Prescription Dog Food – When is it a Good Idea?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Written by:
Published: April 22, 2016
Prescription Dog Food – When is it a Good Idea?

Most dogs can eat any of a number of over the counter foods and thrive. Dog foods that follow AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) regulations and are labeled as being nutritionally complete and balanced will meet the needs of “typical” pets… as long as they are healthy.

But when disease strikes, over the counter foods may no longer be a dog’s best option. Pet food manufacturers produce a wide range of what are often called prescription diets. These foods are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of sick or injured pets.

Here’s a sampling of some of the most commonly recommended prescription diets for dogs.

Foods for Kidney Failure

Dogs suffering from kidney failure need to eat a food that contains moderate amounts of protein that is of the highest possible quality to reduce the formation of toxic metabolites and support muscle maintenance. Reduced phosphorous and sodium levels are also important.

Foods for Food Allergy/Intolerance

Dogs with an allergy or intolerance to certain ingredients commonly used in pet food will experience relief from their symptoms when they eat an appropriate prescription food. Options include novel protein formulations (e.g., venison and green pea) or hydrolyzed diets.

Foods for Gastrointestinal Conditions

Some gastrointestinal disorders can be managed with a highly digestible diet. These are often low in fiber and fat. Other conditions improve when dogs eat high fiber foods. Picking the right gastrointestinal diet depends on what specific disease a dog has been diagnosed with and sometimes a bit of trial and error.

Foods for Joint Disease

Foods that are enriched with omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and antioxidants can promote joint health. These foods should also not be so calorie rich as to encourage weight gain.

Foods for Weight Loss/Maintenance

Some dogs lose weight quickly when fed a high fiber diet. The fiber adds bulk to the food, making dogs feel full without adding calories. However, other dogs do better when they eat a high protein/low carbohydrate diet. The only way to know which will work best for you and your dog is to try each and monitor the results.

Foods for Brain Changes Associated with Aging

Foods with high levels of omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants can help protect the brain against the damage caused by free radicals and optimize an older dog’s mental functions.

Foods for Lower Urinary Tract Disease

Dogs who have a history of urinary crystals and stones are at high risk for recurrence. Feeding them a food that promotes the formation of dilute urine (canned is best) and an optimal urinary pH and contains reduced amounts of the substances that form crystals and stones can help with prevention.


Foods are also available that can help dogs with diabetes mellitus, heart disease, cancer, liver disease, skin problems, chronic dental disease, and recovery from an accident, illness or surgery. Talk to your veterinarian about whether a prescription diet might be in your pet’s best interests.

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