Prescription Pet Food Diets

As many of you already know, I provide Pet Nutrition Consultations at Ruff Ruff Raw. I am not a doctor or a pet nutritionist. I am a certified Pet Nutrition Specialist. I have been studying pet food for about 5 years now, and work closely with Dr. Sheppard of Sheppard Alternative Animal Care. With that being said, I often have clients ask me my thoughts on Prescription Pet Diets.

When someone takes their pet to the veterinarian, and the pet gets diagnosed with a disease or a condition, it scares us!  Every pet owner is looking at the veterinarian to give us the best method to cure or manage the disease. The problem is that the pet food manufacturing community isn’t completely honest with their products.  So this leaves us pet owners scared and wondering what to do. We want to trust the veterinarian; they are a doctor for Pete’s sake. But, us as pet owners are now starting to ask questions, and want truthful answers. The veterinarian office will often recommend expensive Prescription Pet Food, or some may call it Veterinary Diet or Therapeutic Food, but not be able to explain how the food will help our pets.

First, the term “Prescription Diet” is patented by Hills Pet Nutrition. The term does not mean that the food went through the rigorous process of the FDA to be a medicine to treat a condition. Meaning the word “prescription” is just a word that Hills knows that people will consider the food as “medicine” and it will heal their pet’s disease.  Hills is using this word to make their food appear to be a medicinal food when it was never an FDA approved medicine.

Just like human doctor offices, where drug manufacturers visit and promote their drugs to doctors, big pet food companies visit veterinarian offices.  They provide training, literature, and products to veterinarians along with perks or opportunities to make a profit by selling their foods. These pet food companies spin their products to be healthy and even the only food that the vet should recommend to the client’s pets. Veterinarians don’t have much training in pet nutrition in university, and post-college, the only training they get is from pet food manufacturers unless they choose to do further nutrition training on their own. So, of course, the veterinarians believe the pet food manufacturer’s claims and pass that on to their customers.  I don’t believe the veterinarians as a whole are purposely trying to tell you biased information. I believe that most veterinarians are just doing what they are trained to do, and have so many other issues to deal with that nutrition isn’t their top priority. 

And why wouldn’t the veterinarian believe the pet food manufacturer?  These large pet food companies have tons of money to hire scientists, nutritionists, chemists, and other nutrition experts to formulate pet foods.   But they also have tons of money to hire marketing professionals, accounting professionals, and lawyers to help them get the most money from their products.  The problem is that not all pet foods and even “Prescription” diets are the best choice for your pet’s health. So this leaves us, pet parents once again lost and scared when our best friends are sick.  What to do??

My non-doctor thoughts are to use some common sense and research.  First, think about what you are feeding your pet. Kibble is actually the hardest food for our pets to digest when it comes to the types of food.  Here is a hierarchy of digestibility for our pets (hardest on the digestive system to easiest): kibble, canned, dehydrated, fresh food. So of course, I recommend switching to a fresh food diet that is balanced.  But if that’s not for you, maybe feed more canned or add some fresh food. Some fresh food is better than none.  

Also, look at the ingredients and nutritional information on the packaging of your pet’s food.  Look to see if a named meat is first on the list (Beef, Lamb, Salmon, etc). If corn or grains are the first ingredients, that means the most prevalent ingredient is not meat.  Dogs and cats are carnivores (scavenger or obligate) that need meat to get the nutrients they need. Second, if the food is cheap, the ingredients are cheap. A pet food company isn’t going to lose money.  They can only sell cheap food if the ingredients are cheap. Inexpensive ingredients are usually not of good quality. The pet food manufacturers have different regulations they can follow that are not as good as the human food regulations, so it is allowed to have ingredients we would not think as healthy (moldy grains, diseased animals, etc).

Therefore, go by this rule:  If pet food is cheap, there’s a reason and it’s probably not very healthy.  But if pet food is expensive, you don’t know that it’s healthy! 

Could be or NOT! Prescription and gimmicky foods can be very expensive but it doesn’t mean they are healthy. Don’t be pressured by your veterinarian to purchase food from them. Go home, do some research and then decide.  You are your pet’s best advocate, so speak up and ask questions. If you don’t like the answers, don’t just submissively go along with what they say. Inform yourself and don’t be intimidated. A good veterinarian will listen to you, answer your questions and hopefully lead you in a direction you and your vet feels will be best for your pet.

Obviously, the pet’s health condition will need to be taken into account, so you do need to research and/or get the help of someone to address the pet’s condition when formulating a fresh food diet. I am not suggesting the pet won’t still need prescription medication or supplements to go along with their food, but most pets benefit from a fresh diet even with diseases. Fresh food may even eliminate the poor health of many pets and alleviate many of the symptoms of their disease.  

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