Tue, 07 Dec 2021

Adelaide [Australia], November 23 (ANI): According to a new study, feeding too much soft food to the rescued animals might reduce their chances of survival when they are released back into the woods.

This research has been published in the 'Integrative Organismal Biology Journal'.

An international team of researchers, led by Dr Rex Mitchell at Flinders University, have shed light on the potentially harmful effects that soft food diets can have on the skull of growing animals.

Each year, thousands of young animals across the world are rescued and rehabilitated by wildlife carers. The aim is to give these animals time to heal and grow until they are fit enough and old enough to be released.

"Some scientists have suggested that captive diets may have unintended, negative effects on skull development that could impact the successful reintroduction of animals into the wild," said Dr Mitchell.

"We wanted to know how much growing up on a diet that doesn't need much biting can impact the ability of an animal to bite effectively in adulthood," Dr Mitchell added.

Fortunately, Dr Mitchell and colleagues had a large collection of computed-tomography (CT) scans collected back in 2012 of rats that were fed different diets, from when they finished suckling all the way to adulthood. Using these scans, Rex created three-dimensional digital models of each rat skull and carried out computer-based 3D bite simulations to see which skulls were the weakest.

Every time a bone is used to perform an action, it bends a little bit. The more often a bone bent over time, the thicker the bone got - especially when moving or lifting heavier things. So the researchers expected less work for food would cause thinner bones to grow in the skull.

"The simulations showed that the rats fed the softest diet indeed grew up to have the weakest skulls, but our research also found something unexpected," said Professor Stephen Wroe, co-author from the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.

In some parts of the skull, it wasn't the rats fed the softest diet that was the weakest, but instead the group that was switched from hard to soft food as juveniles.

"This certainly surprised us. So we had to do some digging in the literature to explain it," Rex said.

Interestingly, earlier studies showed that when rats in space experienced sudden and prolonged disuse of bone, the number of cells responsible for depositing more layers decreased.

"We often think of bones as simple hard objects," said Dr Rachel Menegaz, co-author of the study from the University of North Texas Health Science Center where the study was carried out.

"But bone is actually a complex living tissue that is constantly adapting," she added.

These results suggested that if an animal suddenly stopped needing to bite its food during development, it might then lose many of the cells needed for depositing bone while it is still growing, impacting on normal bone growth and resulting in a weaker adult skull.

So what does all this meant for the rehabilitation and releasing of our furry friends? Well, just like for sports and exercise, it's about conditioning the body to be able to better perform the tasks that are expected.

If rescued animals are fed diets that are overly reliant on softer, processed, pre-peeled, cut, or portioned foods, their skulls and jaw muscles won't be as prepared for the more difficult foods they may need to eat in the wild. (ANI)

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