopes expanded research could lead to improved methodology, more hands-on experiences for students and published articles in academic journals.
“This is a first step,” he says. “Over half of the dogs in this country experience some form of health issue and many of these can be addressed through diet. As Shawn says, the future of pet nutrition will be much better than it is today. At Cal Poly Pomona, we’ll do our part in advancing the field through innovative studies like this.”
(Photo: Oscar Chavez, al Poly Pomona assistant professor in animal health sciences)