PhotoTake a good look,at your dog or cat. What do you see? A lean, fit creature ready to take whatever comes its way? Probably not. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 53% of dogs,and 58% of cats in the U.S. are overweight.

Perhaps more alarming, 90% of pet owners don't realize their companions are too heavy and aren't doing anything about it. The solution, of course, is the same as it is for humans -- a less-fattening,diet and more exercise.

With pet owners not recognizing the problem, it falls to pet food companies,,animal nutritionists and veterinarians to look for solutions.,,

Back to basics

Researchers have been looking at various food additives that could reduce weight but in Sao Paulo, Brazil,,Dr. Aulus Carciofi and colleagues decided to go back to the basics by looking at particle size.

Livestock nutritionists have long known that particle size influences digestibility but there hasn't previously been much research in dogs. So Carciofi and company rounded up 54 beagles and fed them either maize, rice or sorghum in either fine, medium or coarsely ground nuggets.

They found that size matters in,maize and sorghum nuggets but not in rice.

Carciofi concluded that "if properly processed, maize and sorghum are as easily digested as rice-based food." He also believes that dog food processing companies "could look closer at the particle reduction process."

Based on their results and others, rice is easily digested and doesn't depend on the processing. However, maize and sorghum are "dependent on a proper raw material particle size and need to be appropriately extruded to produce highly digestible foods," said Carciofi. In the end, even sorghum, thought to be less digestible, can be similar to rice if cooked and ground properly.

One size doesn't fit all

One readily apparent problem is that most pet food manufacturers "have only one grinding condition for all recipes, and do not change the extrusion size,based on the type of cereal used," said Carciofi. The extrusion process is only configured for fat, protein, and meat inclusions in the diet.

Carciofi's lab is continuing work in the food processing area. Recently, they found an interesting link between food processing and the metabolic responses of the animals. They are also researching mechanical energy transference and starch cooking in dog and cat diets.

These food processing techniques may be a low cost and effective way of producing diets that are potentially more beneficial and can control digestibility and that could reduce obesity among pets, Carciofi concluded.

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