Many experimental protocols in rodents require the comparison of groups that are fed different diets. Changes in dietary electrolyte and/or fat content can influence food intake, which can potentially introduce bias or confound the results. Unpalatable diets slow growth or cause weight loss, which is exacerbated by housing the animals in individual metabolic cages or by surgery. For balance studies in mice, small changes in body weight and food intake and low urinary flow can amplify these challenges. Powder food can be administered as gel with the addition of a desired amount of water, electrolytes, drugs (if any), and a small amount of agar. We describe here how the use of gel food to vary water, Na, K, and fat content can reduce weight loss and improve reproducibility of intake, urinary excretion, and blood pressure in rodents. In addition, mild food restriction reduces the interindividual variability and intergroup differences in food intake and associated variables, thus improving the statistical power of an experiment. Finally, we also demonstrate the advantages of using gel food for weight-based drug dosing. These protocols can improve the accuracy and reproducibility of experimental data where dietary manipulations are needed and are especially advisable in rodent studies related to water balance, obesity, and blood pressure.
Keywords: body weight loss; diet-induced obesity; gel food; high-fat diet; metabolic cage; urine concentration.