Detection dogs’ sense of smell sharpened by dietary changes

Cornell researchers say they have discovered that the secret to improving detection dogs’ smelling ability lies in adding fats to their diets and reducing protein.

According to Cornell University Chronicle Online, the change in diet appears to helps dogs better regulate their body temperatures following exercise, which reduces panting and therefore helps them sniff more effectively.

The study lends to discussion about customizing diets for different dogs based on what their owners want the dogs to do, said Joseph Wakshlag, associate professor of clinical studies and chief of nutrition at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Our study shifts the paradigm of what ‘high-performance’ diet can mean for dogs. It depends on what you want your dog to do,” Wakshlag told the Chronicle Online. “A sled dog or greyhound may need more protein to keep going. But detection dogs tend to exercise in shorter bursts and need to recovery quickly and smell well. For that, less protein and more fat could help.”

The study tested 17 trained detection dogs over the course of 18 months, feeding them three different diets sequentially and then testing their smelling abilities after each dietary change. The three diets included a high-performance diet, regular adult dog food, and regular adult dog food diluted with corn oil, researchers said.

Researchers found that dogs eating the food infused with corn oil were able to reduce their post-exercise body temperatures more quickly, which enabled them to more accurately detect targeted substances.

“Corn oil has lots of polyunsaturated fats, similar to what you’d find in a lot of nuts and common grocery store seed oils,” Wakshlag said. “Past data from elsewhere suggest that these polyunsaturated fats might enhance the sense of smell, and it looks like that may be true for detection dogs. It could be that fat somehow improves nose-signaling structures or reduces body temperatures or both. But lowering protein also played a part in improving olfaction.”

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