Purrfect Thesis Topic
Says Wrye: “During the course of my research, it occurred to me that while humans are encouraged to eat a varied diet, pets are expected to eat only one or two foods. I found this fascinating.”
So Wrye, who graduated on June 8 with her PhD in Sociology, decided to focus on how it became possible to feed an animal the same food every day for life.
Before the late 1960s, most pet owners fed animals a mix of some pet food and what we now call table scraps. Wrye’s research showed that the main reason for this was that commercial dry pet foods weren’t very appetizing for animals.
“So the industry added new ingredients, changed the manufacturing processes and spent tens of millions of dollars on a massive marketing campaign to convince pet owners to stop feeding their dogs and cats anything other than commercial pet foods,” shares Wrye.
Her research showed that the campaign worked but animals began getting sick because of nutrient deficiencies in their foods. In response, the industry began to focus on nutrition.
Wrye says that, by 1991, nutritional guidelines for finished products were, by law, dictating the manufacturing process.
Her thesis continues to explore how the pet food industry connects the contents of its food products with a profile of its consumers’ nutritional needs and ensuing implications of this.
Pia and Spencer, Wrye’s two cats, have benefited from her research as Wrye has become an expert on what they eat.
Wrye generally recommends buying more expensive foods.
She points out that: “Many cheaper foods have lower levels of digestible nutrients, which means that the nutrients in the ingredients are harder for animals to use. You’re essentially paying for stuff that will move through your animal’s body without bestowing much nutritional value. In practice, this means buying foods in which chicken or fish meal is the first ingredient and avoiding foods in which corn, wheat, soy and/or animal by-products are among the top ingredients, for instance.”
Wrye is grateful for the support she had from her thesis supervisor Daiva Stasiulis. “I truly could not have finished my degree without her guidance and encouragement.”
She also applauds the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “It is among the strongest in the country. “As I also have an MA from this department, I wanted to continue my studies with the excellent scholars working here.”
Wrye is continuing her research and hopes to have a book out on this topic within the next year. She has also just accepted a full-time teaching position at North Island College in Courtenay, British Columbia.