⚠ Important recall information appears below.
Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. produces dog and cat foods under the labels Hill’s Science Diet, Hill’s Prescription Diet, Hill’s Healthy Advantage and Hill’s Bioactive Recipe. (A brand line called Hill’s Ideal Balance was discontinued in 2019.)
Hill’s Science Diet is the go-to premium pet food for many veterinarians. But how did it become so highly recommended?
Below, we share information about the fascinating history of this pet food — plus up-to-date Hill’s Science Diet recall information going back many years.
Hill’s Science Diet Quick Facts
Brand line includes: Hill’s Science Diet Puppy, Hill’s Science Diet Small Paws, Hill’s Science Diet Large Breed, Hill’s Science Diet Adult 1-6, Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+, Hill’s Science Diet Youthful Vitality, Hill’s Science Diet Healthy Mobility, Hill’s Science Diet Healthy Cuisine, Hill’s Science Diet Perfect Weight, Hill’s Science Diet Oral Care, Hill’s Science Diet Sensitive Stomach & Skin, Hill’s Science Diet Kitten, Hill’s Science Diet Adult Hairball Control
Where to buy: Latest deals on Hill’s Science Diet
Company: Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. (a subsidiary of Colgate-Palmolive Company)
Headquarters: 400 SW 8th Ave #101, Topeka, KS 66603
Contact info: 1-800-445-5777, email, website
Hill’s Science Diet History
This pet food brand’s history is intertwined with the career of the first Seeing Eye dog, Buddy.
Buddy, guide dog to Morris Frank, a young blind man, developed kidney failure in the 1930s. Frank suspected that the dog’s health condition was the result of poor nutrition. So, he corresponded with lauded veterinarian Mark L. Morris Sr., DVM.
Dr. Morris and his wife set to work on a kidney diet recipe for dogs. They worked up the formula in their own kitchen.
The first consignment of renal dog food was shipped to Frank in glass jars. However, glass tends to break during transit, so Frank sent the Morrises a canning machine — as well as a commission for thousands of orders. After a while, Buddy’s health improved.
And that’s how the world’s first veterinary diet for dogs was born.
It was called Raritan Ration B, and it was the dog food that would become the basis for Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d Canine.
The Hill Name Is Added
With demand for his dog food growing, Dr. Morris was finding this to be a much bigger operation than a single canning machine and a husband-and-wife team could handle.
So in 1948, Dr. Morris took his Raritan Ration B dog food to the Hill Packing Company in Kansas for a dog food canning collaboration.
Founded in 1907 by a man named Burton Hill, Hill Packing Company had begun manufacturing dog food, as well as horse meat for human consumption, in 1930. Before that, the packing company was known as Hill Rendering Works.
The collaboration worked out well for both Dr. Morris and Hill Packing Company. In 1951, Dr. Morris moved his laboratory to Topeka, Kansas, to be closer to the cannery. By the time there were 4 products, the dog food company was renamed again: It became Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
In the 1960s, Morris’s son, Mark Jr., who was also a veterinarian, expanded the business.
Corporate Changes — And the Launch of Science Diet
In 1968, Hill’s Pet Nutrition was acquired by Riviana Foods Inc., which immediately began work on bringing additional products to market.
That year marked another important milestone, the launch of the first Science Diet recipe: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Maintenance Dog Food.
Originally, Science Diet was developed as optimal nutrition for research animals. Science Diet was great for “periods of stress” in this unique animal population, according to a magazine ad from 1973, which announced that the dog food was being released to the general public on a limited basis.
Here is that ad:
Hill’s Science Diet has long been positioned as a science-based, clinically proven, vet-recommended diet. Jen Wrye, PhD, a sociologist with expertise in food studies and animal–human relations, described the marketing strategy this way in her 2012 doctoral thesis:
“The prominence of ‘science’ in the name and the sterile-looking bags conjure up images of white-coated scientists working in laboratories to unlock secrets of animal nutrition.”
In 1976, Colgate-Palmolive purchased Riviana Foods, which included its highly profitable Hill’s Pet Nutrition subsidiary, in a deal valued at about $180 million.
The new parent corporation set about expanding Hill’s product reach into 86 countries. By 1999, Hill’s Pet Nutrition had cleared over $1 billion in sales.
It was, for decades, an excellent investment for Colgate-Palmolive. Although that corporation is better known for dish soap and toothpaste, one-seventh of the company’s profits came from the sale of pet food.
In 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that Hill’s Science Diet sales were in decline. The WSJ attributed sluggish sales to the brand’s boring-sounding name in a climate where pet food consumers “increasingly value marketing pitches like ‘natural’ and ‘wild’.”
The article suggested that Hill’s Science Diet was being edged out by dog food makers that promise their formula is “natural” and similar to the diet of dogs’ wolf ancestors.
Hill’s was already getting the message, loud and clear, from consumers:
- The previous year, Science Diet had been reformulated “to add more natural ingredients…, [a] quality protein as the first ingredient, no chicken byproduct meal, and no artificial colors or flavors.”
- And 2013 saw the launch of the short-lived Hill’s Ideal Balance line, which was said to combine “natural ingredients with the Hill’s perfectly balanced nutrition that consumers trust.” In a press release announcing Ideal Balance, the company used the word “natural” no fewer than 13 times. The brand line was discontinued 6 years later, in 2019.
Interestingly, around the same time that it was phasing out its Ideal Balance line, Hill’s Pet Nutrition published a blog post throwing a wet blanket over the very idea of “natural” pet food, stating, “Foods that are touted as ‘natural’ sound like they have some unique quality, but aside from making a product appear like a healthier choice, there is no substantial meaning behind this term.”
As of 2020, Hill’s Pet Nutrition was the No. 4 pet food company in the world, with nearly $2.4 billion in annual revenue, according to data provided by Pet Food Industry. However, Hill’s had dropped one spot on the list from a couple years prior, when it was ranked No. 3 in the world.
The Tradition of Research Continues
Hill’s Pet Nutrition continues lab studies into the effects of different food formulas.
The company does perform research studies with live animals but says, “We only use compassionate, noninvasive methods.” In fact, Hill’s stresses that it “does not participate in studies that jeopardize the health of dogs and cats,” and says none of its studies on dogs or cats ever requires euthanasia.
The hundreds of canine and feline research subjects typically live their entire lives at the 170-acre Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center.
Whole Dog Journal said in a 2012 article that “while dog lovers might … be critical of Hill’s for keeping almost all of its ‘pet partners’ throughout their lifetimes, Hill’s points out that studying life-stage nutrition is critically important to the company.”
Dr. Scott Mickelsen, DVM, of the Hill’s research facility, explained:
“A 13-year-old dog or cat may have different nutritional requirements than a 7-year-old dog or cat. Disease frequency increases with age. If we adopted them out at 7 or 8 years, many of our foods designed to benefit older dogs and cats may not have been developed.”
Despite its decline in popularity, Hill’s Science Diet pet food continues to be recommended by veterinarians who praise the company’s ongoing commitment to research.
For example, in May 2020, Hill’s Pet Nutrition announced that, in partnership with Embark, it would research how to combat dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a form of heart disease. Because animals that are diagnosed early do well on medication, this new research enterprise will focus on identifying genetic factors.
In the next section below, we provide information about Hill’s Science Diet recalls over the years.
Has Hill’s Science Diet Ever Been Recalled?
Yes. Hill’s Science Diet has been recalled a number of times in recent years.
Most recently, in January 2019, Hill’s Pet Nutrition issued a massive, worldwide recall of 33 different varieties of its canned dog foods — 22 million cans recalled in all — because of toxic levels of Vitamin D, which Hill’s blamed on a “supplier error.”
The recall included both the Hill’s Science Diet and Hill’s Prescription Diet brand lines. However, no dry foods, cat foods or pet treats were included in the recall.
Reportedly hundreds of dogs died after eating the affected dog food. Families who spoke with Petful told us their dogs had been in good health, but then, within a matter of days, their pets’ well-being took a severe downturn, ending in kidney problems, kidney failure and, in some cases, death.
“We believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of pets have died or become seriously ill as a result of eating Hill’s foods with toxic levels of Vitamin D,” attorney Nyran Rose Rasche told CBS News.
Following an investigation into that recall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a warning letter (archived here) stating that Hill’s had failed to follow its own procedures. “A systematic failure of your food safety plan occurred that resulted in the recall of canned dog food,” the FDA said.
The FDA ordered Hill’s to take corrective actions and put the company on notice of future inspections.
In response, Hill’s said, “We care deeply about all pets and are committed to providing pet parents with safe and high-quality products.… We continue to cooperate with the FDA, including all inspections and requests for information.”
A consolidated lawsuit with about 300 named plaintiffs is being overseen by the U.S. District Court in Kansas City. The case is called In Re: Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. Dog Food Products Liability Litigation, case number 2:19-md-02887.
For more on the 2019 Science Diet/Prescription Diet recall, be sure to read our article about how families were left horrified and heartbroken.
Other Science Diet Recalls
In November 2015, Hill’s initiated a market withdrawal (not a recall) of certain Hill’s Science Diet canned pet foods for unknown reasons. We learned about this via a note posted in some PetSmart retail locations.
One consumer who contacted a Hill’s customer service representative and asked about the reason for the market withdrawal was told they “don’t have that information” but that the products were “perfectly safe.”
Per the FDA definition, a market withdrawal is issued when there are minor problems with the products, such as a labeling mistake, as has been speculated in this case.
The year before that, in June 2014, 62 bags of Hill’s Science Diet Adult Small & Toy Breed dry dog food were recalled in California, Hawaii and Nevada because of potential salmonella contamination.
In March 2007, Hill’s Science Diet was one of more than 100 brands included in a wide-ranging recall of pet food that the FDA and other food safety officials determined may contain melamine — a chemical used in plastics manufacture. Every single can of Hill’s Science Diet Savory Cuts cat food was recalled. Thousands of pets died in the wake of the Menu Foods/melamine recalls.
Our research team spent hours going through recall databases and news archives to find earlier recalls of Hill’s Science Diet. We didn’t find any, but we did uncover another dark chapter in this pet food’s history.
Way back in August 1987, a study published in the journal Science drew attention to the fact that thousands of cats had been dying every year from DCM, the fatal heart condition, because of an apparent taurine deficiency in popular cat foods at the time.
In the study, Dr. Paul D. Pion, DVM, DACVIM, and others observed cats who were diagnosed with DCM and had been fed popular commercial cat foods such as:
- Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d Multicare Feline
- Hill’s Prescription Diet h/d
- Hill’s Science Diet Maintenance
- Purina Cat Chow
- 9Lives Beef and Liver
- Carnation Fancy Feast Beef and Liver
- Blue Mountain Kitty O’s
Taurine deficiencies observed in the cats seemed like too much of a coincidence. Clearly, cats needed more taurine than was being provided by the foods at the time.
By the time the groundbreaking Science article was published, pet food makers like Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Ralston Purina had already begun changing their recipes to include higher levels of taurine.
No recall was ever issued, to our knowledge. However, the recipe reformulations brought about a dramatic decrease in the incidence of DCM in cats. A 1990 follow-up study using data from 2 veterinary hospitals found DCM in only 6% of cat patients, versus 28% of cats brought into the hospitals before the recipe changes went into effect.
Speaking at a 2019 “Science of Cats” summit, Dr. Pion shared that during the lead-up to publication in Science, he and his fellow researchers had faced “legal and other manipulations and threats from pet food companies trying to distance themselves.”
An executive from Hill’s Pet Nutrition, he recalled, “took the aggressive stance that this couldn’t be related to their diets and suggested, with impolite words, that our group was foolish and irresponsible for pursuing these investigations.”
And then, Dr. Pion added, “As other pet food companies were similarly implicated, we began receiving letters from their lawyers.”
On the positive side, he said, “I am glad that after this and other incidents, including the melamine pet food incident of 2007, our colleagues at pet food companies have often opted to take a more collaborative and open-minded approach when veterinarians suggest there may be a problem related to diets.”
Below, we list the full details of every single Hill’s Science Diet recall.
List of Hill’s Science Diet Recalls
Cause: Elevated levels of Vitamin D. Announcement: FDA report dated Jan. 31, 2019 (archived here); company webpage updated May 15, 2019 (archived here). What was recalled: In the United States, the following Hill’s Science Diet canned dog foods were recalled:
Hill’s Science Diet (canned dog food only):
- Hill’s Science Diet Puppy Chicken & Barley Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #7036, Lot #102020T12
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Beef & Barley Entrée, 13 oz., 12-pack, SKU #7039, Lot #092020T31 or 102020T21
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Chicken & Barley Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #7037, Lot #092020T22, or 102020T13, or 102020T14, or 112020T23, or 112020T24
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Turkey & Barley, 13 oz., SKU #7038, Lot #102020T06
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Chicken & Beef Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #7040, Lot #112020T10, or 112020T11, or 102020T13
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Light With Liver, 13 oz., SKU #7048, Lot #112020T19
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult Perfect Weight Chicken & Vegetable Entrée, 12.8 oz., 12-pack, SKU #2975, Lot #092020T28
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Chicken & Barley Entrée, 13o oz., SKU #7055, Lot #092020T31 or 102020T13
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Beef & Barley Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #7056, Lot #102020T28, or 092020T31, or 112020T20, or 112020T24
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Turkey & Barley Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #7057, Lot #112020T19
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Healthy Cuisine Braised Beef, Carrots & Peas Stew, 12.5 oz., SKU #10452, Lot #102020T28, or 102020T14, or 102020T21
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Healthy Cuisine Braised Beef, Carrots & Peas Stew, 12.5 oz., 12-pack, SKU #10451, Lot #102020T28
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Healthy Cuisine Roasted Chicken, Carrots & Spinach Stew, 12.5 oz., 12-pack, SKU #10449, Lot #092020T28
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Youthful Vitality Chicken & Vegetable Stew, 12.5 oz., SKU #10763, Lot #102020T04, or 102020T05, or 112020T11
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Small & Toy Breed Chicken & Barley Entrée, 5.8 oz., SKU #4969, Lot #102020T18
Note that Hill’s Prescription Diet canned dog food was also recalled. See our Prescription Diet page for details.
Of special note to anyone outside the United States:
“Impacted products outside of the United States will be subject to separate notices on the country-specific website. If you are outside of the United States, please check your own country’s Hill’s website for more information.”
Cause: Unknown “minor” issue, but possibly labeling issues. Announcement: Notice posted in select PetSmart stores, Nov. 28, 2015 (archived here). What was recalled: This was technically a market withdrawal rather than a recall. According to the FDA, a market withdrawal takes place “when a product has a minor violation that would not be subject to FDA legal action. The firm removes the product from the market or corrects the violation.”
All date codes of the following canned dog foods were withdrawn:
- Hill’s Science Diet Dog Adult Perfect Weight Chicken & Vegetables, 12.8 oz., SKU #5210092, UPC #5274229750
- Hill’s Ideal Balance Slim & Healthy Chicken, 12.8 oz., SKU #5210280, #UPC #5274230770
- Hill’s Science Diet Dog Small & Toy Adult Gourmet Beef Entrée, 5.8 oz., SKU #5092280, UPC #5274249660
- Hill’s Science Diet Dog Small & Toy Mature Gourmet Beef Entrée, 5.8 oz., SKU #5092282, UPC #5274249680
- Hill’s Science Diet Dog Adult Beef Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #5117274, UPC #5274270390
- Hill’s Science Diet Dog Adult Beef & Chicken Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #5117273, UPC #5274270400
- Hill’s Science Diet Dog Mature Gourmet Beef Entrée, 13 oz., SKU #5117275, UPC #5274270560
In addition, all date codes of one canned cat food were withdrawn:
- Hill’s Ideal Balance Slim & Healthy Chicken, 2.9 oz., SKU #5209202, #UPC #5274230780
Cause: Potential for salmonella. Announcement: FDA report dated June 2, 2014 (archived here). What was recalled: Hill’s Science Diet Adult Small & Toy Breed dry dog food with “best by” date and production code of #08 2015 M094 in the following size: 15.5 lb. bags with SKU #9097 (distributed in California, Hawaii and Nevada).
Cause: Melamine. Announcement: FDA report dated March 16, 2007 (archived here); company announcement dated March 27, 2007 (archived here). What was recalled: All Hill’s Science Diet Savory Cuts canned cat foods, which included the following in both 3 oz. and 5 oz. sizes:
- Hill’s Science Diet Ocean Fish Dinner in Sauce Savory Cuts Kitten
- Hill’s Science Diet Ocean Fish Dinner in Sauce Savory Cuts Adult
- Hill’s Science Diet Chicken Dinner in Gravy Savory Cuts Adult
- Hill’s Science Diet Beef Dinner in Gravy Savory Cuts Adult
- Hill’s Science Diet Chicken Dinner in Gravy Savory Cuts Mature Adult 7+
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