Predictive Biology: The Science Behind Our Pet Food

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Like most topics these days, pet nutrition has become a little divisive. With all the trends and changes in pet food, it can be difficult to know who or what to trust. All you want to do is find the best food for your dog or cat, so why does it have to be so complicated?

We hear you. At Hill’s, our commitment isn’t in the various trends other brands follow, but in the scientific data gathered from years of ongoing veterinary and nutritional research. Every Hill’s pet food is a collaboration between vets, scientists and pet nutritionists to ensure we are providing the best pet food for your dog or cat.

So, what does all this really mean? Well, it starts with a process called predictive biology. If you’re not a scientist or pet nutritionist, fear not — here’s our process behind making healthy, biology-based pet food products.


Vet and vet tech look at orange kitten on table.

Before any dog or cat food ever gets made, we refer to our never-ending study of pet biology. Just like humans, the biology of dogs and cats is the blueprint behind your pet’s life and their roadmap into a fully-grown pet. Learning about the inner processes, organs, neurological systems, blood, reproduction, development, and diseases of pets is essential for developing nutrition to optimise their health and wellbeing.

That’s where predictive biology comes into play. In this comprehensive approach, we study the essential roles that different ingredients and nutrients play in your pet’s health and biologic processes. We can break this research into three different areas.


Genes (made up of DNA) are the instructions needed to make the proteins and molecules essential for growth, development and health in all living things. DNA is what controls how big your dog will get, what colour your cat will be, what health conditions your pet might be predisposed to, and just about everything else. Studying the genetic makeup of pets allows us to understand what pieces of their DNA are associated with certain traits and what role they play in a dog or cat’s health.

A pet’s DNA plays a huge role in nutrition, too. It influences the hormones, enzymes, and proteins that make up your pet’s organs and tissues and control their digestion and metabolism. Genetic research helps us to determine how a pet will react to certain ingredients and nutrients, and tells us how your pet will metabolise (break down) certain foods and not others. For instance, genetics tells us why you can enjoy chocolate as a tasty treat, but it is toxic to a dog or cat.

So, how do we study pet DNA? We begin by taking a swab of a dog or cat’s cheek and look at the cells within the sample. With the help of some sophisticated machines, we are able to extract the DNA from the cells and study it. Through careful mapping, we are able to determine which pieces of a pet’s DNA affect which biological traits.


Genomics is the study of how ingredients and nutrients affect the genes of a living organism, i.e. your pet. Different ingredients and nutrients have the ability to change a gene's activity or expression, which is why it is so important to study this before ever formulating a pet food.

Think of genomics like a dimmer switch. Some nutrients can change the activity of genes in a metabolic pathway either by lowering (dimming) or increasing (brightening) their activity. By studying how genes react to different nutrients, we can determine the biological effects of our pet food formulations. We can do this either by observing cells in the lab, or by feeding the pet and observing changes.

Vet and vet tech examine a beagle on medical table.

All of this helps to determine which ingredients and nutrients should go into every bag, pouch and can of Hill’s Pet Foods.


The last method of research in understanding a pet's biology is the study of microbiomics, or the study of how bacteria inside your pet affect their health. 

Like all living organisms, dogs and cats have millions of bacteria growing in and on their bodies. When it comes down to it, we’re not just feeding your pet — we’re also feeding the bacteria inside of your pet. 

Within this community, different bacteria can affect your pet’s health in different ways. By studying these tiny microbes, we can determine which bacteria are important, what they’re doing, and whether they have a positive or negative effect on your pet’s health.

So, what does this determination process look like? We typically start by collecting stool samples of pets to examine the bacteria found inside. This gives us a good indication of the microbes that live inside a pet’s gastrointestinal tract. The microbes are then mapped against a global database of known bacteria.

By understanding what microbes live inside your pet, we can formulate healthy pet food that influences the microbiome and supports the beneficial bacteria your pet needs to stay healthy.


The data compiled by our scientists and nutritionists forms the basis of how we create a Science Plan® pet food. Whether we’re creating better hairball control for your feline friend, or supporting healthy brain function for your older dog, the process of predictive biology is how we ensure their food is effective.

Vet tech pooring food from scoop into food bowl.

But healthy foods have to be tasty too, so we put in just as much research effort to understand what pets love to eat to ensure our recipes taste delicious. When we develop our innovative nutritional products, we conduct taste preference tests with dogs and cats at our Global Pet Nutrition Centre (PNC) so that they can tell us which recipe is best. 

Our pet partners have a great home at the PNC, where we provide them with optimal care, quality nutrition, mental and physical exercise, excellent veterinary care, socialisation with other pets and people, and lots of love every day. We believe that the ability to choose and have flexibility in how they spend their free time is important to their overall health and wellbeing. Many of our pet partners are enrolled in taste preference evaluations, where they’re allowed to choose from one of two meals and decide which one they prefer. This helps our product developers design foods that are nutritious and delicious.

No matter what you feed your dog or cat, we know that you love them and are looking to do what’s best for them. That’s the same feeling that launched Hill’s Pet Nutrition over 70 years ago. It’s why we tirelessly research and formulate innovative Science Plan pet foods that make your pet healthier and happier. When we start with science, the end result is biology-based nutrition that your dog or cat is sure to love.