It is necessary that all dogs are given the proper nutrition. Beyond the many diets you see, there are also prescription diets that assist certain health imbalances. This type of diet can make all the difference in the world for your dog.
Canines have become huge parts of our lives. In fact, our dogs play extremely important roles that no one can replace – from helping the law enforcement to comforting families in need.
Looking for food based on breed perhaps? Be sure to browse our guides to feeding:
Now: If our dogs are not in proper health, they won’t be able to assist us, love us, and care for us.
What’s the Idea Behind Prescription Diets?
Prescription diets are one dietary option that can assist your dog’s health. Usually when you go to the veterinarian, you are there because something is wrong with your dog. The result of your visit could be that your veterinarian reveals certain health conditions in your dog such as:
- liver disease
- kidney stones
- skin issues
- or just plain lethargy.
Often times nutrition may be an important factor in treatment and/or cure of the cause to the disease or condition that has become present in your pet.
Prescription diets are meant to help assist your dog’s diagnosed health condition. When you get your dog checked with your veterinarian, you probably will discover your dog’s specific body type, what works and what doesn’t work for them.
From here, your veterinarian can help you decide which foods are best for their body, depending on the issues that are at hand (if any). Your veterinarian plays a large role in your dog’s nutrition when it comes to prescription diets. It could be because they have a sensitive stomach or something more serious such as a failing liver. With your vet’s knowledge and diagnosis, your dog will receive proper nutrition based on their body type, their health issues, and their overwhelming needs (1).
Therapeutic vs. prescription, what’s the difference?
Let us take a deeper look into this.
If your veterinarian deems prescription dog food the right approach, then they will write up a prescription for your dog. This professional nutritional recommendation is key to accessing this type of dog food. You cannot have prescription dog food unless your vet provides the recommendation for it.
The food will usually consist of medicinal ingredients that are balanced for a healthy meal and it will usually be for dogs that have medical issues or need certain types of food for a healthy and well-balanced body.
Therapeutic dog food, on the other hand, is a little bit different. This type of dog food is similar to prescription dog food, but it is not always the same. Therapeutic dog food is food that has been created for dogs with certain issues. In one sense or another, it acts as a form of therapy for your dog. If your dog has an enlarged heart, urinary tract infection, or any other health concern, there may be therapeutic foods that work directly with these certain parts of the body.
When you are in search for a certain type of therapeutic dog food, you may come across Hill’s. Hill’s is a dog food brand that advertises their dog food as prescription. Although Hill’s is a therapeutic brand and has therapeutic options (science diet), this brand of dog food has added a “prescription dog food” line.
Therefore, therapeutic dog food now may be considered the same as prescription, if it fits the necessary testing. Hill’s prescription line was produced under research using veterinary professionals, so this dog food line requires a vet prescription. In fact, you will find this dog food at your vets office and sometimes your vet may even recommend it (2).
What drives up the cost of prescription (therapeutic) dog food?
These dog foods can be quite expensive. Yet, as far as we can tell, it is not a scheme! They actually have logic behind the higher pricing. Prescription and therapeutic dog foods have to go through tremendous amounts of testing and research. Each therapeutic dog food will assist a certain health concern. Therefore, foods can focus on the canine liver, heart, digestive system, or even eye sight.
To produce a food that assists in these health concerns, research and testing is an absolute must and that takes time and money.
Regular dog food is not there to assist your dog in ways that potentially treat and/or cure specific diagnosed health issues. Therefore, special tests are not necessary. Yet, with therapeutic and prescription dog foods, there are many tests that take place before these food options go on the market. It is analogous to purchasing a drug specifically prescribed for you at the pharmacy. It is going to be a lot more expensive than the natural herbs you find in the market and your doctor may be involved!
These foods are specifically meant to help aid your dog, so they may return to proper health or learn to prosper on this type of diet for their lifespan (3).
Common Prescription Diet Formulas
Although every dog is different, there are many diets that can be found on the market today in the prescription world. In fact, some people after doing their own research hypothesize that they need these formulas for their dog and their veterinarian ends up professionally confirming and applauding the effort. Below are common formulas that work for dogs that have these common health issues (4).
For dogs with diabetes
Dogs that have diabetes require a diet that helps maintain their glucose levels. A prescription diet formula is almost a necessity. Your dog will need a specific diet because they can become hyperglycemic and may even lose large amounts of weight, if they are diabetic.
Here are three main popular formulas:
These formulas are intended to give your dog a diet that is lean, has low fats, and high amounts of fiber. They’re meant to help maintain what your dog needs with precise measurements. Therefore, with your veterinarian’s help and your own due dilligence, their health will remain balanced.
For kidney health in dogs
If your dog needs help with their kidneys, there are a few things your veterinarian may recommend. First off, your dog will need large amounts of water, and their diet is going to be a bit different in terms of the nutritional content.
They will have limited phosophorus, increased fat and carbohydrates, increased water-soluble vitamins and antioxidants, limited salt, limited protein, and an increase in their Omega-3 Acids.
A couple formulas that aid kidney health are:
For heart health in dogs
Heart health is obviously extremely important for your dog. Their weight and age will play a large role in the health of their heart and sometimes, prescription dog food is necessary. Reducing sodium levels, emphasizing the nutrition needed for the heart, and adding Omega-3 fatty acids may make a significant difference in managing your dog’s health.
Here are a few popular prescription heart health formulas:
For liver health in dogs
The liver is extremely important because it aids in digestion, converts nutrients, and removes toxins from the blood while storing vitamins and minerals for proper health. Sometimes, the liver will need help in repairing itself and these formulas help that process go easier:
For skin health in dogs
The skin is said to be the most important organ in the body. Sometimes, internal health can affect the skin, which means the food your dog eats is extremely important. But remember, the food your dog eats can react also poorly in your dog, especially if there are food sensitivities. There are many diets that help aid proper health for your dog, promoting healthy skin.
Here are a few popular formulas:
For urinary health in dogs
If not properly taken care of, bladder stones and other issues may arise. In prescription dog food, you want to make sure that your dog has nutrition that aids urinary health, so struvite, calcium oxalate crystal, and stone formation do not occur. A few great prescription formulas are:
For digestive support in dogs
The most common health issue in dogs has to do with the digestive system. In fact, that is the most common issue in humans as well! As our world is changing, we need to remember to stick to the natural foods that provide the right nutrients for our pets. If your dog is having trouble digesting their food or is reacting poorly to it, you may want to consider getting a prescription dog food.
Here are a few formulas that help with digestion:
For mobility support in dogs
If your dog is having weakness in their joints, limbs, or just overall body pain, you are going to want to give your dog food that provides natural sources like fish oil, glucosamine, and chondroitin. This will help your dog return to their happy state of being.
Here are a few great prescription formulas:
- Hill’s J/D
- Royal Canin Mobility Support
- Purina Prescription Dog Food: Joint Health
- Hill’s Science Diet Healthy Mobility
For recovery support in dogs
Sometimes, our dogs go through life events that cause havoc on their body. Whether your dog is ill, just had surgery, or even went through a traumatic event, you may want to give your dog the proper nutrition. It is important that your dog’s muscle mass stays at a great rate and their appetite stays alive. Sometimes, their metabolic rates will change and their natural defenses will weaken. Here are a few great prescription formulas to help with recovery:
Questions to ask your vet if they recommend a prescription (therapeutic) diet:
When you go to the veterinarian to get your dog checked out, you want to make sure any and all questions you have about your dog’s health are addressed. Here are a few important questions to ask your veterinarian before he prescribes your dog a therapeutic diet:
- How will this prescription diet help my dog with her condition?
- How is this diet different than an organic meal plan I may find at the store?
- What exactly does my dog need, nutritionally, that she is currently missing? (due to her condition)
- What sort of testing has this prescription diet gone through and what conditions were the testings aimed towards?
- Why are you prescribing this specific diet?
- Can you better explain my dog’s condition to me?
- What will happen with my dog’s health, if I choose a different meal plan option than what you are prescribing?
- Are there any non-prescription natural or organic diets that can assist my dog’s health?
- Will my dog always have to be on this diet?
How to buy prescription (therapeutic) dog food?
First off, prescription dog food should always require a veterinarian. If you want to feed your dog a prescription dog food because of a health concern, then you are going to want to take your dog to a veterinarian. From here, your vet will diagnose and check out your dog’s health and see if the diet you are searching for fits your dog’s well being (5).
If so, you will then use your prescription to purchase your dog food at any sources. Sometimes, food will be available at your vet office or you may need to order it online. You can also go into recommended pet stores that have the food you need.
Diabetic Dog Food
Diabetes in dogs is not fun. It is a chronic disease that needs to be monitored and taken care of at all times. Diabetes has to do with the metabolic process in our dogs. When your pet is diagnosed with diabetes, you will probably begin to realize that their glucose-insulin connection is not working.
Thus, your dog is either not producing the insulin required for their health or they are producing it and their body is just not using it properly (6). Diabetic dog food can assist your dog in maintaining proper health levels in their body, so they feel balanced, healthy, and energetic.
What should a dog’s glucose level be?
It should almost be viewed as gas for the body because your dog’s cells need glucose to function properly. When your dog eats, their food will be broken down and glucose will be utilized for energetic assistance in their organs, cells, and blood. This is why maintaining the glucose level at all times is a significantly important task.
A normal glucose level usually sits at around 80/120 mg in the blood and is properly utilized by the rest of the body. Depending on your dog’s nutrition, that level can rise, but it should not surpass 250-300 mg. In diabetic dogs, however, it rises over 400 mg. Some diabetic dogs will be in the 700-800 range, which means glucose is over-infecting their blood and coming out in their urine. The normal glucose level in diabetic dogs usually ranges in between 400-600 mg (7).
How does a dog become a diabetic?
There are certain factors when it comes to your dog’s risk of becoming a diabetic. They include:
- if your dog is over 5, there is a higher chance he could become diabetic
- females are more likely to have diabetes
- constant damage to the pancreas can cause diabetes to occur
- if your dog is in need of steroids long term, the body will weaken and diabetes can occur
- if your dog becomes obese, there is a chance that it will change the pancreas and the insulin levels due to insulin resistance – this can cause diabetes
- other health concerns such as Cushing’s disease, viral infections, or autoimmune issues
- poor diet and lack of exercise.
Byeond these risks, diabetes can occur in any dog. Over time, it is important to watch out for the symptoms and make sure their health is in order. Look for the following symptoms of diabetes:
- extreme thirst
- lots of urination
- large appetite
- rapid weight loss
If your dog has symptoms of advanced diabetes, you will notice these issues in your dog:
- refusal to eat
What role does diet play in diabetes treatment?
When you are treating your dog for diabetes, their diet can play a bigger role than you may think. The three main solutions to diabetes are diet, exercise, and insulin treatments. Their diet plays a large role because glucose produces, manages, and assists the body from the food your dog eats.
Therefore, a diet is extremely important. High quality protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates will help monitor the glucose levels and assist your dog’s health. In fact, for diabetic dogs, it is best to have food that is simple rather than food that is filled with many additives.
What does diabetic dog food look like?
Diabetic dog food is a food type that is specifically meant to aid your diabetic dog’s condition. Diabetic dogs need food that assists their overall well-being, which means there needs to be food that aids their body in times of weakness.
Our top diabetic dog food pick: Royal Canin GlycoBalance
Notable Ingredients: Chicken, fish oil, tapioca, dried plain beet pulp.
Flavors: Chicken (Glycobalance)
Packaging: 7.7 lb, 17.6 lb.
Value: About $4.06/lb
Calorie content (ME): 3,327 kilocalories per kilogram -or- 276 kilocalories per cup
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 35%, crude fat (min) 10%, crude fat (max) 14%, crude fiber (max) 10%, moisture (max) 10%
Why we like it: This dog food was specifically formulated by closely working with vets, which means it has all the proper ingredients that are necessary to aid proper health. It has high fiber and is formulated to help support healthy post-pradnial blood glucose levels. A great benefit for diabetic dogs in need of a diet that will aid balance and proper nutrition, while looking to balance and maintain their health condition.
Low Protein Dog Food Diet
If your dog is suffering from health issues, too much protein can actually be a problem. In fact, it in certain cases it may make their condition worse! A low protein dog food diet can be quite beneficial for your dog under certain circumstances and it may alleviate symptoms.
Now: You may be asking yourself, how can a low protein dog food diet even help and what exactly is this diet?
A low protein diet is a diet that is altered so that protein levels are low, which is pretty self-explanatory. No? Yet, it still is good to know the details of what this diet actually entails. Having a diet that is low in protein may mean enhancng other ingredients and it may help your dog’s health. When your dog is on this diet, maintaining health and body weight is extremely important and putting your dog on this diet is not recommended unless your veterinarian prescribes it.
What does the research say?
According to AAFCO, your dog requires a healthy amount of protein. The minimum amount of protein for adults in their dry dog food is 18%. Commercial dog foods usually range around 25% of protein. Diseases such as kidney disease, liver disease, and bladder stones may require a low protein diet that cuts the minimum percentage to as low as half of 25%.
The liver and the kidney work to metabolize proteins, which makes protein linked directly to those organs and thus to the health issues involving those organs. Research also shows that limiting the quantity of protein in a diet can also limit the amount of protein that is lost in the body. It shows why so many dogs that have kidney issues are on low protein diets, because eventually those health issues may lead to renal failure.
Depending on the health issue, your dog’s low protein diet could be permanent or it could be just until the health issues resolve.
Veterinarians are continuing research with low protein diets in association with certain health issues. In recent times, there have been ideas that reducing phosphorus may be a better way, but nothing is set in stone yet. This means your veterinarian will probably still prescribe your dog with a low protein diet, if they deem it necessary (9).
Reasons vets prescribe a low protein diet
If you take your dog to get checked out by the veterinarian, they may recommend putting your dog on a low-protein diet. This may seem alarming at first because protein is a huge part of a dog’s diet, but if the vet has identified health issues correlated with high protein quantity, then you want to avoid large amounts of protein.
Here are some reasons vets prescribe a low protein diet:
- your dog is suffering from kidney or liver disease
- your dog has urinary stones
- your dog has congestive heart failure
- any issues involving the filtration of toxins or weakness of certain organs.
These are the main reasons why your vet may prescribe a low protein diet, but there may be others that are specific to your dog. Now: If you are worried that your pet is having health issues, you may want to get your dog checked with your local veterinarian.
Our top low protein dog food pick: Royal Canin Renal Support A
Notable Ingredients: Chicken, fish oil, corn, dried plain beet pulp
Flavors: Customized palatability profile designed for each individual
Packaging: 6 lb, 17.6 lb
Value: Around $7.32/lb
Calorie content (ME): 3,872 kilocalories – 352 kilocalories per cup
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 12%, crude protein (max) 16%, crude fat (min) 16%, crude fiber (max) 4.5%, moisture (max) 10%, phosphorus (max) .27%, Eicosapenoic Acid [EPA] (min) .28%, Docosahexaenoic Acid [EPA] (min) .12%
Why we like it: This low protein dog food is a highly suggested option. Although it is mainly meant for dog’s in need of renal support, it is also for dogs who just need a low protein diet. It should provides exactly what your dog needs when prescribed a low protein diet and helps aid organs in need.
Low Sodium Dog Food Diet
Sodium is a necessary component in your dog’s diet because it helps maintain their cellular environment, preventing cells from swelling up or dehydrating, and it also helps maintain nerve function and cellular function. Although a good amount of sodium is great for dogs, it can also be detrimental.
Too much sodium can cause overwhelming issues in your dog’s health. It is important to have the right amount of sodium in each meal, and sometimes limiting sodium can help in certain health concerns. A low sodium dog food diet may provide your dog with the proper nutrients for their size, health, and necessary nutrients for balance, so they may return to perfect health.
What does the research say?
The sodium amount that is necessary for proper health will be unique to each dog. Depending on your dog’s age, activity level, water consumption amount, and overall health, sodium amounts can range. According to AAFCO, dry dog food should contain at least 3% sodium, but many dogs will have more than that amount on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, dogs are not just fed their normal dog food. As owners, we love to shower our dogs with treats and even table scraps which will add to the sodium level. The over consumption of sodium can cause health issues in canines. Low sodium can drop down to 2% or even lower than that amount, if your dog goes on a low sodium diet. The symptoms of low sodium will usually come in the form of excess thirst and urination.
On the other hand, low sodium diets can help reduce symptoms and will help with any health issues at hand that may cause weight gain, swelling, and weak organs.
Reasons vets prescribe a low sodium diet
Your vet knows the right amount of sodium for your dog, so most times, they are not going to rob your dog of sodium. However, they may lower it to a small amount for their health due to certain concerns.
There are many reasons why your veterinarian could prescribe a low sodium diet. Sodium causes swelling in the body, especially if there is too much of it (10). Conversely, having the minimum amount of sodium may even improve a normal dog’s health!
The following are some reasons why your vet might prescribe a low sodium diet:
- Heart problems: Any issues involving the heart from the simplest concern to heart failure would result in a low sodium diet because sodium can be tremendously helpful for this organ.
- Maintaining blood pressure: If you have an older dog, their blood pressure levels are important and you want to maintain them. Sometimes, a low sodium diet can help with keeping your dog’s health up to speed.
- Maintaining ALL health levels due to:
- kidney disease/failure
- kidney damage
- old age
Now: If you are wondering what a low sodium dog food looks like, check out our favorite below.
Our top low sodium dog food pick: Royal Canin Early Cardiac Formula
Notable Ingredients: Brewer’s rice, chicken meal, fish meal, chicken fat, fish oil.
Flavors: Chicken/fish (cardiac dry)
Packaging: 7.7 lb, 17.6 lb
Calorie content (ME): 3,680 kilocalories per kilogram or 309 kilocalories
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 22%, crude fat (min) 14%, crude fiber (max) 5.3%, moisture (max) 10%, L-arginine (min) 1.76%, Sodium (max) .33%, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (min) .24%, Docosahexaenoic Acid (min) .1%, L-Carnitine (min) 490 mg/kg, Taurine (min) .18%
Why we like it: If you are in need of a low sodium option for your dog, this is a great choice. It is balanced and designed to specifically aid your dog in their sodium health concerns, specifically with heart health. Heart health is directly linked to sodium content.
With a reduced amount, this dog food may help with limiting sodium so the heart may work properly and it also may help with reducing swelling. There are other benefits to this dog food such as arginine, carnitine, taurine, and this food is easily digestible. If your dog is in need of low sodium, make sure to check out this diet.
Low Phosphorus Dog Food Diet
Another diet you may be considering is a low phosphorus diet. In fact, people have debated if a low phosphorus diet is better than a low protein diet, but that will be for you and your vet to decide. This diet can be extremely beneficial for dogs with certain health concerns, particularly involving the kidney.
Phosphorus and calcium are two minerals that work together to help the body create strong and healthy bones. That being said, your dogs phosphorus levels need to be maintained and sometimes, if levels of phosphorus are out of balance, it could lead to problems!
Due to this, a low phosphorus diet can have many benefits for your dog. Now: before you decide to switch your dog over, you might want to take a look at the research on why certain dogs need to be on a low phosphorus diet and why this diet could be beneficial to your dog’s health.
What does the research say?
Each dog’s health will be specific according to their body. Some dogs will have great health while others will lack in certain areas. Once your vet determines where your dog’s health is at, you will then, together, determine their need for a certain diet and explore whether a low phosphorus diet could be a beneficial option (13).
According to research, a low phosphorus diet may contribute to the necessary assistance needed for phosphorus levels. Each dog’s level of phosphorus needs will vary. Along with it’s role in bone and teeth formation, phosphorus helps with utilizing the nutrients from carbohydrates and fat and it helps with the body self-heal. Hyperphosphatemia is a common issue where excessive amounts of phosphorus is in the bloodstream. Dogs with calcium deficiencies, bone diseases, and kidney issues are prone to hyperphosphatemia as well as dogs that are a bit older. It is important that dogs stay in between 800-1200 mg range.
Reasons vets prescribe a low phosphorus diet
When you take your dog into the veterinarian, levels of phosphorus will need to be determined and the most common way is through lab results. From these lab results, your veterinarian will determine if your dog needs a low phosphorus diet.
Below are some reasons why your vet may prescribe a low phosphorus diet for your dog.
- high phosphorus levels from:
- kidney disease
- bone cancer
- overconsumption of vitamins
- thyroid disease
- managing phosphorus levels because of:
- kidney disease
- heart health
- calcium excess
Now: Phosphorus is present in both proteins and grains and it is important for your dog to maintain a balanced diet so their kidneys and other organs monitor, utilize, and produce proper nutrients for their overall well-being.
Our top low phosphorus pick: Royal Canin MAXI Formula
Notable Ingredients: Chicken meal, brewer’s rice, brown rice, wheat, chicken fat, fish oil.
Packaging: 6 lb, 35 lb
Calorie content (ME): 3,762 kilocalories or 357 kilocalories per cup
Guaranteed Analysis: Crude protein (min) 24%, crude fat (min) 15%, crude fiber (max) 3.2%, moisture (max) 10%, Eicosapentaenoic Acid (min) .25%, Docosahexaenoic Acid .1%, omega-3 fatty acids .55%, Glucosamine (min) 350 mg/kg, Chondroitin Sulfate (min) 25 mg/kg
Why we like it: This dog food is a great low phosphorus option. It is highly digestible, promotes joint and bone health, and even assists in skin nourishment. This is an option that is highly balanced and that is exactly why we like it. It assists with what is needed for dogs in need of limiting their phosphorus.
Prescription dog diets may help assist organ health by limiting certain ingredients or by providing aid to certain health concerns. When thinking of crafting the proper diet for your dog, it is highly recommended to consult with a veterinarian first.
Related: Dog Food Diets: Ancestral
Tools of the trade: Keep our Dog Food Calculator handy as you’re thinking of creating a meal for your dog.