MANHATTAN, Kan. — Kansas State University’s (KSU) Department of Grain Science and Industry is offering a new study emphasis on pet food manufacturing due to a new uptick in how we relate to animals.

“There has been an evolution of the way we look at companion animals,” said Greg Aldrich, a research associate professor in the department and the Pet Food Program coordinator. “They’ve moved from being outside our home — on farms they were barnyard security and rodent control — to living inside the house. They’re sharing our house, sharing our kitchens and in some cases even sharing our beds.

“They’ve become members of the family. There is an increasing awareness of the foods they eat and what we need to do to provide them with adequate diets.”

While not a true “major” or dedicated field of study, the new pet food emphasis will offer a variety of courses that students can take to add extra depth to other majors.

Among the options KSU offers:

  • Pet-food emphasis area in the feed science and management degree option.
  • Pet-food minor for students in other disciplines:
    • Animal sciences and industry
    • Agricultural technology management
    • Agricultural economics

“They can pick up those same 15 to 17 hours and get a minor on their transcript,” Aldrich said. “I’m also training master’s and PhD students in this whole area, to teach them how to do research and become the next generation of research scientists.”

Another driving force behind the pet food emphasis is regulation. The 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act, which shifts the emphasis of federal regulations and manpower from tracking foodborne illness, to preventing it. Aldrich said the act says pet food has to be as safe, or safer in some cases, than human food.

“Making it better is no longer just about making pet food crunchy or flavorful or convenient,” he said. “It’s also about making sure we have a safe and effective delivery device that doesn’t cause harm to the pet and doesn’t bring pathogens into our homes.”

Some courses in the curriculum include feed management for large groups such as kennels, pet food nutrition, dietetics, extrusion manufacturing and sensory analysis, which Aldrich said is a rapidly growing area for pet food companies.

“Just like human infants, our pets have no verbal skills — they can’t talk to us and tell us if they like or dislike something,” Aldrich said. “So we end up trying to come up with methodology that allows us to look at their behavior, to tell us whether or not something is preferred or liked, or whether something is rejected.

“And the big question is ‘Why?’ What is it about that food or preparation they really liked? That’s the holy grail — getting the dogs to talk to us. So teaching students on sensory cues and how to evaluate behavior is very critical.”

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