Prescription Food….Is It Medicine?

Last month you learned about how common Chronic Kidney Disease is in older dogs.  The first recommendation you will get when you receive a diagnosis like this is to change your pet’s diet to a prescription food. Recent lawsuits against the major producer of prescription pet food bring some questions to light.  Let’s break down some basic factual things that are true and untrue about prescription food.

Prescription Pet Food IS:

-Food formulated with out of the norm ratios of the major components of pet food such as fat, protein, carbohydrates and minerals.

-Food that is formulated to accommodate a specific health condition that hinders their body function in some way.

-Food that is not ideal for a normal healthy pet and should be recommended at the advice of a veterinarian.

-Food that is more expensive than other non-prescription pet food…even premium brands.

-Food that is marketed with the “RX” symbol and often requires a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase.

Prescription Pet Food IS NOT:

-Food that contains a drug or ingredient that requires FDA approval or a prescription under federal or state law.

-Food that is regulated or known to have any ingredients of higher quality than non-prescription food.

The companies that produce prescription foods are limited so it is often something that puts a pet owner in a position with few options.  Responsible pet owners may have done extensive research in choosing a pet food that uses high quality ingredients, avoiding by-products or ingredients grown with pesticides or other known carcinogenic chemicals.  The health of their pet depends on their adhering to a diet that is an odd mix and ratio of proteins or fats that they cannot find in the quality food they have been feeding.  When they look at the 2 options given by their vet, they will often find the ingredient list something they would not normally consider feeding their pet.

Let’s take the Chronic Kidney example we talked about last month.  We outlined the key changes to diet include low protein, low phosphorus and low sodium coupled with being rich in omega fatty acids.  The ideal protein percentage being as low as 14%.  This is lower than you will find in any standard pet food option.  Kidney disease means that the organ of their body that would normally filter out waste products and toxins from the blood has lost functionality.  Yet the food that would be prescribed is neither organic or GMO free.  This seems crazy since pesticides and genetically modified foods are known to be more taxing for the organs to filter!  Another example might be a pet managing pancreatitis.  A prescriptive diet treating this condition is going to be an extremely low-fat recipe, like 4-5% with lower than normal fiber.  Again, this is something that will not normally be found in a traditional recipe even if it is a low-fat recipe.

So what options do you have?

-Feed the prescription food.  If the life of your pet depends on this delicate balance of nutritional elements, then you might have to try and choose the lesser of evils of a prescription diets.

-Modify your pet’s current healthy diet.  If you are feeding a healthy organic or GMO-free diet check and see if they have a recipe closer to what you are trying to achieve.  Then perhaps you can reduce the kibble intake and balance it with other healthy ingredients.  For instance, if you are trying to reduce the percentage of their diet that is fat then reduce the amount of low-fat kibble they are eating and feed other fat free foods that make up their total diet.  Or in the case of the low protein kidney example choose a lower protein recipe food reduce the amount and supplement with organic low phosphorus fruits, vegetables and rice for example.  The additional fatty acids could come from a salmon oil supplement (oil is fat…not protein).

-Customize a home cooked diet to the specifications required for their condition.  Often you can find recipes for home cooked diets for specific conditions.  You must choose high quality ingredients, and this can be very time consuming.  Unfortunately, there is still risk that you will unintentionally throw something off with even a small error.

The two latter options must be pursued with caution.  It is extremely difficult to achieve precise balance necessary for chronic health conditions which is why your vet will probably recommend a RX food.

Have you had to switch to a prescription food that you were unhappy with?

If you wanted to read about the recent litigation related to RX food here is a link to an article.