Coco in a graduation gown sitting in front of a gryphon statue at the University of Guelph.

Introducing….. Kehan (Coco) Zhang

Hello! I would like to formally introduce myself to everyone. My name is Kehan (Coco) Zhang, I am a new master’s by thesis student with the Pet Nutrition team at OVC Clinical Studies and one of the students in Dr. Verbrugghe’s team. 

How would you describe yourself? 

I would describe myself as a compassionate and hard-working person. Those two distinct characteristics have contributed to my active and fast completion of all goals that I set up. I’ve always had a natural enthusiasm and affection for animals for as long as I can remember. Animals are also incredibly cute, even though it is a weird thing to make, but it is an important component of why I have compassion for animals. As a hard-working person, I always research topics until I fully grasp the underlying concepts and procedures. I also developed good time-management skills through learning, and like to collaborate with people. During my spare time, I like to spend time with my dogs. Calligraphy, painting and handcrafting are also my hobbies. 

Coco with her miniature poodle Dou ding.

What interests or motivates you most?  

I have many interests and activities that I enjoy, but I only have one true passion, and that is working with animals. I love animals in general, but I also especially enjoy caring for and working with them. I’ve always had a pet in my life for as long as I can remember. I believe it is one reason that I am so fond of animals. I have a different background since I grew up in China, there were a few stray dogs in the streets, so I always brought food with me to feed them. And I also had a chance to volunteer with pandas, where I spent most of the time making special cakes as their snacks, this opportunity also drove me crazy about animals. Since I am so fanatic about animals, My family inspires me to complete my study in the animal field and to strive for a job in which I can serve animals. 

What program were you in before this, what undergrad? 

I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Biology at the University of Guelph before enrolling in the Masters programme in the Department of Clinical Studies. I just graduated in June 2022 and hoping to acquire more knowledge and advance my future career through my graduate journey. I chose to stay at University of Guelph since I really enjoyed the opportunities and activities it provides. I completed an undergraduate research course with Dr. Verbrugghe, from there, I began knowing people in this amazing nutrition team and assisting the team with their current research initiatives, which convinced me that I wanted to be a member of this team. During my undergrad, I also volunteered in the cat colony, which made me more addicted to the nutrition world and finally decided to do a master degree. 

What brought you into the animal nutrition field? 

I was initially interested in veterinary practice, but became more interested in nutrition during my undergraduate study after learning about the nutritional demands of many species. I admire how the animal biology degree provides such a deep breakdown of animal nutrition, and after taking practically all animal nutrition courses, I’ve discovered that I adore companion animals even more. My undergraduate diet formulation experience convinced me that this is what I want to examine and investigate. One of the things that interests me about pet nutrition is the ability to supply more regulated meal kinds to prevent and treat certain disorders. And nutrition is constantly expanding and changing as more researchers perform studies to better understand how these diets affect the body, and I’m fortunate to be able to continue investigating the direction of pet nutrition. 

Tell us about your pets, past and present. 

I have two dogs in my family now. Both of them are miniature poodle and have special Chinese names. My older one was brought from my father’s friend, his name is Qiu qiu, which means ball in English. He is almost 9 years old and he loves to play with his crazy amounts of toys, but also slippers. But sometimes his personality changes quickly, and looks like a cool guy. He is also very fascinated about yogurt. 

Coco's miniature poodle Qui qui.

The other one is named Dou ding, which means beans in English, he is the son of Qiu qiu. We brought him home when he was two months old, and he is 4-year-old. He has completely different characters compared with Qiu qiu. He likes to smile and does not show many interests in the toys, but loves to play with himself. He also gradually became the king of the family. 

Coco's miniature poodle Dou ding.

I also had two past hamsters. They are called Bubu and Dingding, which I bought from a pet show. They are playful and I always put them in my hands. 

Coco's two hamsters Bubu and Dingding.

What is my research project? 

My research project focuses on the feline microbiome and metabolome. Three different macronutrient diets (low protein, low fat, low carbohydrate) are feed to both obese and lean cats to investigate the impact on microbiome by DNA extraction and PCR analysis, and metabolome by NMR analysis, which may help pet company to develop new weight management products for obese cats. I am very excited about this opportunity and hope to conduct meaningful results in the feline nutrition field.