Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 16, 2012

A Trip to Hill’s

Posted at 03:17PM - Comments: (9)

Earlier this week, with no warning or context, I posted on WDJ’s Facebook page that I was visiting the Hill’s (Science Diet, Prescription Diet) research and development campus in Kansas, and would also be visiting two of its production facilities. I was excited! And up until almost the hour that I left for the airport, I had been finishing the April issue of WDJ – I hadn’t had a chance to post something to let you know in advance about my trip and the reasons for it. I was just so psyched to be there! Historically, Hill’s was a very private company, which limited communications with non-veterinarians. A new wave of management appears to be changing that policy.

The first reason for my visit: I’m working on an article about the research that some pet food companies do as part of their research and development as well as for nutritional adequacy and palatability testing. So, as part of the research for that article, I toured the facility where all the Hill’s cats, kittens, dogs, and cats live, and got to see how they are cared for and spend their time. Two years ago, I toured the equivalent facility, with equal access, for Procter & Gamble, to see where that company does all the research on its Iams and Eukanuba diets.  About five years ago, I was able to tour the much smaller facility where Natura (not yet owned by P&G) tested its diets (for palatability and digestibility) on its own colony of dogs and cats, right next to its production facility in Nebraska.  And I’ll be working to find out what other companies are conducting similar work, and how.

The second reason for my visit: I was invited, along with a number of other journalists and pet bloggers, to visit Hill’s R&D facility. Hill’s offered to pay for my flight, transportation, and lodging. My publisher’s policy, which we’ve never broken, is that we cannot accept any such sponsorship. I flew, drove, and stayed at a local hotel on Belvoir Media Group’s dime – though I did accept (as part of the group) two dinners and two lunches that were offered by Hill’s (and got to talk to Hill’s upper management, nutritionists, formulators, and veterinarians at each meal). Hill’s can confirm I was the last one sitting at the tables with the Hill’s staff at every meal ;) For me, the meals were the perfect unstructured opportunity to really talk to these folks.

As you know, I’m not a fan of the type of ingredients that Hill’s uses, and that’s not going to change. But I had an opportunity to discuss – directly from the two people currently most responsible for what goes into the Hill’s diets – why they use what they use, and it was interesting. I’ll be sharing that information with you over time. Remarkably, both were familiar with WDJ’s food criticism, and both shared with me what their views were about my coverage of dog food. It was a very honest, highly productive, and useful discussion. I don’t think any of us changed our minds about anything, but we certainly understand each other’s opinions and motivations better and are respectful of those positions.

When the opportunity to see the Hill’s R&D facility was offered to me, I indicated that I would interested, but would only commit to the trip if I could also see one of Hill’s food production facilities. I’ve seen more than a dozen dog food plants now, but I’ve never seen one run by one of the corporate giants, dedicated to making only its diets, and I’ve yearned for that opportunity so I could compare what I’ve seen at smaller facilities and co-manufacturing facilities. I was aware that Hill’s had recently built a new dry food production facility in Emporia, Kansas, and knew that it was about an hour away from Topeka (where the R&D facility is located). The company readily agreed to the request. (A side note: I knew there were two other food production facilities in Emporia. One was recently sold, and its management is a bit up in the air. I tried to gain access to the other, a wet food co-packing plant I’ve wanted to see for a decade now, but was denied access.)

Once in Topeka, I was given a bundle of information about Hill’s and learned that Hill’s sole North American wet food production facility is located in Topeka – something I hadn’t been aware of. I’ve seen far fewer canning facilities than dry food production facilities and REALLY wanted to see Hill’s canned plant. On Tuesday morning, I asked whether I could add also see that facility – and the company agreed.

Now that I’ve seen those facilities, I can (and will) report on the differences I’ve observed about these high-volume plants that are dedicated to one company’s products. They were pretty impressive -- though, again, I’m not a huge fan of some of the ingredients used in Hill’s diets – the cleanliness and quality control at these plants (even the 106-year-old wet food plant) exceeded anything I’ve seen before.

All in all, it was a highly educational trip, and I’ll be sharing everything I learned with you.

Comments (9)

I've used Hills Science Diet (Light)since 1992, and have had two shepherds that were in excellent health to the age of 14. I have two other shepherds currently on the same diet (ages 7 and 4). I know their are a great many opinions about dry dog foods among dog owners, but this one has worked great for me.

Posted by: Unknown | January 16, 2014 5:04 AM    Report this comment

Two years ago I got a bad "report" about my Sarge's blood work. Kidneys not so good according to the vet. He recommended a very low, or no, meat diet at all. I mix 1/3 brown rice, 1/3 cooked carrots, and 1/3 Science Diet Regular. He's 7 now, and I plan to change to a "senior" diet in the kibble department. He had finished being treated for Lyme disease when I adopted him at 1 year of age. He's still plenty energetic, and seems to be a happy guy. Hope this helps.
R. Ross - and Sarge who LOVES carrots, cooked, or otherwise.

Posted by: Unknown | October 26, 2013 9:29 AM    Report this comment

My little 8 year old Bichon Frise, Cami, now has elevated liver enzymes. I've been feeding her Nature's Variety Instinct canned food for about 5 years. She doesn't really like dry food, so I give her Hills Science Diet T/D kibbles as "treats" (Vet recommended). The Vet, of course, always recommends Science Diet wet and dry food! I have always been very sceptical of the Science Diet food! Cami has also been on the drug Amitriptyline for years for her itching issue. Also, since a puppy, she gets a dose of "Revolution" on her skin for flea and heartworm protection (per Vet). I just wonder which one of these foods/treatments may be causing her to have the very high liver enzyme count. I would sincerely appreciate any input anyone can offer.

Posted by: MyCami | April 16, 2013 9:40 PM    Report this comment

I am a little confused when I read your article, Nancy....it comes across as so positive for Hill's Science Food and almost encourages the reader to buy it just by your tone. Hence the comments that followed from reader's about being more interested in their foods. I have read that the ingredients they use such as these in the Adult Dry: Chicken Meal, Whole Grain Wheat, Whole Grain Sorghum, Whole Grain Corn, Pork Fat, Soybean Oil, Corn Gluten Meal, Dried Beet Pulp....are truly substandard as far as the nutrition they provide and there are hand's down way healthier dry foods out there. I have actually read more about the danger's of corn as filler, dry beet, soybean, grain sorghum, and corn gluten of recent and am curious if you would prefer reader's avoid such product's in lieu of the recent research into the danger's of such fillers and ingredients? (Becker, K at Mercola.com to name on source). To be perfectly honest I would not even feed these as a treat. I believe that our pets need a step up whenever possible in this toxic world we live in and one of the main ways we can do this is with the healthiest diet possible. I would love to hear your views on this? Respectfully, M. Erhart

Posted by: MAR E | February 11, 2013 1:01 PM    Report this comment

I have a 10 year old collie rescue who started having stomach problems. Tested positive for pancreatitis and the vet believed it to be a more mild case. They recommended the Hills Science Diet prescriptive cans and kibble. I challenged the vet on the ingredients and then when I read the label in their office I showed her the "stuff" they put in. She said I would only have to feed it to him for a week before I introduced a regular low fat food into his diet. At the vet's urging, I bought some canned and a bag of kibble and when I fed it to him, the usually ravenous boy looked at me with disgust. I ended up getting a prescription from the vet, went to PetSmart and bought Royal Canin canned and kibble for gastro/low fat diets. He eats like its his last meal and seems to very much enjoy the taste. I've had more experience with Royal Canin for other issues with some of my other dogs and it seemed to help them and they very much like the taste of the food. I've introduced another quality low fat kibble into his diet for about 5 days and he puked this morning. I think I'll be going back to get the Royal Canin kibble again if this keeps up. I'm not a canine nutritionist, but I'm suggesting Royal Canin as an alternative to Hills. The vets all sell Hills and I'm sure receive some initiatives to do so and I'm not against anyone making a living. I got on Royal Canin some years back when a vet at the University of Illinois recommended it for one of my rescues who had food allergies and the dog didn't mind the food and it improved her condition. Hills has alot of "by-products" listed on the label. That makes me highly suspicious of the ingredients. If anyone has some ideas for my gastro boy, would love to read them.

Posted by: Marcia S | March 27, 2012 10:12 AM    Report this comment

Bridget, my Jack Russell has elevated liver enzymes as well. This has been going on for several years in which they have spiked and then dropped again. We have been working with a holistic vet and tried herbs which has helped some. I would be interested in finding out which prescription food your vet suggested. Thank you, Claudia

Posted by: CLAUDIA B | March 20, 2012 2:28 PM    Report this comment


My dog (16 lb Shih-Tzu mix rescue) has been presecribed Hill's S/D to prevent bladder stones. She had 3 stones taken out of her that were the size of shooter marbles, at a cost of $1,700.00, so we definitely do not want to do this again. She recovered really easily from the surgery, but the x-rays leading up to it just cannot be a good thing, and the only way to detect future suspected stones is with more x-rays. She's a stone former (apparently), so I do expect crystals are forming in her all the time. I know my personal dog story is not that interesting to anyone, but this is all just background to tell you that no matter how well this food is made, it does not make me confident that it's good for her. If I knew what was in that food that is supposed to do what it is supposed to do (in my case prevent crystals from forming), maybe I would feel better about it. Of course I have read the ingredient list on the can, but it gives me no useful information. With the knowledge I have, I can't isolate the "active" ingredient. Noone at the animal hospital can either, and my questioning just annoys them. They want me to take instruction from the experts and go away, so I don't push it. Any drug taken over time will have a cumulative effect and cannot be the best way to approach the problem. My concern is that the cure is more poisonous than the affliction. Though I know they intend to do the best for our animals, veterinarians are generally not nutrition specialists. My veterinarian and I disagree on this approach, but I am not one to be bullied. It is in the end, my decision as to how to best go forward. Also, the nutrition information that circulates as true and good probably isn't very valuable. My own belief is that it would be best, especially for a dog with proven proclivity toward a health detracting factor, to feed a non-processed diet. Then you would know exactly what was going into that body. My concern over what would be best to feed is what led me to WDJ. I have done a lot of web searching to learn as much as I can about what ingredients would be best fed, or best left out, of a specialized diet, concentrating on preventing struvite stones in my own particular case. So that gets me to my question. Has anyone ordered the WDJ e-books on Home Prepared Diets? I certainly want to do something, but don't want to order this set if it is not useful. I wish somewhere that this set of books had been reviewed so I could get feedback.

Posted by: Christine H | March 20, 2012 7:20 AM    Report this comment

I am most interested in more info about Hill's Prescription Canned Diet Foods, because very recently one of my dogs is showing elevated Liver Enzymes and it has been suggested by the Vet to use Prescription canned food K-D.

Posted by: Bridget A | March 18, 2012 6:25 PM    Report this comment

I had bought Hill's dog food for years until about 8 years ago when I started going holistic with my dogs. I am happy to know that they operate a clean controlled envirement.I am looking forward to more about this company. I have many friends that for various reasons have their dogs on the prescription diet.

Posted by: Bee | March 16, 2012 3:36 PM    Report this comment

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