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
· 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