By Susan Moss

Every day we get questions regarding prescription diets from concerned pet owners, either because their fur kid won’t eat it or stopped eating it, is doing poorly on it or because they are worried about the long term consequences of feeding the low quality ingredients listed on the label. Oddly, prescription diets seem to contain virtually all the ingredients we’ve been warned against – corn, brewer’s rice, corn gluten meal, wheat gluten meal, soybean mill run, poultry by-products meal and even powdered cellulose. Noble proteins from meat, poultry or fish, the mainstay of the carnivore diet, are notably absent. These deficiencies, when an animal is unwell to begin with and needs all the nutritional help he can get, is unfortunate. The dilemma comes in deciding whether to stick with the vet’s recommendation or seek another path.

Working with Your Vet

If you find yourself in this spot, why not ask your veterinarian to help you find an adequate substitute?  Vets now have more tools than ever to craft restricted diets that improve overall wellness, not just the targeted organ system. Resources range from special food supplements to vet-created recipe-generating websites that sort by disease (www.balanceit.com), to veterinarian-authored cookbooks of controlled nutrient diets using whole food ingredients, and even a local Seattle service that will cook and deliver meals for dogs and cats according to your veterinarian’s wishes. (More resources listed below).

Why are they called prescription diets if they don’t contain drugs?

Prescription diets contain no drugs, but they do have altered levels of one or more nutrients — proteins, fats, minerals, or fiber – altered so much that they are not advisable for healthy animals.  Typical side effects of long term use are poor skin and coat (too little fat), muscle wasting (too little protein, poorly assimilated protein) or other forms of malnutrition similar to feeding low quality processed food. Ultra high fiber content in several of the diets, sometimes over 20%, may block absorption of vitamins and minerals. Many vets feel their use is for short term only, and after an animal stabilizes, they will work with the pet owner to transition to a healthier diet. It’s important, however, that you begin the conversation – your vet isn’t a mind reader and can’t know you have concerns unless you tell him. If your vet isn’t receptive, consult another veterinarian who is better informed and more open-minded. Many of these diets have been around for decades, and as theories of diseases and their most effective treatments have evolved, the diets haven’t.

Competing Models for Diabetes, Kidneys and Weight Loss Treatments

Some well-known holistic minded veterinarians have come up with new protocols for treating certain diseases. Instead of diabetic prescription food full of fiber and carbohydrates, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, (former Technical Director of Hill’s, company that makes Hill’s prescription diets), has been able to reverse the disease in insulin-dependent cats using zero carb meat-based diets and “tight regulation” of insulin. This, obviously, is something a veterinarian would need to carefully supervise.  Meat deficient ultra low protein diets for kidney issues have been debunked, especially for cats (see Hodgkins book and website). Even low protein for aging dogs is no longer the commonly accepted model.  One local veterinarian has her clients add cooked potato or brown rice to their dog’s regular human-grade food if she wants to lower the protein or fat values somewhat but still keep the nutrition up. Other approaches for weight loss and gastrointestinal problems using home-prepared food or carefully selecting a high-quality OTC (over the counter) food have been successfully employed without using the prescription stuff.  Allergies and food sensitivities can be controlled by carefully following elimination diets under the care of a willing and helpful veterinary professional. Because there is an ever-changing landscape for treatment, with new and more effective solutions, we need to do our research and find the practitioners who are willing to help us do the best we can for our fur kids.


RESOURCES:

The Natural Pet Pantry (206) 248-1079.  The seattle-based company makes custom diets for special dietary needs. Raw or cooked stews, made from the best ingredients. Your recipe, or your vet’s. They can give you suggestions based on previous experience.

Books:

Natural Dog: A Holistic Guide for Healthier Dogs,” Deva Khalsa, V.M.D. Excellent home-prepared diets for dogs with various chronic ailments from cancer to diabetes.

Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to A Longer, Stronger Life”, Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM.  Diets and specific protocols for cats with diabetes, other diseases.

Optimal Nutrition: Raw and Cooked Canine Diets: The Next Level” Monica Segal, AHCW.  Diets and supplementation for heart, liver, kidney, stones, pancreatitis, gastrointestinal and more.

Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternatives” Donald Strombeck, DVM, Ph.D.  Recipes for controlled diets, and many recipes for normal animals.

Websites:

YourDiabeticCat.com …Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM. Dedicated to diabetes in cats, including medication protocols and dietary instructions.

Balanceit.com….downloadable recipes for prescription diet equivalents.  Some are free, some require payment, some can only be accessed by your veterinarian. Sale of supplements to help disease conditions.

Drfoxvet.com….website of Dr. Michael Fox, DVM, noted author and former v.p. of Humane Society. No specific disease remedies, but great insights into pet food, with homemade diets for both dogs and cats.