When your dog is diagnosed with a disease that requires diet change, a vet may recommend a prescription dog food brand.
These foods are costly.
Sometimes, it’s your only option, but only sometimes.
Here’s what you probably didn’t know about prescription dog foods
Prescription Dog Food: 16 Things You Didn’t Know
What Are Your Dog’s Needs?
Sometimes your dog will need a significant change in his diet, whether due to allergies, new or older health conditions, a sensitive stomach, or other reasons.
If you (and your pet) are in this position, start by looking into veterinary products and over-the-counter solutions for different dog food diets before deciding what’s right for you and your dog.
Do your own research using your vet’s diagnosis as a starting point.
There’s a lot of misinformation floating around the internet about pet nutrition.
Research, learning, and understanding are essential to avoid being duped into something you don’t need.
Even though your vet will often advise prescription dog food diets for specific illnesses, you most likely don’t need to buy these expensive dog food brands.
That’s just reality.
I’ll explain why below, but mostly it comes down to the fact that there are good foods for the money that are formulated similarly to prescription foods.
Differences Between Over-the-Counter and Prescription Dog Food Diets
Obviously, prescription veterinary dog foods are only available from veterinarians.
Prescription dog food manufacturers are regulated by a patchwork of individual state feed control officials under the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Other labeling standards are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) for prescription pet food diets and over-the-counter products.
If a product says, it can prevent or treat a disease, research to prove it should be submitted to the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) under the FDA.
Sadly, many dog foods use more general terms to get around that.
They will say they support and promote good health in dogs rather than making specific medical claims.
Pet owners, in the meantime, assume this will help their dogs with a specific disease, which is often not the case.
The bottom line is to be vigilant, read those labels closely, and do research.
Pet Food is Big Business for Veterinary Clinics
I’ve written this article before about how closely related veterinary clinics and vets are to pet food manufacturers and how they work together.
It’s important to be aware that your veterinarian may have a vested interest in getting you to buy prescription dog food diets at their clinic.
Moreover, it might surprise you that many vets only have basic animal nutrition education.
Since the 1980s, pet food sales have bumped their profits significantly.
The trend peaked between 2000-2005, as pet food costs increased by more than 30 percent.
This stalled sales, pushing pet food manufacturers to become even more involved in veterinary care to stay in the loop.
We need to voice our concern over this and remain skeptical.
Pet Food Manufacturers, Retailers and Veterinary Chains are Sometimes Connected
Some large pet goods retailers in the USA own certain veterinary chains. This makes vet hospitals the largest veterinary chains in the country.
According to Banfield Pet Hospital, Mars is the owner of Banfield Pet Hospital and Blue Pearl under its veterinary health division.
These are separate from its pet care division, which includes prescription and over-the-counter pet food (source).
As these multinationals are showing the way to higher profits, other pet food conglomerates are following their example and buying up veterinary clinics too.
Prescription Pet Food Manufacturers are Sometimes Sued for Price-fixing
Due to the incestuous nature of the prescription dog food business, it is easy to falsely promote its use, and control its price.
The following companies have been named in a lawsuit accusing them of conspiring to do so, illegally:
- Nestle Purina,
- Mars Petcare,
- Hill’s Pet Nutrition,
- Banfield Pet Hospital and
- BluePearl Vet.
The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit want restitution, treble damages, and to stop how the defendants market their prescription pet food diets.
Prescription Dog Food Doesn’t Contain Drugs That Require a Prescription, All by Themselves
Another bone of contention is that prescription dog food diets (as well as cat foods) shouldn’t need a prescription at all, since they contain no special drugs, controlled substances, or unique ingredients, compared to over the counter products.
Many aren’t even evaluated by the FDA.
Since the product comes with a prescription, most pet owners assume it will treat and prevent health problems better than what’s available over the counter.
Many dog owners also fear the consequences for not following their veterinarian’s advice, giving the products what’s argued as an unfair advantage.
PetSmart Allegedly May be Illegally Charging Tax On Prescription Animal Foods
A lot of pet food manufacturers have been in hot water over the last few years.
PetSmart has a separate and unrelated class action lawsuit against them.
They were sued because their receipts show that prescription pet food is non-taxable, but tax is still charged.
Plaintiffs want sustained monetary compensation, court costs, and further relief from the court, but looking at the history of how these things turn out, it doesn’t look good for the pet owners either way.
Pet Food Labels Aren’t Always Accurate
Did you know that what you read on the label of your dog’s food isn’t always the truth?
Both prescription dog food brands and over the counter pet food can be contaminated with ingredients not on the label, and the FDA doesn’t seem to have an issue with that.
For example, the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition published a study in 2011 where three of the four soy-free, venison pet foods they tested had soy in them.
One pet food product had unlisted beef in it as well.
Hydrolyzed Proteins in Prescription and Specialty Foods May Contain Meat Byproducts and Feathers
A product’s price and the quality of its ingredients don’t always follow each other like consumers might expect.
Some special over-the-counter and prescription dog food brands use hydrolyzed meat, particularly allergen-free and limited ingredient formulas.
This is also known as feather meal.
The feathers and other meat-by-products are broken down into basic amino acids under very high heat, and then “palletizers” are added to make it taste more attractive.
The theory behind this is that some pets are sensitive to certain kinds of intact animal protein. Still, such problems are often caused by poor quality protein and other ingredients in many pet foods in the first place.
The digestibility of the resulting amino acids is different from the essential nutrients’ bioavailability, though.
Along with other ingredients not natural for our pet’s bodies, like corn, wheat, soy, potato, and other starches, the resulting products are not biologically appropriate or nourishing, according to some experts.
They create waste products in the blood that the kidneys and liver have to deal with.
Dogs and cats fed too much, or only dry pet food, are dehydrated at a low level.
That’s hard on their organs and results in many diseases in dogs.
Let’s cover a few most common diseases and health issues in dogs and when prescription dog food is often advised for these illnesses.
You’ll also discover how you can pick alternative or even better dog food brands that are not expensive prescription dog food diets).
Kidney Disease & Chronic Renal Failure Foods
Dogs with kidney disease and renal failure required a very specific dog food diet.
Prescription dog food diets for kidney and heart diseases are common solutions prescribed by veterinarians, as well as some weight loss and senior dog food formulas.
But expensive prescription dog foods aren’t the only way to go in this case.
The safest option for dogs with renal problems are high quality foods with moderate to low levels of protein.
These foods must also have little to no phosphorus and sodium. There are plenty of low-protein dog foods that fit well and will not cost you an arm and a leg.
Homemade dog food (specifically designed for dogs with kidney problems) may also be a great treatment, although it often turns out to be more expensive than store brands.
Allergy Diets and Gastrointestinal Disease Dog Foods
Many dog breeds are very susceptible to allergies and gastrointestinal diseases.
As a result of these diseases, symptoms in dogs may include skin problems, allergies, intolerances, or gastrointestinal issues.
Once you see these symptoms and visit your veterinarian, you’ll be advised prescription dog food, but you don’t actually need it.
To fight this, look for limited ingredient dog foods and novel protein formulas.
Hydrolyzed protein dog diets are a common solution for this, but a controversial one.
Moderate or low fat and soluble fiber levels are often recommended for dogs with these problems; however, some pets may need more fiber, not less.
There are special products for Inflammatory Bowel Disease, but trial and error is often needed to find the right diet.
Foods for Canine Arthritis, Hip & Joint Problems and Diseases
Canine arthritis is a disease that most dog owners fear as their pet ages.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent it or alleviate the symptoms using a proper diet.
One proven way is giving fish oil to dogs.
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), which have been shown in clinical trials to be highly effective against canine arthritis and joint problems (source).
Some supplements for dogs with arthritis will also contain glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and vitamins, all of which are the key ingredients to a healthy diet for dogs.
New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels are popular, too, for their glycosaminoglycans.
But when it comes to prescription dog food, it’s a bit different.
The dog’s weight must be carefully controlled, so always check the number of calories and portion size.
Over-the-counter and prescription dog food senior formulas, large breed puppy foods, or other diets for joint support are usually “recommended.”
But glucosamine and chondroitin levels in prescription dog food diets are usually so low that they may have little or no effect whatsoever (source).
Therefore, it’s a waste of money.
Furthermore, they’ve never even been approved by the FDA or AAFCO as pet food ingredients.
These supplements don’t get approved because there isn’t enough scientific evidence that they prevent or treat joint issues or arthritis in cats and dogs.
The dose is also challenging to control if your pet doesn’t always finish his food.
Weight Control & Diabetes Management Dog Food Brands
Obesity and weight problems in dogs are becoming increasingly common in the US.
But choosing a costly weight loss prescription dog food diet isn’t your only option.
You need to know that the key to weight loss in dogs without starving them is choosing the right type of nutrients that will keep them full and satisfied.
Higher fiber will always make dogs (as well as humans) feel more full without more calories. Between 200-300 calories per cup are common.
It also slows digestion, which is excellent for maintaining steady blood glucose levels.
In addition, some dogs’ weight will improve with high protein diets that are very low in carbohydrates.
This will require some thinking and calculating on your part.
If you’re not up for it, prescription dog food formulas are made specifically for dogs with diabetes and glucose control.
Senior Prescription Dog Food vs. Over-the-Counter Diets
I have written before about why you must always consider your dog’s age before picking the correct type of diet.
Senior dogs will need specific nutrition to keep them healthy.
As indicated above, fish oil will be highly beneficial to senior dogs.
Omega-3s help with joints and arthritis in older dogs. These fatty acids and antioxidants support dogs’ brain health and many other bodily functions.
Most senior dog foods will contain these ingredients.
Low-fat and calorie recipes are usually advised for older dogs, but not all senior pets are overweight.
Thus, some senior dogs may need the opposite.
Many of these prescription dog foods will include glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for the joints, but remember what I said about these additives above (i.e., they may not necessarily work).
Urinary Tract Disease and Kidney Stones Dog Foods
Problems with urinary tract disease and kidney stones are less prevalent, but they’re still around, and you should know how to change your pet’s diet if you encounter this.
Wet dog food is the best choice in these cases due to the higher level of liquids.
Canned dog food will dilute the urine better than kibble.
Prescription dog food is specific to the type of minerals found in a urinalysis or the stones.
Over-the-counter solutions for these issues are rare, so in this case, prescription brands may be the way to go.
Cardiac Diets for Dogs
This is another issue that senior dogs are more likely to have. Still, not all veterinarian-recommended prescription dog food diets will work to deal with this.
Kidney and geriatric prescription diets and dog heart disease-specific products are sometimes recommended.
Low sodium is the common factor in these dog food recipes.
Still, there isn’t much scientific evidence proving its benefits for hypertension in dogs.
Its effects are even doubtful in human blood pressure, other than in rare individuals sensitive to sodium (source).
Taurine and Carnitine are two ingredients with possible (but still unproven) benefits for heart disease in dogs, and fish oil with omega-3 fatty acids.
Prescription Dog Food: A Final Word
My contention in this article is not that veterinarians aren’t essential partners in the treatment and prevention of health problems of our dogs.
You should never try to diagnose issues yourself, no matter how tempting that is with the ease of use of the internet.
But, since it is a partnership, you need to do your part.
Always read dog food labels, then talk to your vet about anything you don’t understand, especially the ingredients.
Ask them specific questions and address your concerns.
Your veterinarian’s responses will tell you a lot about how much they know about canine nutrition and the product they recommend for your dog.
Follow that up with your own research, checking for:
- The quality of the ingredients;
- If the protein, fat, and calorie level is good;
- If the ingredients are natural and biologically appropriate for canines;
- Where the ingredients come from;
- Where the food made;
- Who it’s actually made by;
- Does the company outsource or share manufacturing plants with others;
- How it’s made and if nutrients are destroyed or difficult to absorb;
- The recall history of the product line;
- The history of the parent corporation and/or the manufacturer;
- Whether the product has gone through food trials;
- Any research to support the food’s or its key ingredients’ effectiveness;
- Customer and professional reviews and/or complaints about the product;
- Outstanding and settled lawsuits against the parent company or those who make that specific brand of dog food.
If your pet’s health doesn’t improve after a few weeks, it might not be the right product.
He might do better with supplements or a different approach.
Every pet is different, and it might take trial and error to find the best way to help your dog.
Never feel you’re limited to the products available from your specific veterinarian.
There are many health products for dogs, and the numbers are constantly growing.
Most importantly, if you don’t see any positive changes and your veterinarian does not address that, go to a different vet clinic or find a better professional.
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