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The Unpopular Truth About Animal Testing

By Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

I was originally going to call this post, “The Positive Side of Animal Testing.” However, I thought that many of you would think that I had lost my mind if I put the words “positive” and “animal testing” in the same sentence.

I don’t buy cosmetics or products that are tested on animals. However, when it comes to food testing–that’s food for our cats and dogs–ALL pet food companies test their food on dogs and cats.

The Law
In the U.S. all pet food is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establishes standards on which states base their feed laws and regulations; it has no regulatory authority. Confusing? A bit!

My Visit to Hill’s
I was invited to a behind the scenes tour of Hill’s, makers of Science Diet, at their Topeka, KS, facility. The day was packed with information. The nutrition sessions even covered such details as taste, aroma, and mouth feel of the Science Diet brand.

Hill’s product line includes more than 80 Prescription Diet brand pet foods and more than 90 Science Diet brand pet foods. The folks at Hill’s were excited to introduce their newest product: y/d Feline Thyroid Health. It’s for cats with hyperthyroid disease. Earl Gray, my cat, is taking medication to treat his hyperthyroidism. However, I just put him on the new diet. So, check back because I will be reporting on his progress.

Hill’s Prescription Diet is sold at veterinarian’s offices throughout the country. Science Diet is sold at pet food stores and chains. And what’s nice about Hill’s is their personal service. Customers can call Hill’s Consumer Affairs department at 1-800-445-5777 with pet-nutrition related questions about Hill’s products. The department is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST.

The Tour
From early a.m. to mid day, representatives from Hill’s covered just about everything on the science of nutrition. The highlight was the tour. At the plant are 480 dogs–mostly beagles, and 456 cats of all shapes and sizes.

What struck me first was the large number of tails that were wagging and the upright curled cat tails. All of the cats and dogs I saw looked healthy and happy. The people who monitored–or should I say played with–the cats and dogs knew just about every minute detail about them. My tour mates kept on asking “how do you get any work done?” because we spotted a lot of people playing, exercising, and petting the furry residents.

Prior to my visit, a few veterinarians told me that I was going to enjoy visiting the plant. One told me that he loved the cattery so much that if there was extra space he would move in.

Each cattery houses 12 cats, and there are places to climb, hide, jump on, sun in, and rest. The dogs had large outdoor runs with doggy doors that led to indoor spaces with beds and toys.

All of the crew–from management to caretakers–seemed to truly care about the cats and dogs. When the cats and dogs reach a certain age, they are often adopted out to a Hill’s employee.

Caring Commitment
That caring attitude is carried over to their shelter program. One recipient is the Kansas Humane Society, a shelter that receives food from Hill’s on a regular basis. Hill’s shelter program feeds homeless pets in more than 1,000 animal shelters nationwide. “We have a strong commitment to nutrition and that is extended to shelter pets too,” says Neil Thompson, CEO of Hill’s.

So my fears of touring a facility where testing of animals takes place were unfounded. The people who work at this 500,000 square-foot multi-million dollar state-of-the-art facility really care about the Hill’s cats and dogs.

Animal testing can be done cruelty-free, as evidenced here.

34 comments to The Unpopular Truth About Animal Testing

  • Great write up Michele. I eat the Prescription Diet Low Allergen z/d. When they recently came out with cat treats for cats like me, it was one of the best days of my life. I am now working on training my parents to give me a treat whenever I want one. So, far I am only experiencing limited success.

    I am super happy that the cats and dogs at Hill’s are living in such a great habitat.

  • This is great news to know and I will definitely keep in mind for future dietary needs. Thanks!

  • Michele! This is great that you actually toured the facility. My question going in to read about your experience was “what exactly does testing consist of?” Can I assume now that the testing is just testing different foods on the cats and dogs to see if they flourish on it? There was no “hidden” lab where they
    perform horrendous experiments?

    Thanks, Michele!

  • […] All of the cats and dogs I saw looked healthy and happy. The people who … … Link: The Unpopular Truth About Animal Testing « Pet News and Views ← Dog Food: Secrets To Feeding Your Dog Better – articles – What Is … […]

  • Hi Sandrea, I also had that conspiracy theory that there was a “hidden lab,” but then came to my senses when I saw the facility. First off, the people who work there really care about the animals. And these animals are tested to see if they eat the food. They were really concerned about the nutritional value of the food and even the tiny details like the shape, look, aroma, and mouth feel of the food. The dogs and cats really looked happy and well cared for.
    In the best of all possible worlds, ALL animals would have loving homes. I never thought I would say this, but this kind of animal testing is acceptable. I still don’t purchase products that are tested on animals like cosmetics. I don’t even wear leather. So, I was pleasantly surprised. Thanks for reading. –Michele

  • jeanaann barnaby

    This is an outrage! How blind are you and how dare you make Animal Lab Testing a positive thing. Do you really think Hills is going to show you all the animals they test on. Really! I know for a fact that food testing includes many horrific trials where animals are infected with deseases, different cancers, wounds and other horrific illness’. Stop Animal Lab Testing Period! Let’s not forget animals used in lab testing are kept in cages most of their lives unless being experimented on and then killed because they are no longer necessary or are beyond usefulness.

    Your article is seriously endangering all efforts of educating the public on the cruelty of animal lab testing especially in the name of ‘Pet Products’.

    Do yourself and your readers a favor and do more research into this issue before you go ahead and claim it positive and safe. At least be honest and give a true depiction of what ‘Animal Lab Testing’ really means.

    A disappointed reader,
    jeanaann barnaby

  • Jacqueline

    Are your seriously suggesting, these conditions apply to every facility, where animal testing is used, eg in the pharma industry, cosmetics industry etc?

  • Absolutely NOT! I am just reporting on my visit to Hill’s. And by the way, I don’t purchase cosmetics that test on animals. I don’t wear leather or fur. I am just saying that pet food companies need to test their food on animals, and that they need to do it in a positive way. From my experience, Hill’s is doing just that.–Michele

  • Hi Jeannaann, Did you read the entire post? I’m not advocating animal testing. I don’t buy cosmetics or other items that are tested on animals. I also know that ALL pet food companies test their food on animals. They need to see if the animal is going to eat it and they are looking for the health benefits of the food. I just switched my cat to Hill’s y/d diet for hyperthyroidism. My vet recommended it. It’s a positive thing. And yes, I did tour the facility, and no there isn’t a hidden bunker. They spent millions of dollars on this facility, and the cats and dogs I met are well treated. –Michele

  • Barry Christian

    Thanks Michele. I agree with you that in the best of all possible worlds there would be no animal testing. Food companies do need to test their food on animals to see if they will eat it and to see the health benefits. They can do it in a positive manner, as your story mentions. You have a level head.

  • Mary

    Michele, I don’t like testing either. However, when it comes to food for pets, we have to know that the food has the right nutrients, is good for our pets, and that our pets will enjoy eating it. I’m glad to see that Hill’s doesn’t use cruel testing methods.

  • Tom

    I don’t think they have a hidden bunker either. As you said, they spent millions on this facility, and my vet has been on the tour and he recommends Hill’s. He doesn’t get paid for recommending the diet.

  • Harry

    Michele dear, you will get angry mail from some people. Some people don’t know and won’t listen to the facts. My vet also toured this facility and others as well, and has reported to me that all pet food companies test their food on animals, and that they do it in a positive, cruelty-free manner.
    Now the companies that test on cosmetics and drugs is another story, but that is not what you are talking about here.

  • Sally

    good post Michele! I feed my cats Science Diet. I’m glad that it is a cruelty-free company.

  • Marcie

    Sorry that you are getting negative comments here. I know you are not a proponent of animal testing. This is cruelty-free and necessary. It seems that Hill’s really cares about feeding animals the right diet. They have so many choices and for different ailments. We also give our cats the low allergen z/d prescription diet. Our cat is very healthy thanks to it.

  • Allen

    We are what we eat, and as we put healthy foods into our systems we need to do the same for our pets. It seems that Hill’s goes the extra mile on pet care, and it’s nice to know that they are a cruelty-free company.

  • bilja

    I am so glad to hear and will share info.

  • I had to comment on this quote. Hill’s might be a “cruelty-free” company, but have you looked at the ingredients in the food your pets are eating?

    “We have a strong commitment to nutrition and that is extended to shelter pets too,” says Neil Thompson, CEO of Hill’s.”

    Have you ever read the ingredient list from Hill’s Science Diet dry cat foods? It ranks right up there with all the other bad dry foods that are full of glutens, corn meal, and junk ingredients.

    Oh, I used to buy Hill’s for my animals – who doesn’t when most vets sell and recommend it? Do the research – check the ingredients – if the first few listed are not “real” food like chicken, turkey, beef – then you’re not dealing with a good product.

    Don’t be fooled by the link on their website that tries to convince you otherwise! Just as an example – here is the ingredient list for Hills Science Senior 11+ dry cat food:

    Brewers Rice, Chicken By-Product Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Whole Grain Corn, Animal Fat

    Hills Science Diet Adult Light dry cat food:

    Brewers Rice, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken By-Product Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Whole Grain Corn, Chicken Liver Flavor, Animal Fat

    Be informed, and check what you are really feeding your cats and dogs!

  • Chris

    Thanks for being a voice of reason!

  • Jess

    You might want to check out the other side of this story. Hill’s is being rather circumspect about some tough questions regarding this so-called hyper-T diet, as yet unproven. Hyper and hypothyroidism are nothing to mess with — cats can and do die from these conditions every day — and asking your vet about food that they sell in their clinics (and make money from) is pretty risky business. Pet owners need to do their homework on exactly what is going on with their pet’s food and not rely on vested parties (i.e., the vets) to make the best diet decisions for their pets. It’s about money, money, money folks, and words like “caring” and “humane” go out the window in the face of the almighty dollar. BUYER BEWARE.


  • Jess

    More on Hill’s, this dated yesterday, November 2, 2011

    Very interesting. I encourage all pet owners to read up on Hill’s “Prescription” diets (what exactly is “prescription” about it?) and how they do business. Even some vets are unhappy with their sales tactics.

    Remember — money, money, money. Read the comments after the blog post.


  • Henriette

    No caged animals regardless of how well they are cared for still does not make them free. And testing is still cruelty as one never knows what reaction it will do to these animals. They may certainly be a better facility but it is still a facility that does testing on innocent animals. Thanks Michele.

  • Thanks Michele for posting this, As I know you are not advocating animal testing, I am so glad to know that this place is a cruelty free company that cares about the animals.

  • Johnny

    Tough and I can see why this would open you up to attacks. There are some people that you just won’t be able to convince. Testing–cruelty free testing–does occur at many of the food plants. It’s the chemical and drug companies that we should be looking at.

  • Thanks for your reply above, Michele. I’m so glad you toured and reviewed Hill’s facility, especially since all my cats enjoy Hill’s food 🙂

  • Carolyn Morant

    Yes, it is complicated, and in this case it makes sense that animals are tested on to see if they like the food and will eat it. Also the nutrition value is important.

  • From a broader prospective, what alternative testing model is suggested by those against use of animals for testing?

    We could start today and outlaw all products for human and animal use that have been tested for efficacy and safety in animals. [Or, simply choose some deamed products “unnecessary” and ban them. Who would be the decision maker?]

    This would subject humans and animals to shorter life spans, more disease, suffering many times more long, agonizing deaths from preventable and/or treatable diseases.

  • Heidi

    this is a complicated matter. should any testing be allowed? We need to approach our government about this. They are the ones that regulate all pet food companies.

  • Rachelle

    Just remember all…companies that don’t test their food on their own animals still do animal testing, they just test it on YOUR pets!

  • Jeri Lendrum

    Yes, controversial and yet it is important to know that not all companies use cruel methods to test on animals. Thank you for your honest eye witness account and for being level headed.

  • Phil

    Thanks for the reassurance! Just changed my dogs to Hill’s Ideal Balance, their new natural product. They love it!

    @Laura, check your sources or read the AAFCO manual. Your pets will thank you.

  • Janet Vandenabeele

    If you actually think about it, it makes perfect sense that a reputable pet food company needs to test its foods on pets. Human food is tested on humans, except we are much more easily herded up into rooms to talk about it to marketers. I cannot imagine cats doing this.

    But if a company like Hill’s wants to produce food that helps pets live long, healthy lives, then they, too, need to develop a cadre of pets who live in home or near-home conditions who can live long enough to test their products. In the age of the Internet, word would get around if this stuff was oversold or no good. If the animals were treated poorly, the company wouldn’t get the right conditions for longevity. It’s smart management, smart science but even smarter morals. I’m glad to see Hill’s opening their facility to scrutiny. I’m also happy to see the hyperthyroid diet coming out and will look into it for my senior cat. He’s 14, taking meds, and I would do anything to give him a lot more years with us!

  • jeanaann barnaby

    This comment is not made to create drama or conflict.
    However, we often want to believe something because the truth is simply to horrendous or inconvenient to accept. Animal lab testing for any reason is wrong. Keeping animals to test products whether they are food, cosmetics, drugs etc…is wrong. There is no right animal lab testing.
    I personally have worked in the industry and know that both veterinarians and food companies are business which means the focus is on profit not the animal.
    With this said, I believe that there are vets out there who may work with this knowledge and are appalled at the lies made to increase profits.

    There is no justification for another dog, cat, rabbit, monkey, pig, or other animal to suffer and die for pointless chemical, cosmetics, medical, pesticide, or food-additive tests (non-human animal or human animal).
    Stop Animal Testing!

    Against All Animal Lab Testing
    jeanaann barnaby

  • Kayleigh Thompson

    Glad to see an honest account and that Hill’s is opening up it’s facility for journalists to see. It makes me feel better about using their products.