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Why I Still Stand by Science Diet: Because Corn in NOT a Bad Thing…..

Why I Still Stand by Science Diet: Because Corn in NOT a Bad Thing…..

by Dr. Carla Case-... on Fri, 05/13/2011 - 8:28am

I recently spent two days in Topeka, Kansas touring the Hill’s Science Diet facilities. This impressive complex is where they manufacture their food products, house their research labs, conduct their feeding trials, and is the “home away from home” for their many research veterinarians.  It was a privilege for me and one of my associates to attend and see first-hand and “behind the scenes” the manufacturing process of a food that we have carried in our veterinary hospital for over 36 years. My father, Dr. Jerry Case, saw the value of adding nutrition to his core wellness plans as soon as he graduated from veterinary school in 1975.  He recognized the fact that Science Diet was started by a veterinarian (Dr. Morris in 1939) in response to designing a food for a targeted problem (kidney disease), and that the company placed a high value on having top veterinarians with advanced degrees in nutrition working on perfecting the balance of ingredients in a given diet.  

 

In recent years, Science Diet in particular has been the target of a smear campaign produced by smaller food companies with allegations that are simply not backed by any scientific evidence. This reputable company has gotten a bad rap on the accusation that their use of corn is not nutritionally sound and is used as a cheap filler product.  Although Science Diet remains the #1 recommended diet by veterinarians even after all these years, clients hear conflicting messages when they try to understand what their different sources are telling them.  They may hear one thing from their local pet store, one thing from the internet, one thing from their pet’s breeder, and another from their veterinarian.  It certainly can be confusing and frustrating when trying to figure out what is best for your pet.  This is compounded when you factor in a possible medical problem or are concerned with the rash of pet food recalls in recent years.

 

For the purpose of this article, I would like to highlight three areas often brought up by those discussing Science Diet. 

 

First is the myth that corn is filler used solely to keep the profit margin high to the company and that it has inferior nutritional value. The reality is that corn is a nutritionally superior grain that, when ground and cooked as done for Science Diet recipes, provides

·         high quality proteins for muscle and tissue growth

·         carbohydrates that provide energy

·         essential fatty acids for healthy skin and coat

·         natural antioxidants

·         vitamin E, lutein, β-carotene

·         higher protein digestibility than rice and wheat (ground and cooked it becomes more than 85% digestible)

 

Not only has corn been shown to cause fewer food allergies than any other grain but also fewer than those caused by chicken or beef.

 

The second fact that deserves attention is that most of the popular diets with marketing campaigns critical of their competition (Blue Buffalo, etc) don’t bother to enlist food trials. Science Diet performs formal feeding trials according to AAFCO regulation prior to the release of any of their products.  This is the preferred method (Gold Standard) when testing a food product.  An ingredient list means nothing if the ingredients are not actually absorbed and used effectively by the body. There are two AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) certifications and most pet food companies do not bother to spend the time and money required to attain the more stringent of the two. This is the one that requires feeding trials and the one that makes certain that their food really performs as well as they claim it does for the life of your pet.

Using AAFCO protocols, feeding trials document how well an animal performs when fed a specific food.  Feeding trials allow a pet food such as Science Diet to claim that the product is “clinically proven” which means so much more than a list of ingredients on a bag. The feeding trial also minimizes recall risks as any new formula is actually tested before going to market and reaching the end user, your pet.  Interesting that not a single one of Hill’s Science Diet products was involved in any adverse events associated with the pet food recall of 2007.

 

And claiming that a pet food company does not perform feeding trials because they do not feel it to be humane is totally inaccurate and false. Why would it be inhumane to feed a diet that is intended to be fed to your own pet?

My associate and I were very impressed with the love, one-on-one attention and care given to the many dogs and cats housed on the Science Diet campus. They are cared for in a beautiful, clean building where they receive excellent veterinary care and are provided with superior, no costs barred medical attention. These dogs and cats not only live in facilities constructed to be like homes but they are provided with consistent families (both animal and human), have daily playtime/enrichment activities and are exercised twice daily (more than my dog gets!). They live a normal life and are never used for any other purpose but to monitor their health while being fed a regimented Science Diet product. They never have any invasive tests performed on them and it was our observation that we wish all pets were treated in the manner that these pets are!  Hill’s Science Diet is willing to spend the extra time and money to do this research because it is important….not only for each individual pet but for all pets in general.

I make this important point because I appreciate knowing that the food I give my pet has been tested and known to not only be safe but nutritionally superior. I also appreciate a company that has dedicated itself to continually learning ways in which we can continue to enhance our pet’s lives through more knowledge about the previously ignored impact of superior nutrition.

 

Thirdly, we need to discuss the age-old controversy about meat by-products.  Let’s take chicken as an example since chicken is an often used source of protein in many pet foods. Any portion of the chicken other than striated muscle which comprises the meat consumed by humans is considered “chicken by-product”. To believe the claims made by other pet foods that they use no meat by-products is simply not true. Bring me their label and I will prove it to you. They are either manipulating the truth to match their marketing campaign or their diet is nutritionally inferior. Chicken by-product meal, often listed on the ingredient list of Science Diet foods is a more concentrated protein source than raw chicken alone and contains high quality protein that is more digestible and adds flavor.  High quality by-products (not ground bone or feathers used in some diets) contain liver and other ingredients which offer not only much needed nutrients for a well balanced diet, but also add superior taste to the products.  This means our pets like it better!

 

There is a lot of information that should be evaluated before making a decision about the listing on an ingredient label (done by weight), but for the simplicity of this article, know that the labeling of by-products in a food should not always be considered a bad thing.

 

In summary, our veterinarians have chosen Science Diet as our recommended food of choice because we know it is scientifically proven and that the mission behind making the product has been consistent since Dr. Morris designed the first food for his own beloved pet that was dying of kidney failure.  We know that it is a food that takes these considerations in mind:

·         has had continuous research since 1939

·         understands that dogs are omnivores and not carnivores and need a balanced diet

·         realizes that excess protein can’t be stored and forces kidneys to work harder, possibly decreasing longevity

·         knows that healthy pets need nutrients and a complete balance of amino acids from both meat and non-meat sources 

·         allows the FDA to inspect their plant several times a year as if it was a human food manufacturing plant

·         has many clinically proven claims and is one of the only pet food companies that uses the feeding trial method

·         uses a life stage philosophy to meet the needs of individual pets

·         Is a precisely balanced nutrition that avoids excess

·         highly values research and innovation

·         uses only high quality and proven ingredients

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·         Our staff and veterinarians feed their pets Science Diet.  Be sure to ask your veterinarian their food of choice and why.  Each pet is an individual and your pet’s doctor is the best person to make a recommendation on nutrition. d in

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user comments

In response to cat owners....

You are exactly right about the need for "the FDA to have stricter labeling requirements for pet foods anyway..."

That is actually how my article came about. I got increasingly tired of hearing my clients tell me about "the 'boutique'/natural foods like Blue Buffalo" and how they were superior because they didn't use corn... because the evidence proves otherwise. Blue Buffalo simply has a larger budget for false marketing because they aren't concerned with research in the animal industry nor are they concerned expensive AAFCO feeding trials which would have shown that their product had a problem with Vitamin D before it affected hundreds of pets and required yet another pet food recall. 

But you are also exactly right about that being "a story for another day."

So, it is true that the article was geared more toward dogs but much of it also applies to cats- including the comments about too much protein being hard on compromised kidneys. There is always a balance. Too much protein may lead to kidney disease; too many carbs may lead to diabetes. The jury is still out as far as what factors contribute to hyperthyroidism in our kitties. Enormous amounts of research have gone into their feline diets. And that research has been going on for years which is likely the largest source of how we know what we do know now about  "feline metabolic/digestive physiology".

The point was simply that the premium diets which are formulated and backed by veterinary research rather than research about marketing campaigns and what will sell well..... those are the diets that have my trust. 

Response to Lindsay-

No. Those two comments are not contradictory. In fact, they support one another and were the basis of how the company was founded.....which was in response to finding a superior diet for a beloved pet with kidney disease in which too much protein would further tax his kidneys....

"[Science Diet] Is a precisely balanced nutrition that avoids excess....(because)...[Science Diet] realizes that excess protein can’t be stored and forces kidneys to work harder, possibly decreasing longevity".

In response to "what exactly does, 'uses only high quality and proven ingredients' mean?" ... I don't know how I can answer that any more fully than I did in the original article. 

It is obvious that you love your dog and want only the best for him/her. I, too, believe in organic products when appropriate but am also aware that simply because a product is marketed as "organic", this is not necessarily the case. Not only laws, but especially enforcement of laws surrounding labeling and marketing a food as organic is sketchy at best on the human side and is practically non-existent when it comes to food for pets. So just be careful. Many of those labels are consistently associated with pet food recalls. 

yes, you may use the article

Thank you for your comments. And of course you may have the pdf version of what we use at our office. Lisa Yackel is our Hospital Administrator and she will be able to get that to you. She's aware you may be contacting her and you can reach her from our website www.casevet.com or you may e-mail her directly at lyackel@casevet.com. 

Good luck to you! I hope it helps. 

Cat Food

Hello!

I registered just so I could post this comment.  I want to preface by saying I am certainly not an expert on feline metabolic/digestive physiology.  While this article is excellent in a perspective geared towards dogs (and please let me know if I have missed anything saying that this article was only meant to apply to dogs--not pets in general), I am not convinced that it pertains well to cat owners.  As I am sure you know and understand, cats are not omnivores like dogs, but rather are obligate carnivores.  I am not sure to what specific extent, but their diets require high protein and less carbohydrates.  In fact, I would say that their bodies are inherently built to handle high amounts of protein and are not built to handle high amounts of carbohydrates; the latter even being detrimental in some cases.

I am concerned that information like this, as well as commercials for the "boutique"/natural foods like Blue Buffalo promoting fiber/carbohydrates as a major component of food may be leading cat owners astray.  These components are excellent for a dog to maintain good nutrition and overall health, but this mentality could be contributing to obesity and diabetes in felines.  I guess what I am looking for here is a response to how this information you present applies specifically to cats and if you would recommend foods where corn/rice/carbohydrates are at/near the top of the ingredients list to a cat owner.  After most of the information I have read is more in favor for a high protein/low carb diet for cats, this article seems to reinforce pet food companys' ability to increase their profits by increasing the amount of "filler" at the cost of the amount of animal-derived proteins.  I say that only with respect to cat foods, however, since it can be beneficial for canines as you have pointed out.  I personally believe the FDA should have stricter labelling requirements for pet foods anyway (by weight/% amounts of each ingredient, calorie data, etc) but that is a story for another day.  

Thanks for your article and I hope to hear a response!  

Would like to use article

I just stumbled across your blog, and I couldn't agree more with any of the points you made in your blog. I have this conversation countless times a day. I would like to use your article in our clinic's monthly newsletter, if possible. Of course, I would give credit to you- its just written SO well and really covers all the points I try to go over with clients. Also, I saw you had a PDF version in one of the comments above. Would it be possible to have a copy so I could use it in exam rooms (its hard to get into everything I want to say with every appointment all day long, there just are not enough hours in a day!) I look forward to reading more of your blog posts, this one was awesome!

What does "high quality" mean?

Hi Dr. Case!

I found this post through Raise a Green Dog on Facebook. Thank you for sharing this information. I only feed my dog organic food, and I am wondering: Aren't these two points contradictory? -- "[Science Diet] realizes that excess protein can’t be stored and forces kidneys to work harder, possibly decreasing longevity" ...and "[Science Diet] Is a precisely balanced nutrition that avoids excess."

Also, what exactly does, "uses only high quality and proven ingredients" mean? Too many cheap meat companies use the terms "high quality" and "fresh" to refer to their hormone ridden, corn fed beef.

-Lindsay

The following is a response

The following is a response from Science Diet after reading this blog.  Certainly, this is another reason I respect the integrity of this company; they are very quick to be open with any problems the food may have.  

  "Interesting that not a single one of Hill’s Science Diet products was involved in any adverse events associated with the pet food recall of 2007."

Unfortunately, Hill's was involved, in a very minimal way during that recall.  While it was only a very small part of the business that was involved, we want to be very transparent and truthful to the pet owning public, and would recommend that she remove that statement entirely.  

For your and her information, since that recall, we have added several additional quality control measures to further insure the safety of all of our products, including testing of every batch of food for salmonella and other contaminants prior to shipment.  To our knowledge, Hill's is the only pet food company taking this costly quality control step.

Our most recent improvement is the addition of lactic acid in all of our dry products produced in the US as a natural and effective way to reduce the risk of micro-contamination. Lactic Acid is a very common additive for human and pet foods and can be found in foods such as cheese, butter, bread and beverages.

Karen Padgett, DVM Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. | Customer Development Director, Vet Channel

 

Support for Science Diet

Of course, you may copy and share! Just please include my name and hospital as the author because I hope to one day be rich and famous and this could be my "big break" :)

At Case Veterinary Hospital, because we get these questions about corn and by-products so frequently, we actually took the article to a printer and had it printed on one sheet (front and back) to be able to hand out and send home with our clients when the discussion arose. My hospital administrator is out of town until Monday, but if there is a PDF format or something else that will help you, I'd be happy to forward that on as well. Just let me know.

And thank you for sharing your support. There are so many misconceptions out there and I just got tired of hearing that these "boutique diets" were somehow healthier. How would anyone know? As you've said, they've never really been tested. 

Corn In Science Diet

I want to say first, that I am pleased to be able to comment on this blog. I am a practicing small animal clinician in Mission, KS. I have instinctive confidence in Science Diet for some of the same reasons as Dr. Case. However, my experience literally does go back to the 1950's when I was growing up, the oldest son of a veterinarian. My dad always had a couple of boxes of k/d stored behind one of the doors in his little clinic. One day I asked him what "that" was. Well, it was a very early version of Science Diet. I have also had the pleasure of reading the biography of Dr. Mark Morris Sr. He was an amazing and prescient man.

My own pitch regarding Science Diet versus what I refer to as "boutique diets," those products that are always marketed as containing "natural" ingredients or as being "more natural," has been that because they are made by small companies they cannot possibly do the extensive nutritional studies that the major companies that make "premium" diets can do. Nutritional research is the most expensive "component" of any diet. Every time the diet is changed in the tiniest bit, dogs or cats have to be fed the new product for months, even perhaps years. The cost is huge and the feeding trials absolutely essential to determine that the diet will promote excellent health in the animals eating it.

I would also like to address the issue raised in one comment. Dr. Case did write that there IS profit in selling Science Diet. Frankly, the profit is small and quite frankly, probably does not fit the cost accounting profile that an accountant would approve of. I carry Science Diet products for the benefit of my clients, as a service. The company does not pay me in any other way to promote its diets and it would be unethical and inappropriate for me to accept such payment in exchange for my advising clients that I believe it is the best diet available.

Dr. Case, may I copy your piece from your blog and share it with clients?

James Guglielmino DVM

Mission, KS

Reposting comment found on this blog in another format

“Hi Dr. Carla, I saw your blog posting about science diet and really appreciated it. It seems that it get's a bad rap. The one complaint that comes up is that Science Diet or Hill's somehow pays veterinarians to market their product. Is that your experience? Thank you!”

Jason

 

Jason,

I am glad you enjoyed the blog.  Science Diet does get a bad rap at times but that is common for any product that continues to dominate the market. Though I’ve heard the complaint before “that Science Diet or Hill's somehow pays veterinarians to market their product”, this has not been my experience at all.

 

The only veterinarians that I’m aware of that are paid by Hills to market their product are actually on staff at one of the Hills facilities. As mentioned in my blog, I’m impressed that Hills Science Diet employs veterinarians to research and ensure that their diets truly offer what they claim to offer to our patients. Not many pet food companies do this and I’d challenge anyone to compare the quality of any other diet against a Hills Science Diet, especially as it comes down to actually being healthy for pets. We all know that “organic” and “natural” are wildly popular in the marketing of all foods right now… pet, human or otherwise. But bring me the label of a food that claims to be this and I’ll prove to you that labels are not always what they seem. Even those labeling laws that have successfully been passed to protect our pets and our clients’ best intentions are difficult to enforce within the pet food industry due to lack of governmental support as compared to what the Food and Drug Administration is able to offer for protection of human consumption.

 

Hills Science Diet also puts much of their profit back into the industry by supporting continuing education at the veterinary hospital level, at the university level, and at the convention level.  Any good business owner knows that education is the key to more sales.  This education is good for the health of our pets as well as good business for the company. I don’t believe anyone can fault a company for that.  We sell the product because it is good for the pet and therefore good for our hospital.

 

Having said that, all hospitals that sell a diet (any diet) make a profit, as do all pet shops or retail stores that sell diets… or any inventory, pharmaceutical product or service. I won’t apologize for making a profit.  It keeps our staff paid, our hospital modern and up to date, and allows us to purchase medical equipment that extends our patient’s lives. But I will tell you that any profit on a premium diet is minimal. The mark up on food products is very small in comparison to other inventory and yet it takes up a large space in a practice and is time consuming to keep managed.  Many veterinarians have removed themselves from actively selling pet food out of their hospitals and just make recommendations or sell from their online stores.  We have chosen to carry this product for our client’s convenience and because we have so much trust in the reputation of the company. Within the veterinary industry, even hospitals which pay their veterinarians on some sort of production-based fee schedule, typically must exclude sales on premium diets in order allow enough profit to handle the management of the food itself. Yet veterinarians continue to spend time educating their clients about the importance of nutrition proving that their motivation is more about the health of their patient since the sale of any particular food does not benefit them individually on a financial level at all.

 

I did not receive any payment for this blog or the article as it appeared in the Well Fed Magazine.  I did, however, receive the satisfaction of knowing that I had come to the defense of inaccurate accusations about a product that I see helps our patients every day. 

 

Thank you, Jason, for asking about this. I’m aware that it is yet another misconception about the motivation behind a veterinarian’s recommendation of any particular pet food. But it has been my experience that veterinarians are not in this profession for expectations associated with financial gain. There are far more lucrative fields to enter, especially considering the financial expense of the education required to be a veterinarian. The vets that I know truly love what they do because they see it make a difference in the lives of their patients and the bond a person has with their pet. That’s why we’re here. And it’s why I’m so proud to be included in the company of my colleagues and associates- including those employed by reputable companies like Hills Science Diet.