Placenta for pets: Student studies the viability of organ-based pet food

A dog named Cy looks on at the Pet Away Stress event in the Waters Quad on Oct. 12, 2016. (Miranda Snyder | The Collegian)

Within the last decade, a controversial, and somewhat odd, medical trend has been on the rise — a practice called placentophagy. This is when a woman chooses to preserve, and later consume, the placenta post-childbirth for its alleged nutritional benefits.

Placental encapsulation is the most common method of practicing placentophagy in the U.S. This process involves freeze-drying the placenta and processing it into pill capsules. Chelsea Werdel, senior in entrepreneurship performing her own research on placentophagy, said she has had little luck finding credible studies to support this method.

“I know that women are taking their placenta in pill form, but it’s really hard to, and I haven’t found any peer-reviewed papers saying it’s really doing them any good,” she said. “A lot of the nutrients are being lost whenever it’s being processed into that pill form.”

Werdel said she isn’t studying placentophagy for herself, but her idea is to utilize the subject to provide an alternative source of nutrition to pets, while simultaneously reducing waste and aiding in the food crisis. Werdel said her dream is to start her own business, selling pet food and supplements, using placentas as the main ingredient.

“The idea came … when every calving season, we would see our dogs eat the placentas [of the cattle] and their hair would get beautiful and shiny, and they would get a little chubby too, so we obviously thought there must be something in the placenta that was good for them,” Werdel said. “It’s basically a waste if our dogs don’t get it because coyotes will come in and get it or some farmers will toss it.”

Werdel said it wasn’t until she applied to the K-State Startup School that someone told her she should follow up on her idea — and she chose to use it as her business idea for the school.

“I started talking about it with one of the [business] professors … and they were like, ‘hey, that actually is a neat idea, that could be something you could pursue in the future,'” she said.

Werdel said the Startup School is a three-week program that trains students to start their own businesses.

She said she ran her idea through the program with the goal of finding out whether it would truly be a career she could pursue.

“I think I have a viable business idea,” she said. “I’m still in the whole testing stage. I’m going to start testing different recipes and palatability tests on different cats and dogs to see if they even like it, which I think they will.”

Werdel’s research is still in its early stages. She said she has only informally tested her recipes with her and her friends’ pets. But, after connecting with a reliable source, Werdel said she will begin receiving shipments of placentas every five weeks.

Once recipe and palatability tests begin, Werdel said they would begin working with a nutritionist to see what exactly is in the placenta.

A major challenge facing placentophagy is finding a way to ensure the placenta is safe and free of any harmful pathogens while still maintaining a significant level of nutritional value — even after it has been processed for consumption. Werdel said getting over that obstacle would admittedly be a tough challenge.

“We have to find a kill step, that kills all the harmful pathogens and bacteria, without also killing the nutrients,” she said.

Werdel said she isn’t just getting into business to sell pet food. After going through the Startup program and delving deeper into her research in the pet food industry, Werdel said she was concerned by the severity of the food crisis facing the globe.

“Before getting into all of my research on it, it was just kind of a cool idea, like ‘oh my dogs eat it and it makes their hair shiny, how cool,'” Werdel said. “But, after going through the Startup School, I realized there’s a food crisis — and we don’t really feel it here in the U.S. — but humans are competing with animals for the same food resources, and we need to start looking for alternative ways to feed our pets that are still nutritious.”