Food for Thought (Part 2 Kansas and Kibble)


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Aerial view of Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center, Topeka, KS

After breakfast the next morning, we boarded a bus for the trip tothe Pet Nutrition Center. We arrived at a large commercial complex, which reminded me more of a college campus. We were ushered downstairs to the conference room a.k.a. Tornado Shelter. It was good to know that we wouldn’t be leaving Kansas like Dorothy had. The schedule in our folder listed the topics for the day and all the speakers. I didn’t expect to know much about the list of topics, but I was happy to see that Hill’s Mission was one I definitely related to. As a mission driven company their goal is:

To enrich and lengthen the special relationships between people and their pets.

     This mission was emphasized over and over again during the day and not in an abstract manner. This is Hill’s mission…what they strive to do with each piece of research…each new food developed…each dog or cat that eats their food and for their own unique Pet Partners, which I’ll tell you about in Part Three.

The day was started by Kostas, Kontopanos, President of Hill’sUSA. Kostas shared a photo of himself and his pet partner in real life, as did each speaker that followed during the day,   Later, when we toured the facility and the living quarters of the Pet Partners, the walls were lined with beautiful portraits of Hill’s Employees and their pets. Kosto’s overview of the company was overwhelming at best. Most of us have a difficult time understanding the food we eat let alone all the ins and outs of what is species appropriate for out pets. Hill’s research, their clinical trials, all their different products can make your head spin trying to grasp it all. Here’s what I got out of it as a pet parent and what I think is important to my readers.

Hill’s strives and obviously succeeds in providing top quality, easy to acquire and use nutritional food for both cats and dogs. Their market is global, their company a billion dollar industry that is part of an even bigger multi-billion dollar conglomerate…Colgate-Palmolive. But just because they aren’t Mom and Pop’s Dog Food stand, doesn’t mean they can’t accomplish the same goal…providing nutritional food that you’ll feel good about feeding to your pet.

With years of research that began with Dr. Mark Morris. DVM, in 1939 and is on-going today, Hill’s produces what they believe is the best balanced diet for dogs and cats for each stage of their lives. This diet is based on science, nutritional studies, and clinical trials. The Mark Morris Institute is dedicated to a program of global nutritional information for veterinarians.  Click on the link to their website to learn more about reading animal food labels. During our day at Hill’s, Bill Schoenherr, MS, PhD, who is Hill’s principal nutritionist, gave us the Cliff Notes version of better understanding what’s on pet food packaging. Yes, it’s even more confusing than human labels, but definitely worth getting a good understanding of the basics. Unlike human food labels that list the ingredients in order of quantity, pet food labels list them in order of weight. Just because chicken is listed first, doesn’t mean there is more of it than say rice…it just weighs more. That’s just one of the surprising things I learned about reading labels on dog food.

Dennis Jewell, MS, PhD, Diplomate ACAN, spoke about the heritage of Hill’s philosophy for their precisely balanced nutrition. Understand, decades of research have gone into this precisely balanced nutrition basis for all their food, and he only had 45 minutes to talk to us. In my understanding, its food specifically developed for each stage of a pet’s life that contains all the essential nutrients to provide optimum health for that pet. It’s easy to understand that a puppy needs different nutrition than an older dog, but it goes beyond that. Hill’s has 90 specially developed precisely balanced foods for as many different types of dogs as you can imagine. Additionally they have 80 therapeutic diets…the prescription foods… that can only be obtained from a veterinarian for specific conditions.

The first prescription food was developed in response to kidney disease for Buddy, one of the first guide dogs in the United States. Buddy had kidney disease and Dr. Morris developed a spcial food just for him.  What is now known as Small Animal Clinical Nutrition,  was the beginning of the Hill’s prescription diet food.

There were more initials thrown around during the presentations than letters following the names of all the Hill’s employees, but I was familiar with one set and that’s AAFCO, American Association of Feed Control Officials. I’d come across them when I began researching food for Sadie and her allergies.

The AAFCO is a non-profit organization that sets standards for animal and pet foods in the United States. Before a pet food manufacturer can label any food “complete and balanced” it must meet the standards of AAFCO. It’s easy to understand what these standards are by going to  Dog Food Advisor . I used this website to check out the “ratings” of the food I was considering feeding Sadie. AAFCO also requires that pet foods state on the package how the food was tested to determine the “complete and balanced” standard. There are two ways this can be done:

  1. Laboratory Analysis
  2. Laboratory Analysis and feeding trials with real animals.

Hill’s uses both methods and is therefore permitted to say so on their packaging.

One of the most fun presentations of the day was by someone with no initials after their name…Dave Baloga. Now if you look at his name quickly or type it fast, it seems like “bologna” which would make sense, because he deals with the science of taste. Seems when Sadie sniffed the carefully researched dinners I placed before her, only to walk away…she had a good reason. Dogs “taste” their food through what they “smell.” Now, Dave had a lot of very scientific reasons for this, but the most important one to me was…dogs just don’t have as many taste buds as humans do therefore the smell of their food…appetizing or not…determines if they want to eat it. What smells good to people is very different from what appeals to pets.

Dave used a simple demonstration to prove this fact. Using plain white bottles pre-loaded with certain scents, we were asked to sniff them and guess what the scent was. Turns out there’s a reason I eat everything I see…I didn’t do too good on the “sniff” test and would have eaten dirt if going by smell alone. Sadie definitely can’t depend on me to provide food with the greatest smells, but Hill’s devotes a great deal of time to test different smells and make sure that their food appeals to the pet’s sense of smell which makes it pleasing to eat.

We heard from Diane Loiselle, who is VP of Product Safety, Regulatory & Quality. After hearing all the hundreds of standards Hill’s uses to make its food safe, I asked her why then was Hill’s food recalled in the horrendous 2007 dog food recall? Her answer that it was an “intentional criminal act in China”, is true. The Unites States Attorney’s Office prosecuted two business owners, Sally Qing Miller, 43, and her husband Stephen S. Miller, 56, of Las Vegas. They pled guilty of selling adulterated food and one count of selling tainted food through their company, ChemNutra. They admitted to substituting melamine for wheat gluten in their products. They were only fined $5,000.00 each, given 3 years probation…a paltry sentence in light of the loss of lives of beloved pets and the destruction of innocent pet food companies.  They did contribute to a $24 million towards settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by pet owners in New Jersey (The Miller’s insurance company paid most of it and they paid the deductible). Their company was fined $25,000.00 and also contributed to the class action settlement. Read more:

I was a relatively new pet parent when this happened and was afraid to feed my dog anything commercial for a long time. What is important is that Hill’s no longer gets any ingredients from outside of  States and all are strictly tested. The company immediately took responsibility during this horrendous time and made necessary changes.

The last speaker before our tour of the facility was Julie Churchill, DVM,PhD, Dipl. ACVN who teaches pet nutrition at the  University of Minnesota. Her presentation was full of information on nutritional needs of pets and how they can be met, what standards deem a pet “healthy”, and other pertinent information for feeding your pet healthy food. It was time to go visit the Pet Partners!  Next up…Hill’s Pet Partners.