Can Animals Learn to Prevent Bloat?

Dr. Juan Villalba, Utah State University, studies how animals choose what to eat so he can help producers create more efficient alternative for managing animals and the landscapes they inhabit. Since bloat is a real challenge for them, recently, he investigated if ruminants can learn which foods to eat to relieve the effects of bloat.  His results provide a new understanding of how animals form food aversions and preferences and have Juan thinking about the next steps in teaching animals to alleviate bloat. Juan’s experiment used lambs* with rumen cannulas and balloons. Here’s how it worked:  Balloons that could be inflated or deflated were placed in the lambs’ rumens. Lambs were then fed one food and the balloon was inflated to simulate bloat’s effects. Next the lambs were fed a different food and the balloon was deflated to relieve their bloat. Once the lambs were conditioned to the “bloat food” and the “relief food” they were given a choice of the two foods.  What the lambs ate was monitored to see what they learned from their experiences. Surprisingly, animals formed strong aversions to the foods associated with inflation of the balloon and gut distension.  This is significant because researchers knew that rumen distension reduces food

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