Science Diet Is Vet-Recommended: Is That Good Enough?

Alameda, CA - May 15, 2020: Adorable black and white tuxedo kitten standing on can of Science Diet Liver and Chicken entree kitten food. On wood table, isolated on white.

Key Points

  • Some pet foods don't contain corn, wheat, soy, or by-products.

  • Domesticated cats have changed very little from their wild ancestors.

  • Homemade cat food allows you to control the ingredients your cat eats.

  • Holistic veterinary offices practice a more naturalistic approach to animal treatment.

You want to keep your cat healthy and nutrition is important to assure your feline's health. Of course, you want to provide the best food available. If you ask your veterinarian for recommendations on what to feed the cat, do you take their recommendation?

Science Diet pet food is in many veterinary offices across the country. It's often the only brand available in their offices.

I believe in having options. Is Hill's Science Diet the best for every cat within every breed? It seems unlikely.

science making cat food

Prescription Diets

There are prescription healthy diets for cats to address specific medical issues. This is an entirely different ballgame.

I'm not opposed to going to the doctor or taking your animal to the vet. If some medical issues or conditions arise, try to remedy them.

Some male cats have a diagnosis of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which requires medication to break up crystallites in their bladder. Hill's Science Diets for Cats makes a very high-priced urinary care formula that does this.

However, Purina's One Plus Urinary Tract Health Formula has a low level of magnesium that does the same thing. It also costs much less.

Is it as effective? It's difficult to judge. The package has a stamp that says "Veterinarian Recommended."

So, if vets recommend both brands of food, which is the right one to feed?

Science: Fact or Opinion?

The trouble with putting all your faith in science is that two different researchers may come up with scientific "proof" of results for the same type of research. Sometimes these results conflict with one another.

An example of this is the studies and advice during the 2020-2022 COVID pandemic. There were debates about how to handle COVID-19 and its variants. Mask or no mask? Vaccinations or natural immunity? There is scientific evidence to support both sides, yet they're opposing views.

How is this true?

In America, tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy (T&A) was once a common practice. In fact, according to an article by Gerald N Grob, published in the National Library of Medicine, "Between 1915 and the 1960s, T&A was the most frequently performed surgical procedure in the United States."

Around 1945, debates began about the effectiveness and validity of tonsillectomy. In 2023, it's no longer a standard operating procedure.

Did science change? Not exactly. New information came to light and opinions changed as well.

In veterinary science — and human medicine — opinions differ. Some vets believe a more naturalistic approach is healthier for your pet. Some vets practice holistic medicine and use methods like acupressure, acupuncture, massage therapy, herbal remedies, and a more limited diet.

These vets went to medical school and learned feline anatomy, as did other vet students with a different philosophy of treatment. Yet, they are open to discovering alternative methods of treatment for your pet. In many cases, these holistic methods are just as effective without being invasive or requiring medication.

science diet cat food on shelf

Financial Influence

Another aspect to think about is money.

I'm not accusing vets of basing their decisions on financial gain, but the fact that Hill's Science Diet is the only brand sold in their offices is rather unusual. I hate to think that money is an influential factor in recommendations, but money seems to run much of our lives as consumers.

I'm not privy to the contracts between the company and vet offices. There may be a stipulation that prevents selling other brands along with Hill's Science Diet. However, such contracts don't exist in pet food stores.

I worked in a pet and livestock store for several years. We sold several different brands of cat food, including Hill's Science Diet, but didn't recommend it to people. The only reason it was on our shelves was that it was what certain customers insisted on feeding.

We also offered it at a lower price than vet offices.

If you decide to feed Hill's Science Diet, look at pet stores that carry it. You may find it cheaper there.

Why We Didn't Recommend It

When you look at the ingredient list on the side panel of Hill's Science Diet pet food, you see a long list with many things you don't recognize. There are some ingredients you do recognize, like whole grain corn, corn gluten meal, whole grain wheat, and brewers rice. In other words, fillers.

The dry kibble is high in carbohydrates. This doesn't mesh well with cats, who are obligate carnivores. The canned food is a little better but read the ingredient list. It's difficult to see pate as meat.

Purina Mills makes a brand of cat and dog food called Exclusive. It contains no corn, wheat, soy, or by-product. Diamond pet food makes a very similar line called Diamond Naturals. Blue Buffalo's ingredients are also similar but this brand tends to be very expensive.

The point is, you must do your research. Pet foods other than Hill's Science Diet exist that are good for your cat. Just because one expert recommends a particular brand doesn't mean it's the only — or even best — option available.

If your doctor recommends a major surgery, do you automatically lie down on the operating table? I advise getting a second opinion, as I'm not excited by the idea of going under the knife.

Calico cat with owner and small dish of cat food.

Homemade Cat Food

There are "vet-approved" homemade recipes for cat food online. The benefit of these is you know exactly what's going into your cat's food. If you don't want all of those fillers and artificial flavors or coloring, don't put it in there.

Some of these recipes include chicken, spinach, and quinoa, or turkey and squash blended into a pate. One I found included beef and carrots.

Do cats eat carrots? Mine doesn't.

My cat was on a prescription diet and I tried the Hill's Science Diet canned food that contained, among other things, carrots. My cat picked at it and eventually ate most of it, but left the carrots.

Every cat is different and each may be open to eating something that others don't.

Less Is More

We're told by fitness experts and dieticians to look at the ingredients of the food we buy. We're told to avoid artificial flavors, colors, and other additives.

Are we as conscientious when it comes to cat food labels for our feline companions?

Dr. Ihor Basko has been practicing holistic veterinary medicine for over 35 years in Hawaii. He was one of the first to study the effectiveness of acupuncture in animals at UCLA and is one of the founders of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association.

"Commercial cat food is missing many important ingredients, and contains high amounts of chemicals that can suppress the immune system, and cause cancer, diabetes, allergies, and liver and kidney disease," Basko says,

I understand the desire to provide the best care possible for our cats and extend their lives. However, in our efforts to do so, we may do more harm than good.

It's difficult to say what prompts certain diseases like cancer; even a vet doesn't know for sure.

Perhaps the key to a cat's best health isn't adding more and more to their diet, but going back to basics.

Some pet food companies have a limited ingredient line, like Taste of the Wild Prey. Even with this food, supplements are added. Some preservatives are necessary, especially in dry food, to maintain a decent shelf life.

Closeup of dry cat food mix.

Back to Nature

Think about whether a more naturalistic approach is healthier when considering your cat's nutrition.

In a Reddit post on June 30, 2023, one cat owner asked about treating their cat holistically. One reply mentioned Yunnan Baiyao — a traditional Chinese medicine made from various roots and plants. It's used topically for wound healing, as a pain reliever, and to stop internal bleeding.

Its use in humans is common, but vet offices are now using it as well. If you have a cat with any of the issues noted above, ask your vet if they recommend it.

Many other herbal remedies exist as well. Calming healthy cat treats use natural ingredients like chamomile, valerian, hempseed oil, and lavender.

Is it necessary for your cat to rely on synthetic supplements to achieve longevity? Do cats need us to supply them with complete nutrition to survive?

Cats Don't Need Us

The truth is, cats don't need us. They've survived for centuries without human intervention. If we suddenly turn cats loose in the wild, their hunting instincts kick in. They hunt birds, mice, rabbits, and other small rodents.

The belief is that humans brought cats aboard ships to control rodent infestations, which is also true of agricultural communities. It's widely known that Egyptians revered cats and most likely used them for the same purposes. As they stored grain, this attracted rodents, which then attracted cats.

In an article published in the Human Relations Area Files of Yale University, Jeffrey Vadala points out that "cats have lived as undomesticated alongside human societies for much longer than previously thought. This means that unlike dogs, whose DNA diverged when they were domesticated from wolves, domesticated cats have changed relatively little from their wild relatives."

You may take a cat out of the wild, but you never fully take the wild out of a cat.

Food Isn't Everything

When focusing on their nutrition, don't neglect other aspects of their health. It's also essential to provide your cat with plenty of mental and physical stimulation.

If your cat is strictly indoors, provide ways for them to stay active with cat trees, toys, and playtime with you. Give them food puzzles and safe toys to occupy them while you're away. Make sure you address all aspects of their health.

Science diet cat food on shelf

Vet-Recommended, But Owner-Selected

I'm not a veterinarian. I'm not telling you which cat food to choose for your feline. What I am saying is, there are options for you to explore and consider.

Do your research before making a decision. Talk to vets and animal nutritionists and listen to what they have to say.

If it makes sense for you to feed Hill's Science Diet, by all means, do so. If you find another option that seems healthier, then consider it.

The bottom line is you want to do what's best for your cat and ensure they live their best and healthiest life. It may require a little research into which cat food has the optimal nutrition level needed. Then again, you may not find anything that satisfies you and decide to make your own.

Whatever your choice, do what's best for your cat so they live a long and happy life.

*The opinions in this article are not meant to substitute the advice given by your primary veterinarian or animal nutritionist.

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