Kris Parlett and P&G Pet Care NA External Relations with Kurt Iverson, Iams US External Relations Manager greeting the visiting media representatives and paying special attention to a rather familiar publication.
Our Dogs recently visited The Paul F Iams Technical Centre in Lewisberg, Ohio in the USA to view the results of a multi-million dollar development of their facilities. The move has enabled Iams to accommodate their groundbreaking research and development programs largely ‘in house’.
Effectively, from 1st November last year, associated studies involving the use of animals at Universities and other outside agencies ceased. The move is part of an ongoing strategy initiated by parent company P&G.
P&G, who acquired The Iams Company seven years ago, have invested 170 million dollars on alternative models of research, fully supporting the internationally accepted principles of the ‘3Rs’:-
- ‘Replacement of animal studies with non-animal alternatives’.
- ‘Reduction in the numbers of animals involved in studies’.
- ‘Refinement of methods to enhance animal welfare’.
To their credit Iams have assumed responsibility for the dogs and cats involved in the terminated university based programs and have gone to extraordinary lengths to find suitable pet homes for the majority, whilst the remainder have been re-housed in specially designed , spacious ‘retirement’ quarters in their excellent new facility.
Today the majority of dogs and cats involved in Iams nutrition studies are family pets in private homes – no less than 70% in fact. The remaining 30% are cared for in a cageless environment in the newly extended Pet Health and Nutrition Centre which forms part of the Paul F Iams Technical Centre, or are animals which already reside in kennels run by assistance dog organizations or shelters, for example.
Dr Stephen Hansen of the ASPCA and a member of the International Animal Care Advisory Board, seemed to lament one aspect of Iams pulling out of university based studies, commenting that there was a ‘downside’ explaining that ‘Iams had an impact on researchers’. His words are effectively a towering endorsement for the company’s reputation and attitude to animal welfare.
The International Animal Care Advisory Board is made up of nine independent experts from various fields such as veterinary medicine, animal husbandry, behaviour, welfare and ethics and was established to advise on welfare and to evaluate and monitor work at the centre.
Whilst Iams explain the basic reason for their research and development studies is to fulfil ‘an ethical responsibility’ to ensure their products are ‘safe and wholesome’ the resultant findings have often reached far beyond that of a commercial safety net and a host of landmark innovations in animal nutrition are testimony to that.
The Iams Company success has been based upon discovery and innovation in animal feeding since the visionary Paul F Iams founded it over 60 years ago in 1946. He produced the world’s first animal-based protein complete dry dog food and a dry complete cat food using animal-based protein was to follow. Paul Iams reputation as a leading authority in carnivore nutrition grew and today Iams and Eukanuba diets are fed to 30 million pets world wide.
In the last 16 years alone Iams research has lead to important nutritional developments to promote: intestinal health, weight loss diets for over-weight/obese animals, healthy musculo-skeletal development in large breeds of dog, management of kidney disease and oral health, followed in the last 3 years by innovations in neural and sensory nutrition.
Committed To Sharing Findings
In the light of such important past developments, and the obvious potential of current and future research plans the centre is positioned to undertake, it is comforting to know that, despite pulling back from university based research, Iams remain committed to publishing and sharing their findings with the veterinary profession and the pet care industry at large to the benefit of pets everywhere.
Research involving live animals can be a highly emotive subject given the adverse publicity generated by those opposed to the very idea on principle. Instances of apparent malpractice, alleged to have taken place in some research facilities have in the past been seized upon by the media and have tainted the public view of even the most noble and worthy research programs.
In many peoples minds the very word ‘research’ conjures up stereotypical images of caged animals in clinical, emotionally bereft environments far removed from the loving home most would prefer to see.
The Paul F Iams Centre, focal point of a Media Tour attended by Our Dogs and other specialist publications from both the UK and USA, houses the Iams Research and Development Team and their Pet Health and Nutrition Centre and seeks to overturn such jaundiced views.
It came as no surprise to find that Iams had much to show us to counteract any negative preconceptions we might have harboured. What did surprise most was the extent to which they have taken the welfare issue to heart. For not only have they succeeded in replicating a home environment for the animals in their care, they appear to have surpassed it in so many ways.
Already a world class facility this centre of excellence has invested experience, knowledge and vision, not to mention millions of dollars, to lead the way, not only in nutritional research and development, but in animal welfare as a whole.
The new facilities have increased the 250 acre sites capacity to house 800 cats and dogs in a totally cage free environment. The canine and feline residents are housed in superbly appointed, temperature controlled kennel and cattery blocks with huge outdoor runs and paddocks, surrounded by beautiful parkland where the dogs can be exercised regularly.
Great care and expense has been lavished to provide the ultimate lifestyle in the interests of both physical and mental wellbeing. Materials and even textures have been carefully chosen to optimize cleanliness and comfort. Access to grassed areas, shady areas, indoor and outdoor areas carefully designed along with structures and toys specifically chosen to create an environment that offers the options of peace and quiet alongside mental stimulation and emotional wellbeing – more choices than the average pet home can offer quite frankly.
The centre employs 55 people, including technicians and veterinary staff to undertake studies and provide general care. A further 22 welfare workers are employed specifically to socialise with the dogs and cats, exercising, playing games and supervising socialisation with groups of compatible animals.
The whole regime is designed to replicate a loving domestic environment, providing all the mental stimulation, affection and socialisation a family pet might receive. All of which is believed to make the data Iams collect more relevant.
Whenever possible the dogs and cats are sought adoptive pet homes by the time they reach 6 years of age. An Animal Welfare Officer is employed specifically to supervise the process which achieves an almost 100% success rate for dogs and a 90% success rate for the cats. Those that are not successful remain in the comfort of the ‘retirement quarters’ where they continue to receive the high standard of care and attention to which they have been accustomed.
Interestingly, many of the staff members being true animal lovers, have themselves adopted cats and dogs.
On the morning of our visit the purpose built lecture theater was host to a working session of Deans from US Veterinary Schools which we were privileged to sit in on. Of special interest to those involved in breeding, the topic was ‘Influence Of Maternal & Early Nutrition’ which focused on the dam’s nutrition during gestation and its effect on the unborn offspring. Basically the study showed how inadequate nutrition might cause ‘Maternal Nutrient Depletion’ with regard to essential fatty acids and DHA which effects visual and memory/brain function.
Studies found a 22% loss of DHA by day 21 of the pregnancy which appears to affect the DHA status of her puppies potentially causing behavioural and training difficulties. Studying the effects of DHA levels the centre has developed a series of fascinating tests to demonstrate and measure the memory and brain function of puppies – all illustrated on film.
Various feeding programs are carried out in the Pet Health and Nutrition Centre in order to develop diets that, for example, might prolong healthy life and prevent or alleviate potential health problems in dogs and cats.
The centre boasts constant veterinary supervision with its state of the art facilities. All but some highly specialist procedures can be performed on site.
They are equipped for ultrasound scanning and have developed a ‘Dual Energy X-Ray’ to measure the percentage of bone, fat and muscle tissue.
The Gait Laboratory is a fascinating facility. High-tech equipment has been specially developed to study movement in fine detail to assess the effects on joint wear and tear. Pre-arthritic animals can now be identified along with other skeletal conditions.
Important work is under way to develop and refine a method of measuring muscle activity.
Advancements In Knowledge
Many of the advancements in knowledge that evolve from these studies will not only benefit future nutritional developments, they may well further animal welfare in general.
Undoubtedly Iams have raised the benchmark. The facilities, care and attention surely go way beyond the standards established by government legislations and guidelines.