It’s been operating for half-a-century but a new era has started at a world-renowned pet research centre near Melton with a fresh name and plans unveiled for a multi-million-pound development to house the animals who live on site.
Millions of television viewers got an insight into life at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in a Channel 4 documentary earlier this year.
They saw how scientists now carry out extensive research into how they can improve the lives of pets and enable them to lead healthier lives.
And because the establishment has expanded its remit so far away from concentrating purely on researching the best pet food ingredients, as it originally set out to do, it has today (Thursday) been renamed Waltham Petcare Science Institute.
Darren Logan, the centre’s head of reseach, told the Melton Times: “The change in name is to reflect the breadth of research we now do on the site.
“We’ve been established for over 50 years and in the past we have mostly been involved in research into pet food.
“Now, under our parent company Mars, we are do research into many other areas such as veterinary health, pet diagnostics and pet technology.”
The centre, which works closely with the company’s pet food manufacturing site in Melton, first opened in the 1960s and researchers there have now produced almost 1,000 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Some of their work has looked at the relationship between humans and their pets and how it can benefit both parties, they have highlighted the impact obesity can have on a dog’s lifespan and also produced the first evidence-based growth charts for puppies allowing owners to track weight gain and take action if their pets are overweight.
Mr Logan said the screening of the TV documentary, Britain’s Giant Petfood Factory, which aired in the summer, had been a very successful venture for the company.
“There were 2.2 million views of that programme and we received lots of positive feedback through our social media channels and from our various stakeholders,” he said.
“One of the pleasing things was that people felt the effort we put into scientific research into pet care was inspiring.
“There has also been a three or four-fold increase in applications for jobs at the centre since the documentary was shown.”
One of the interesting fields of research as Waltham is the development of the best diets for animals at various stages of their lives.
Mr Logan said: “Before we began the industrialised manufacture of pet food people would feed their pets scraps of food from their dinner table.
“It is important now to establish what food is healthy for pets as they get older.
“Our research looks at the whole animal now, from research into a pet’s gut health to skin health and oral health.”
And big plans are afoot to enhance the facilities at Waltham still further, if Melton Borough Council gives them planning permission.
Kay O’Donnell, vice-president at the Waltham centre, which has 195 associates and 90 contractors working on site, said: “We have exciting plans coming up in the next couple of years to build a new cat and dog facility to replace some of the older facilities.
“This will be a state-of-the-art cat and dog facility which will allow us to do the type of work we do more efficiently.
“Subject to planning permission we hope it will come on line around the end of 2021.
“It will be a multi-million pound project and it is great for us and for the area to have this scale of investment in the centre.”
She said staff were very loyal with some staying longer than 20 years and enthused by the centre’s pet-friendly ethos which allows them to bring their animals to work with them.
Ms O’Donnell added: “The vast majority of staff are pet mad and are driven by their passions for pets in trying to make a better world for pets.
“We attract global talent to Waltham and it is a real advantage in us being in an attractive rural location and in an area known as a foodie environment.”
To find out more about the work at the centre go to its new website at ww.waltham.com for details.