Monday, September 15, 2014

Dog Food Review: Hill's Ideal Balance

Years ago, I wrote off Hill's as a company that strictly produces foods that are mediocre at best. When they came out with their Ideal Balance line I was curious and looked over the ingredients. However, it took a sale for me to actually buy any of their products. I grabbed a twenty-one pound bag of one of the grain free foods, thinking it would be the best choice for Ebon as he tends to do better on higher protein foods. I also purchased an entire flat of cans that was extraordinarily cheap at the time. As I treat canned food for the dog the same way as I do ice cream for myself, the flat is taking some time to get rid of. To begin, let's look at the kibble:

Hill's Ideal Balance Grain Free Natural Chicken & Potato Recipe Adult
Dog Food Advisor Rating: ★★★☆☆ This food is AAFCO approved for adult maintenance.†

Ingredients: Chicken, Potato, Yellow Peas, Pea Protein Concentrate, Potato Starch, Chicken Fat, Chicken Meal, Dried Beet Pulp, Chicken Liver Flavor, Lactic Acid, Flaxseed, Vegetable & fruit blend (Green Peas, Apples, Cranberries, Carrots, Broccoli), Iodized Salt, Potassium Chloride, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Phosphoric Acid, Beta-Carotene, Natural Flavors.

Items in italics will be discussed later.

Bag's recommended daily feeding for a dog 80 lbs: 3 1/3 to 4 2/3 cups
Crude Protein: minimum of 24.2%*
Crude Fat: minimum of 20.1%*
Crude Fiber: maximum of 1.5%*
Moisture: maximum of 10.0%
 * These dry matter values are from the company website. They are lower when taking into account the food is 10% moisture. 
Calorie content: 419 kcal/cup, 3891 kcal/kg
Calculated amount to maintain Ebon's ideal weight (82.5 lbs): 3.98 cups or 0.43 kg (0.946 lbs)
Price per pound when buying the largest bag (21 lbs at $42.99): $2.047
Estimated cost of feeding Ebon per year on this food: $706.86 (16.442 of the 21 lb bags)
Ebon receives slightly less than the calculated feeding amount to allow for his daily treats
Ebon's overall health on this food: Good. Energy level as expected. Poop mostly compact, but would soften after exercise. Coat and skin a little dry.

The kibble is on the small side and the fairly typical fat disc shape seen in so many dry foods. The food doesn't smell very meaty and, in fact, doesn't smell very nice. The lack of chelated minerals isn't exactly ideal as the chelated form allows the nutrients to be more easily absorbed by the animal's body. I am disappointed by the lack of probiotics/microorganisms. These help maintain healthy gut flora, allowing for better digestion.

Chicken is the first ingredient, which is nice to see, but it is followed by two carbohydrate-heavy ingredients in the form of potatoes and yellow peas. Also close after these is potato starch, which is similarly heavy in carbohydrates. Peas are surprisingly high in carbs for a vegetable, so the placement of both potatoes and peas so high on the list of ingredients makes me suspicious that there really isn't as much chicken in this food as the company may want you to think. Also supporting this theory is the placement of pea protein concentrate as the forth ingredient. This is a protein booster, making it likely that a significant portion of the 24.2% protein the company states does not come from an animal source. This is somewhat problematic as plant proteins can be deficient in essential amino acids. While vegetables are not necessarily a problematic addition to a canine's diet, far from it, it is very important to make sure that the dog is getting enough of the amino acids that their bodies cannot make on their own.

Speaking of protein, for a grain free food, this kibble is surprisingly low in it. Usually, the dry matter protein content is closer to 30%. As Ebon has a history of doing best on higher than average protein foods, this is a negative in my book.

I also don't really like seeing any sort of flavoring in a food. I believe that a dog should be willing to eat a food without having to boost the flavor somehow. Since this food appears to be meat-light, I think this is why it has flavoring: to get dogs to think it is a meaty treat.

Unfortunately, as Ebon's tenth birthday nears, his overall energy level is dropping, making it more difficult to ascertain energy differences that could potentially be coming from diet. Though still getting plenty of exercise, he is tiring more easily compared to his younger self.

I don't have very positive feelings about this kibble. It has several negatives when it comes to traits I prefer to see in a food. As such, I am far less likely to want to feed it again. Surprisingly, this food is not rated any better than the grain-inclusive variant, which is fairly unusual in the dog food world.

Now, let's look at the cans.


Hill's Ideal Balance Savory Venison & Vegetables Recipe
Dog Food Advisor Rating: ★★★☆☆ This food is AAFCO approved for adult maintenance.†

Ingredients: Beef Broth, Venison, Chicken, Pork Liver, Brown Rice, Carrots, Modified Rice Starch, Potato Starch, Dextrose, Pork Plasma, Pea Protein, Potatoes, Pea Fiber, Peas, Chicken Fat, Flaxseed, Chicken Liver Flavor, Spinach, Potassium Chloride, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Caramel Color, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Sulfate, Potassium Iodide), vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid), Choline Chloride, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C), Beta Carotene.

Crude Protein: minimum of 34.5%*
Crude Fat: minimum of 19.7%*
Crude Fiber: maximum of 33.5%*
Moisture: maximum of 82.0%
 * These dry matter values are from the company website. They are lower when taking into account the food is 82% moisture. 
Calorie content: 315 kcal/can
Calculated amount to maintain Ebon's ideal weight (82.5 lbs): 5.29 cans
Price per can when buying a case/flat of cans (12 cans at $23.99): $1.999
Estimated cost of feeding Ebon per year on this food alone: $3860.09 (1930.85 cans)

As I feed canned food as a treat, I am not necessarily as strict about contents as I generally am about what's in kibble. Overall, this food isn't necessarily bad. It's nice that the protein that is named on the can is indeed the first protein on the ingredients list, something that isn't true for a significant number of other canned food products.

Ebon does quite like the food, but he gets incredibly excited about food in general. I've only rarely found things he turns his muzzle up at.

However, there are also some other ingredients that aren't my favorite: starches (boosting the food's overall carbohydrate content), sweeteners (dextrose in this case, to make it more appetizing), protein boosters (see above kibble review for my opinion on pea protein), flavoring (see above again), and colorants. I absolutely loathe the addition of colorants to pet food as the pet doesn't give a flying flip what the food looks like. It's all about smell, taste, and texture to them. The coloring is added to appeal to the owner's senses, which is a bit ridiculous. It also implies that they're faking something because they can't make it look right because they aren't using good enough ingredients or preparation techniques.

Yes, I know pork plasma is an ingredient. While it sounds gross, it isn't exactly strange or wrong for it to be a part of a food, and may have been used as a thickener. At least they specify what it is instead of labeling it as some mystery animal product.

Conclussions


Overall, I'm still not fond of Hill's pet products. It's true, the Ideal Balance foods are better than some of their other products (I'm mainly critical of their use of questionable ingredients in prescription foods), but for me they're still borderline on the "will I feed it" criteria. Considering the quality of their prescription foods, which I can imagine is a huge part of their profits, I would prefer to not support them as a company unless they can improve the foods that are being prescribed to many sick pets. I really doubt a diet that mainly consists of corn and a series of named and unnamed byproducts is going to help a dog's mobility any more than a food made of higher quality ingredients.

† "Adult" is defined as ages one through six. Though Ebon will be ten years old in January, I do not feed him foods specifically formulated for seniors and I have no plans to begin doing so any time soon.

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