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The Science Diet Scam
By Sabine Contreras, BetterDogCare.com, © Sabine Contreras 2004-2008
By Sabine Contreras, BetterDogCare.com, © Sabine Contreras 2004-2008
Of all the crooks in the commercial pet food industry, Hill's (the maker of Science Diet and Prescription Diet foods) has got to be the worst. The fact that their slogan "Veterinarian Recommended" is a cleverly used trademark is just the beginning. If you don't know even some very basic facts about commercial pet food, I suggest you poke around on my Dog Food Website for a bit before reading on. Of course you can also read this article first and then go there to read up on the details you don't understand.
Warning: this is going to be a long read.
Let's dive in with a short summary:
Science Diet is a pet food that is often recommended by veterinarians, and is heavily advertised, so many people buy it, thinking they are giving their pets the best product on the market. The fact that it is pretty popular doesn't make it a quality product though.
Why is Science Diet recommended by veterinarians?
The answer is simple and Tara Parker-Pope of the Wall Street Journal probably said it best in her article "Why Vets Recommend 'Designer' Chow" (reprinted here):
[...] Borrowing a page from the pharmaceuticals companies, which routinely woo doctors to prescribe their drugs, Hill's has spent a generation cultivating its professional following. It spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year funding university research and nutrition courses at every one of the 27 U.S. veterinary colleges. Once in practice, vets who sell Science Diet and other premium foods directly from their offices pocket profits of as much as 40%. [...]"
So there you have it - veterinarians don't recommend this food because they are convinced it's a great product, but because they make a profit and have other personal benefits. To the contrary of what many people think, nutrition is not a major subject in veterinary schools, and most of the courses offered are sponsored by one of the pet food giants. Any vets specializing in nutrition or following a holistic approach do their own research outside of what they were taught at college. If you look at books about pet nutrition, you will find that pet food companies are involved in those too.
Need some examples?
The Waltham Book of Companion Animal NutritionDoes Waltham ring a bell? Pedigree, Whiskas, Cesar, Sheba? The stuff you find on the shelves of the pet supply aisle at your grocery or department store?Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals.Daniel P. Carey, Diane A. Hirakawa and Leighann Daristotle, all three of them employees of the IAMS Company in leading positions. The fourth person, who edited this book, is Linda P. Case, the only independent on the team, but she also endorses the products this company manufactures.
Look at others used as textbooks at veterinary schools and investigate the authors. You'd be surprised at the level of involvement of the pet food industry. But I don't want to spin conspiracy theories here. No doubt that research is needed to learn more about how to keep our pets healthy, and that it has to be funded somehow - but as a consumer I do not appreciate being left in the dark, much less mislead purposely about what is best for my pet. So back to the topic at hand:
Have you ever looked at the ingredient lists of Science Diet products and compared those ingredients to the claims Hill's makes about the quality of their foods? Well, I have. And frankly, it disgusts me how many people get scammed into buying an overpriced product of poor quality just because they don't know much about what they are actually feeding their pets.
Mostly grains with some chicken and chicken byproducts, animal fat and some chicken liver flavor. 48.1% carbohydrates.
Adult Beef (or Chicken or Lamb) & Rice Recipe?
Some beef, chicken or lamb and some rice or rice fragments, but mainly other grains (corn meal, soybean meal, ground grain sorghum, ground wheat), some chicken byproducts (except in the lamb variety - and yes, even the "beef" variety most likely has more chicken byproducts than beef!), animal fat, beet pulp and flavors. 50.6%, 50.2% and 48.7% carbohydrates respectively. I'm beginning to get the impression we are trying to feed cattle here, not animals with a carnivorous background!
The other "normal" foods of the main product line follow pretty much the same principle, but it gets worse when we get to the so-called "light", "oral care", "sensitive stomach" or "senior" products. 16% "soybean mill run" (read floor sweepings) and 10.8% peanut hulls? And you are paying how much per bag for this crap? $29? $33? $38? More??? Talk about being taken for a ride. Did your vet recommend that too?
But it gets better yet. We haven't discussed the fairly new "Nature's Best" line yet. It's available " with real beef" or "with real chicken". Go have a look at the ingredient lists, I'll wait.
Did you check it out? Good. What did you see? As you may know (or not), the ingredients are listed by descending weight proportions as they appear processing. What I see is that the first two ingredients are rice fractions and wheat and the third is turkey. The "real" beef or chicken is listed 7th and not even among the main ingredients. As per AAFCO labeling rules, a product labeled "with [something]" only has to include a minimum of 3% of the named ingredient by total weight. Out of the 6 main ingredients, 4 are grains or grain byproducts, one is a poor quality source of fat (rendered from nonspecified animals, possibly including euthanized pets) and only one is actually an animal-based protein. Peas, carrots and flavorings in small quantities round out the "wholesome goodness found in nature" advertised by the manufacturer as "real beef/chicken, real garden vegetables and wholesome grains - the best of everything". Mind you that not even USDA inspected ingredients are used, so my guess would rather be feed grade grains and poor quality meat.
It's hard to believe that even that can be topped, but they did it!
Yes, it is possible. Believe it or not. Enter "Science Diet Advanced Protection" - the ultimate scam, Hill's attempt to secure its market share, riding on the more and more popular natural/holistic wave. I present you the ingredient list of this product with "patent-pending breakthrough of nutritional technology" boasting a "unique antioxidant blend, sourced from ingredients like citrus fruits, carrots, spinach and tomatoes":
========== Main ingredients ====================
corn meal (not ideal as a first ingredient, which should be a quality source of animal protein)chicken by-product meal (anything but quality cuts of meat!)soybean meal (a byproduct of the manufacturing process of soybean oil)animal fat (rendered fat of unspecified animals, possibly diseased, decayed or even euthanized pets)
========== Present in lesser quantities ============flaxseed (no complaints here)chicken liver flavor (a higher amount of a flavoring ingredient than vegetables? interesting...)dried egg product (a byproduct of the egg grading industry instead of fresh, whole eggs?)dried carrots (instead of fresh carrots?)dried spinach (instead of fresh spinach?)dried grape pomace (when it is known that grapes can be toxic to dogs?)dried tomato pomace (a byproduct of the tomato processing industry)dried citrus pulp (the dried residue of peel, pulp and seeds of oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruit - a byproduct more suitable as cattle feed, but in this product actually marketed to make the consumer think it's "citrus fruit"?.)vegetable oil (could be worse I suppose, but a specific oil like sunflower oil would be preferable.)oat fiber (as opposed to whole grain oats that include the entire range of nutrients?)and some amino acid supplements, rosemary extract, minerals and vitamins.
Just for comparison I'll list the ingredient list of a product that has a similar formula but actually includes clean, good quality ingredients:
Chicken, turkey, chicken meal, turkey meal, brown rice, pearled barley, lamb meal, oatmeal, chicken fat, dried eggs, salmon, natural flavoring, canola oil, flaxseed, fresh potatoes, fresh carrots, fresh peas, whole fresh apples, cranberries, dried chicory root, salt, potassium chloride, lecithin, garlic, vitamins, dehydrated kelp, minerals, yucca schidigera extract, sage extract, digestive enzymes and probiotics.
The manufacturer of the above mentioned quality product guarantees that all ingredients are human grade and free of antibiotics or hormones - an assurance of quality you will never hear from Hill's. If I told you that this food costs about the same (or even less) per 35 lb bag than Science Diet "Advanced Protection", would you believe me? What about if I said that one 35 lb bag of this quality food would last longer than 35 lbs of "Advanced Protection" because it contains less grains and more quality animal protein - and thus is more digestible and provides better nutrition?
So are you still getting scammed or already looking into a better dog food?
Don't be fooled, Hill's is not the only company trying to convince you to shell out your hard earned money for a poor quality product. Many other pet food manufacturers are doing the same thing, all you need to do is watch the cute, colorful commercials on TV or walk down the pet food aisle at your grocery or department store. Heck, even your local pet store is likely to have more crappy brands than good ones on their shelves.
So for the sake of your dog (and the same goes for other pets as well!), next time you go shopping for pet food, don't just toss a random bag with a bargain price tag into the cart, but look at the ingredient list.
Or even better, do your homework beforehand so you actually know what to look for.
Getting healthy dog food will cut down on many health care problem you face with your dog. As stated in the article feeding a dog food with less grains will actually last you longer, thus saving you money!