Prescription diets for pets are only available through a prescription issued by a veterinarian and are generally available only at veterinary clinics or hospitals. It is a general term that is used to refer to various types of diets that are specially formulated to help manage specific health issues like kidney disease, diabetes, heart problems, etc. With prescription diets, the proportions of ingredients and nutrients are tailored to help address a specific health issue. Having these products available only through a veterinarian’s prescription can help make sure that only pets who need these special diets will receive it. While your pet is on a prescription diet, your veterinarian will be monitoring your pet’s progress to see if the diet can help improve symptoms associated with the condition it has been prescribed for.
Prescription diets can be used alone or in combination with specific medications to manage or treat many medical disorders. Sometimes, these special diets are used short-term to help manage acute disease conditions; but there are instances when a cat or a dog may need to be placed on a prescription diet for the rest of the animal’s life to help manage symptoms and prevent progression, deterioration, or recurrence of the disease.
Prescription Diets Versus ‘Healthy’ Pet Foods
Prescription diets are specially formulated to address specific medical conditions and are available only through a veterinarian. On the other hand, there are ‘healthy’ pet foods that can be bought over-the-counter, which means that you don’t need a prescription to buy one. Most of these foods only meet the minimum nutritional standards that will meet a cat’s or dog’s daily nutritional requirements. The claims of the manufacturers are often vague, such as ‘kidney-friendly’ or ‘heart healthy’. Unfortunately, there is no legal obligation for the manufacturers to produce evidence that supports their claim.
Common Issues Prescription Diets Address
1. Kidney disease
Prescriptions diets for pets suffering from kidney failure are formulated with less protein and phosphorus compared to ordinary pet food. A diet that is low in protein and phosphorus slows down the degenerative process that is occurring in the kidneys. Pets with advanced chronic kidney disease benefit from a low-protein diet because their kidneys are unable to efficiently filter out metabolic waste products from the body. Take note that there are weight loss diets that also contain low protein. But these diets are not the same as those indicated for kidney problems and should not be given as a substitute.
2. Heart conditions
Prescription diets for pets with heart conditions, also called cardiac diets, feature low sodium levels. There are also cardiac diets that have been fortified with supplements that support heart health.
3. Joint problems (Osteoarthritis)
Prescription diets for joint health generally include glucosamine and chondroitin. Some have also been added with omega-3 fatty acids. In many cases of joint problems, veterinarians usually advise giving joint supplements in combination with the joint health diet for a more real and lasting effect.
4. Diabetes and weight loss
Prescription diets for pets with diabetes are high in fiber. Substantial quantities of fiber can help slow down the absorption of digested food which can help keep blood sugar more stable. The extra fiber can also help lower the total amount of calories in pet food. A low-calorie, high fiber diet can help overweight or obese pets lose weight in a healthy manner. Pets who are trying to lose weight typically do not require a prescription diet and can opt for a more nutritional, low-calorie, high fiber diet.
Food allergies in pets can develop when they have been exposed to an ingredient in their pet food for a considerable length of time. If changing protein source/s or brands do not reduce or altogether prevent allergy flare-ups, your veterinarian may find it necessary to place your pet on a prescription diet. There are also called ‘hypoallergenic diets.’ Prescription diets for food allergy management usually have novel protein sources, such as kangaroo or deer (venison), to which an affected pet has not been previously exposed to. It is assumed that novel proteins will not trigger an allergic response in pets with food allergies. Pets that have food allergy typically do not require a prescription diet. Identifying food that has novel protein and a limited ingredient diet would serve well for most pets as well.
6. Dental disease
Dental diets are formulated to contain reduced protein and calcium that can help limit the build-up and hardening of plaque and tartar. The fiber exerts a gentle abrasive action on the surface of the teeth and helps get rid of any plaque that has accumulated keeping the surface of the teeth clean. There are dental diets that contain sodium polyphosphate that works by combining with calcium in saliva, making it unavailable for tartar formation thus helping reduce dental plaque and tartar build-up. Zinc may also be added to help slow down the build-up of tartar, and its antiseptic properties can help reduce bad breath or halitosis. Green tea in dental diets can help maintain healthy mouth and gums.
There are also prescription diet options for pets recovering from surgery or those suffering from serious health problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Why Are Prescription Diets Expensive?
It comes as no surprise that prescription diets are priced higher compared to commercial diets. They are more expensive because prescription diets go through extensive testing and trials before they can be sold. In addition to conducting feeding trials, numerous diagnostic tests (blood tests, urinalyses, etc.) will also be performed to evaluate the efficacy of the diet for the medical problem it’s formulated to help manage. Testing and trials are a big investment for pet food companies. Money is needed for state-of-the-art facilities, experts and researchers, and other overhead costs. The results of these tests and trials are necessary to support the claims of the pet food manufacturer. For a pet food manufacturer to claim that a certain product is effective for a certain disease, the company must show full documentation to support the claim. Assessment and evaluation may have to go through several accredited agencies and channels, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and AAFCO, to make sure that they meet general guidelines and regulations.
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