Hill’s Science Diet “age defying” cat-food claims are questionable

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Hill’s Pet Nutrition has come out with a pet-food product that makes senior cats “act and feel younger in 30 days,” the company claims. According to Hill’s, its Science Diet Senior 11+ Age Defying cat food is formulated with nutrient “bundles” that have the ability to make a cat feel younger.

Such claims raise eyebrows, of course, but the company’s response to our inquiries about this product did nothing to alleviate skepticism.

The product’s main ingredients are found in many standard pet foods: brewers rice, chicken-byproduct meal, corn gluten meal and whole-grain corn. Hill’s Science Diet product has an “exclusive antioxidant bundle” that sets it apart. The nutrient blend includes L-carnitine, fish oil, phosphorous and amino acids, all of which generally are believed to support muscle mass, cognitive function and organ health, particularly the bladder, but company officials never explain how these additional ingredients actually cause an older cat to act more youthful.

Paul Cleland, who is a veterinarian at Hill’s, told Consumers Digest that “by incorporating precise levels of key nutrients into the food, this formula provides a multitude of benefits to help a cat act younger in 30 days.”

Keep in mind that the addition of antioxidants in pet foods has been neither proven beneficial nor endorsed by Association of Feed Control Officers. The organization found that no valid reason exists for pet-food manufacturers to assume that antioxidants are as beneficial to pets as they are to humans, as Consumers Digest reported in “Begging for the Truth: ‘Premium’ Pet Food’s Unproven Claims,” in our March/April 2011 issue.

Also, Hill’s has no third-party verification of its age-defying claims, because neither Food and Drug Administration nor any other federal agency regulates pet food, according to the article. Oversight of pet foods is done on a state-by-state basis, but the marketing claims that manufacturers make aren’t tested or monitored.

Jane Brunt, who is a veterinarian who specializes in cats, concedes to the importance of the fact that pet food isn’t subject to federal regulation, but points out that many established pet-food companies, including Hill’s, conduct research and testing on their products before they are introduced to the market to make sure that they are nutritious.

“Main companies like Purina and Hill’s are ones that have their own research centers … those are the ones that typically have higher levels of quality control and are making sure that the pets’ needs are being met,” Brunt says.

When we asked Cleland how it was confirmed that Senior 11+ Age Defying makes older pets act younger in 30 days, his response left us unimpressed: 193 cat owners were recruited through a national consumer panel to feed their senior cat the product for 30 days; and then answered survey questions; 50 percent said they noticed that their cat was acting more agile and interacted with the owner more. Obviously, this falls short of quantitative data.

Brunt stresses that older cats have specific age-related nutritional requirements and that cat owners should consult their veterinarian to determine their aging pet’s individual dietary needs.

“What is important is that people have a relationship with their veterinarian and make sure that they understand what their cat’s life stage is and what their health condition is,” she says.

– K. Fanuko