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Livio Penazzi

  • Phd: 35th cycle
  • Matriculation number: 752995

Phd thesis



It is undeniable nowadays that the world is changing from a climatic and demographic point of view.1 The rapid increase in food demand will rise ever so greatly during the next years and a challenge for the welfare quality of people2 and their pets life is looming.3 Production of protein sources is energetically expensive and costly, accounting also the fact that meat-based diets have a substantial impact on environment, land and water usage.4 On that extent, alternative raw materials (such as insects proteins and by-products from human food industry) in pet food can increase the provision and/or digestibility of different nutrients combining, at the same time, an enhanced sustainability for what concerns the world economy, society and environment.5 Indeed, a nutritional approach is considered sustainable if it is in accordance with the three-P dimensions (Planet, People and Profit).6 These changes, alongside the increased food-quality awareness of pet owners,3 are leading manufacturers to introduce products with new sources of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) and  proteins. As this new trend is rising, concerns about food safety and quality are going hand to hand and need to be addressed.7 As a consequence, numerous factors need to be studied and conveyed before the introduction of these novel materials in the pet food production chain.



Aim of the project is to evaluate the feasibility and performance of different feed ingredient (sources of NSC and/or proteins) in order to understand their possible role in the future pet nutrition.

The project will be divided in the following phases:

  • Innovative pet food raw materials (insect meals, i.e. from black soldier fly and crickets, as well as legumes, i.e. lentils and fava beans) will be tested as potential innovative protein and NSC sources estimating their proximate and biochemical composition for an initial evaluation.
  • Raw materials will be tested for in vitro digestibility and, consequently, in vivo digestibility will be performed in a randomized case-control trial.
  • Raw materials which provided promising result from step 1) and 2) will be tested for a nutritional adequacy evaluation.
  • Finally, a survey will be conducted on pet owners regarding sustainability and acceptance of novel pet food ingredients.


Materials and Methods

The project will be structured as follows (all the in vivo procedures are going to be approved by the Ethical Committee):

  • Initially, the nutrient composition of raw materials (insects and legumes) will be evaluated following the methods for the proximate analysis8 and amino acidic composition9.
  • Nutritionally valuable products will be selected and tested for in vitro digestibility of dry matter, organic matter and crude protein using enzymatic methods10,11 as well as by the means of in vivo digestibility trials. In vivo trials will involve at least 6 healthy animals following FEDIAF (2018)12 guidelines for the total tract apparent digestibility method (sampling the total quantity of feces produced so as to calculate the digestibility of nutrients) and the marker method (sampling a small amount of feces and calculating the digestibility on the basis of indigestible marker retrieval). Furthermore, predictive equations will be used to estimate in vivo digestibility using in vitro Correlation between different digestibility parameters, obtained by different methods, will be studied.
  • Nutritional adequacy evaluation will last 26 weeks, following AAFCO feeding protocols.13 For each group (control and experimental diet) of at least 8 animals general objective examinations, hematological and biochemical parameters will be carried out as well as complete urine tests to evaluate the animals response to the new diet. Quality of feces will be also evaluated according to Waltham method.14
  • In order to asses if the selected materials are meeting the requirements of pet owners a survey will be conducted in terms of market perspectives, quality perception and sustainability priorities.


Expected results

The project is expected to evaluate alternative and sustainable raw materials for pet food with the potential to be included in the future pet food market chain. It is expected, with this step-by-step approach, to identify safe and qualitative novel materials with valuable dietary characteristics; namely, equal or increased nutritional parameters and digestibility compared to the commonly fed products, and suitable or enhanced bioavailability of nutrients. Due to the current “humanization trend” of pet owners4 it is expected to see an initial reluctance regarding these alternative materials.5 Consequently, the goal of the survey will help to understand the owners willingness to switch to an eco-friendly diet, given that the novel pet food ingredients satisfy the quality assessment. Overall, the purpose is to help the creation of a sustainable and environmental-friendly pet food chain so as to decrease the burden on human food market6 and actually raise the idea of a circular economy.

1. Fróna D, Szenderák J, Harangi-Rákos M. The challenge of feeding the world. Sustain. 2019;11:5816.
2. FAO. How to Feed the World in 2050. Insights from an Expert Meet FAO. 2009:1-35.
3. Swanson KS, Carter RA, Yount TP, et al. Nutritional Sustainability of Pet Foods. Adv Nutr. 2013;4:141-150.
4. Okin GS. Environmental impacts of food consumption by dogs and cats. Crowther MS, ed. PLoS One. 2017;12:e0181301.
5. Meeker DL, Meisinger JL. Companion animals symposium: Rendered ingredients significantly influence sustainability, quality, and safety of pet food. J Anim Sci. 2015;93:835-847.
6. Makkar HPS, Ankers P. Towards sustainable animal diets: A survey-based study. Anim Feed Sci Technol. 2014;198:309-322.
7. van der Spiegel M, Noordam MY, van der Fels-Klerx HJ. Safety of novel protein sources (insects, microalgae, seaweed, duckweed, and rapeseed) and legislative aspects for their application in food and feed production. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2013;12:662-678.
8. AOAC. Official Methods of Analysis of AOAC International. Association of Official Analytical Chemists; 2005.
9. ISO 2005. Animal feeding stuffs — Determination of amino acids content (ISO 13903).
10. Hervera M, Baucells MD, Blanch F, et al. Prediction of digestible energy content of extruded dog food by in vitro analyses. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2007;91:205-209.
11. Hervera M, Baucells MD, González G, et al. Prediction of digestible protein content of dry extruded dog foods: Comparison of methods. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2009;93:366-372.
12. FEDIAF. Nutritional Guidelines for Complete and Complementary Pet Food for Cats and Dogs. Nutr Guidel - Complet Complement Pet Food a Cats Dogs. 2018.
13. AAFCO. Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) . 2014. Oxford: Official publication of Association of American Feed Control Officials Incorporated; 2014.
14. Moxham G. Waltham feces scoring system- a tool for veterinarians and pet owners. How does your pet rate? WALTHAM®Focus. 2001;11:24–45.


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