Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. has an interesting nutrition philosophy and it's one they are working on spreading to veterinarians and pet parents alike: "What's important is what the (petfood) ingredients contain, not the ingredient name." Hill's was founded by veterinarian Marc Morris Sr., who created the first therapeutic petfood for dogs, according to the company. According to the American Animal Hospital Association only 7% of pets that could benefit from a therapeutic food are actually on such a regimen.

AAHA also reports that 90% of pet owners want a nutritional recommendation during a vet visit, but only 15% of them perceive being given one. In order to close this wide gap and give veterinarians a roadmap to implementing a nutritional assessment and specific nutrition recommendation on each visit, AAHA released the Nutritional Assessment Guidelines for Dogs and Cats in July 2010. Recently, Hill's developed their own Nutrition Reference Manual meant to be used as a veterinarian resource to answer questions and concerns, and to help initiate the often difficult and touchy subject of proper nutrition for clients' pets.

"We want to sell our brands where we know consumers are receiving education on why our formulas are made the way they are," explains Neil Thompson, president and CEO of Hill's. The Manual includes in-depth but concise sections on topics like lifestages of dogs and cats, feeding amounts, how to properly transition a new food into a pet's diet, helpful definitions of terms like 'holistic' and 'by-products', how to understand petfood labels and information about unconventional diets. Dr. Dana Cox of Smith Veterinary Hospital had this to say about AAHA and Hill's partnership and push to make nutritional assessments part of every pet visit: "It's my strong belief that nutrition really plays a huge part in the overall health of animals, and it's our job to help people understand that."

Aiding in Hill's nutrition pursuits are the company's extensive research and efforts in the fields of palatability and nutrigenomics. At the Hill's Pet Nutrition Center in Topeka, Kansas, USA resident dogs and cats assist researchers in palatability tests using solvent-assisted flavor evaporation, dynamic head space and GC-mass, spectrometry and olfactometry techniques. In the field of nutrigenomics, gene expression "heat" maps are used to measure and regulate expressions to derive statistical analysis of diseases and the effect nutrition and diet has upon them. Applied nutrigenomics were used in the research for the recently released Feline Age-Defying Science Diet formula with clinically-proven results, according to the company.

So what does the future look like to Hill's? "We are very interested in the link between oral care and systematic health," says Thompson. "The age-defying market is also very important to the future of Hill's brands." The company would also like to expand its current wet food portfolio and design the diets to be mixed and matched with their dry formulas. But nutrition and ingredients will continue to remain the main focus of Hill's Pet Nutrition, asserts Thompson. "Closing the nutrition recommendation gap between vets and their knowledge is the first step. Informed veterinary students in the future will see nutrition as medicine and therapy, they will look for schools with a nutrition curriculum," he says. "The expansion of the influence of nutrition is the cornerstone of the future for Hill's."

Business Basics

Headquarters: Topeka, Kansas, USA

Sales: US$2.2 billion in 2010

Distribution: Hill's brands are available in more than 90 countries across the globe.

Brands: Hill's Prescription Diet, Hill's Science Diet and Hill's Science Plan

Facilities: Topeka and Emporia, Kansas, USA; Richmond, Indiana, USA; Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA; Etten Leur, The Netherlands; Hustopece, Czech Replublic

Employees: About 3,000

Website: hillspet.com