Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Research Explores Soy's Place in Pet Nutrition

Dogs are becoming increasingly integral to families – including farming operations like Kansas Soybean Commissioner Keith Miller’s in Great Bend. Bear and Rusty are loyal companions in the Miller family. Kansas Soybean Commission-funded research is working to develop nutritional pet food options that ensure our beloved companions can thrive on soybean meal protein. Photo: Kansas Soybean Commission

By Amanda Manville

Even the most beloved animals in our lives can thrive by consuming soy. Two research projects funded by the Kansas Soybean Commission are focused on enhancing the nutritional profile of soy in pet foods and changing the grain-free narrative.

Ownership of companion animals is high in the United States. According to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 70% of households in the U.S. own a pet, with dogs being the largest segment. At Commissioner Keith Miller’s farm in Great Bend, his dogs are part of the family. The pups follow him around the house and farm as loyal companions and in return, Miller purchases quality pet food to nourish them.

The sentiment toward these companions is shifting as well, according to Petfood Industry Magazine. Many pet owners are mirroring their own dietary preferences in their pet’s cuisine — this means plant-based ingredients make up a substantial share of manufactured pet foods. At the same time, consumers can find an array of options on store shelves touting “grain-free” formulas.

A project at the University of Kansas led by Ana Rita C. Morais in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering has an end goal of producing a soybean-based single-cell protein that meets nutritional specifications desired by the pet food industry. Current use of defatted soybean meal in pet food formulations has a few challenges including palatability and flatulence issues, presence of nondigestible oligosaccharides and requirement of lysine enrichment to meet a desired amino acid profile, Morais says. Single-cell protein, which is extracted from cultured yeasts, has an amino acid profile similar to that of meat protein and could help balance the amino acids in soybean meal on a nutritional level. 

The KU project encompasses a one-year timeline divided into three phases before the final product is put to the test in a feeding study through Hills Pet Nutrition. In phase one, which spanned July and August of 2022, the team chemically characterized defatted soybean meal feedstock. Phase two is ongoing and involves breaking down oligosaccharides in defatted soybean meal into monosaccharides using water and enzymes, making it easier for animals to digest. 

“We did characterize our [defatted soybean meal] in terms of chemical composition: cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, starch, protein, ash and moisture,” Morais reports. “Based on the carbohydrate content, mainly starch, glucan, galactan and arabinan, an enzymatic cocktail composed of amylases and galactonases has been developed to convert these carbohydrates into monomeric sugars.”

She says her team has obtained liquors rich in glucose and galactose through processing the soybean meal which will be further used to produce single-cell protein. Next up in the project is developing the single-cell protein itself.

“Our success in achieving the described goals of the project will enable the pet food industry to have access to soybean-based, antigen-free, highly digestible protein concentrates, with a more balanced amino acid profile,” Morais says.

Up the river at Kansas State University, Greg Aldrich, associate professor in the Department of Grain Science and Industry and their pet food program coordinator, is using fermentation technology to increase soybean’s nutritional value in pet foods, while increasing consumer acceptance of soy as a valuable ingredient in their furry companions’ diets. Aldrich, too, acknowledges the “anti-nutritional” factors in soybean meal, including the oligosaccharides and generally low digestibility in carnivores.

Processes to address these challenges include heat treatment, genome modification of the soybean plant and the addition of enzymes in processing, though microbial fermentation of soybean meal may be the best option to reduce the negative factors, Aldrich says. The project’s objective is to use fermentation to resolve flatulence issues associated with oligosaccharides, eliminate trypsin inhibitors and increase bioactive molecules like isoflavones. The researchers would then study the enhanced soybean meal product as an ingredient in pet foods.

Soybean farmers win with diversified soybean uses that contribute to soy’s competitiveness in the marketplace. 

“It’s a good way to use our growing supply of soybean meal and create a quality product,” Miller says.

Exploring the incorporation of soy in pet nutrition adds one more checkmark to the growing list of reasons why soybeans are an important bean in the world’s economy. 

Published: Mar 27, 2023

The materials on SRIN were funded with checkoff dollars from United Soybean Board and the North Central Soybean Research Program. To find checkoff funded research related to this research highlight or to see other checkoff research projects, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.