All About Prescription Diets and Therapeutic Diet Brands for Dogs and Cats In

Veterinarians discuss dietary issues with pet owners. Therapeutic diets play a major role in modern veterinary practice… learn more in this article by Dr. Dunn.


by T. J. Dunn, Jr. DVM
This article originally appeared in Dog World Magazine in 2004

In 1940 a veterinarian named Mark Morris, Sr. evaluated a dog that was suffering from kidney disease. Morris felt that nutritional therapy might work just as well as medication to help his patient gain some relief from the effects of kidney disease and hopefully would restore the dog to a higher quality of life. He devised a pet food that would lessen the work the patient’s kidneys needed to do… and his patient improved greatly and lived longer than anyone expected. That diet was called Prescription Diet KD for (kidney diet). Mark Morris, Sr. set in motion a revolution in veterinary medicine that continues and evolves today. His humble start led to the emergence of Hills Pet Nutrition, the nation’s leader in research and development of what the company calls Prescription Diet Brand Pet Food.


Therapeutic Diets or Prescription Diets … what’s the difference? I posed that question to Dave Geier, of Geier Enterprises, Highlands Ranch, CO. A former executive with Hills Pet Nutrition and a consultant to the pet food industry, Geier explains “The term ‘Prescription Diet’ is used as a brand line for Hills Pet Nutrition’s therapeutic diets. The term ‘Therapeutic Diets’ refers to any food that is available only By or on the order of a licensed veterinarian and that aids in the recovery from a disease or disorder or assists in delaying the progression of disease.”

Amy Dicke, DVM, technical services veterinarian at The Iams Company states “A prescription diet is one available only through a veterinarian. The term therapeutic better represents the diet’s use – whether it be the sole therapy or an adjunct in the course of support for a medical condition that is diagnosed and monitored by a veterinarian.”

If you look at the wording on some of the therapeutic diet labels you will see that the emphasis is on the veterinarian being in charge of dispensing these foods. Hills Pet Nutrition displays the wording “Veterinary Exclusive Pet Food”. Also, on a bag of Hills Prescription Diet CANINE C/D you will read “Dietary Animal Food… use only as directed by your veterinarian”. On a bag of Purina EN-Formula it states “Purina Veterinary Diets® are authorized for prescription and sale only by veterinarians”. Eukanuba Veterinary Diets, made by the Iams Company, on its Nutritional Skin and Coat Formula, Response FP states on the label “Dog food prescribed by Veterinarians for dietary management of skin and coat health and dental health”. Innovative Veterinary Diets (IVD) {NOTE: Now acquired by ROYAL CANIN} displays the statement “Sold and distributed by licensed veterinarians only”.

No matter who the manufacturer is, therapeutic diets are available only at animal hospitals or selected outlets that are staffed by veterinarians. You won’t see therapeutic diets in grocery stores, pet shops or feed stores. Geier continues ”There are presently five major companies making therapeutic diets and approximately fifty different types of these diets that assist in the treatment of problems associated with liver, kidney, heart, diabetes and many other metabolic problems. They are available in canned and dry and biscuit form for dogs and cats.”


Therapeutic diets are “Available only by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian”. That label designation indicates a veterinarian must prescribe the diet to the consumer because the product has specifically designed nutrient formulations that have a targeted impact on the health of the dog consuming that diet. If that or similar wording is present on a pet food label the food can only be sold through a veterinarian’s prescription.

Therapeutic diets have been formulated to target specific metabolic processes of animals; and these processes are actually modified to effect certain changes in the animal’s digestion, immune responses, blood pressure, renal function, liver metabolism or blood glucose levels. To achieve an impact on the animal’s body chemistry, therapeutic diets have scientifically formulated amounts and ratios of various nutrients. Nearly all therapeutic diets, designated by the manufacturer to be available ONLY on the order of a licensed veterinarian, have certain nutrients either reduced in amounts or have nutrients that are elevated above typical levels for normal dogs. A good example would be a diet that is used for only short periods of time in order to assist in the non-surgical elimination of certain urinary tract stone formations. A diet such as this may not be wise to use long term nor in an animal not needing therapy for urinary calculi. Diets targeting therapy for Diabetes Mellitus in dogs, liver dysfunction, or kidney failure are not appropriate for normal dogs. And anyone feeding a growing pup a low protein therapeutic diet designed only for dogs with kidney failure will surely cause harm to the innocent pup. Likewise, a sodium-restricted diet used to treat congestive heart failure would not be appropriate to feed a healthy, vigorous retriever. Diets formulated for heart disease have lower protein and lower sodium than is recommended for healthy dogs.

Therapeutic diets greatly assist in the management and prevention of bladder stones in dogs and cats.

[click on link at beginning of article for images showing: Radiograph of dog with bladder stones; Bladder exposed surgically for stone removal; One of many bladder stones being removed; and Stones sent to a lab for analysis]

Therapeutic diets for diabetes control have a higher fiber and may have a higher protein than what is considered appropriate for healthy adult dogs. Diets for food allergies have novel proteins that the pet has not been exposed to such as kangaroo, duck, potato or venison. Therefore, prior to feeding any animal a diet specifically formulated to modify body chemistry, a veterinarian must make an appropriate medical diagnosis. For health, safety, liability and ethical reasons, veterinarians need to have exclusive domain over the use of these therapeutic products. Think of therapeutic diets as you would a drug; although they do not actually contain drugs. Their profound effects on the patient are not to be taken lightly.


Kimberley Brosofske, Ph.D., a Research Ecologist in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, presents an interesting success story regarding therapeutic diets. Her mixed-breed dog had chronic problems that resolved after implementing a therapeutic diet. Brosofske tells us, “Five years ago Buddy was diagnosed with hypothyroidism when I realized he was 30 pounds overweight, had skin problems and his coat was rough and dull. After being placed on medication, these problems went away and his health was excellent… until three years ago. Buddy then started developing occasional ‘hotspots’ and very flaky, dark-colored skin. His coat, previously very shiny, became dull and was covered with flakes of dead skin that would slough off. He developed chronic ear infections that required constant medication. He also seemed to have a perpetual stomach ache, often vomited and had bouts of diarrhea. His veterinarian suggested that either he might need a change in the dosage of his thyroid medication or he might have allergies. After some testing the veterinarian determined Buddy’s thyroid was not the problem but rather that he had food allergies. The veterinarian suggested I feed Buddy only a therapeutic diet (Innovative Veterinary Diets Venison and Potato). Within a short period of time the ear infections ceased, the vomiting and diarrhea ended, and Buddy’s skin cleared up, leaving him with a flake-free, shiny coat. He looks and feels great! He’s had no more hotspots, and he shows gusto for his food bowl again.


In my practices I have often had to defend the cost of therapeutic diets. There seems to be a resistance in some dog owners to purchasing expensive dog food and yet there is little reluctance to purchase a drug or medication “as long as it helps”. My response is that the therapeutic diet should be looked upon as a form of “medication” because of its specific effect on the individual consuming the diet. With that concept of “food as medicine” in mind we can see why these diets need to be restricted to use only in special and specific circumstances. High quality ingredients with specific, metabolically targeted effects, simply cannot be manufactured, delivered and sold at what anyone would term “cheap” prices. “Expensive” diets may very well worth every penny if the product performs well. And in most cases it truly costs only pennies more per day to feed a therapeutic diet than a conventional diet.


Because of the unique properties of therapeutic diets the manufacturers make their formulations available only to veterinarians. If a formulation is misused by feeding longer than recommended or fed to an animal that has new or changing requirements, they can be more harmful than helpful. Targeting specific medical disorders, therapeutic diets can benefit animals with such problems as food allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, diabetes, urinary tract dysfunction, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease and even some forms of cancer. Patients with these problems often require certain nutrients to be added or eliminated from their diets. Therefore, the misuse of specifically formulated therapeutic diets can be hazardous… and veterinarians need to be the responsible source of their distribution to the dog owner. Dicke’s comment applies to any therapeutic diet when she says, “All Eukanuba Veterinary Diets are available only through a veterinarian. These diets are designed to address certain medical conditions that should be diagnosed and monitored by a veterinarian.”

[click on link at beginning of article for images showing: puppy dogs and kitty cats]


Please Note! The pet food industry is a dynamic enterprise that is constantly changing recipes, types of therapeutic diets, methods of delivery to the veterinarian and pet owner and other parameters. The brands, names and recipes of any of the diets mentioned her may change at any time without being aware of the changes. Always consult with your veterinarian regarding the best therapeutic or prescription diets for your dog or cat.
(See a list here)

Hill’s Pet Nutrition is the largest manufacturer of therapeutic diets with their Prescription Diet brand, followed by Eukanuba Veterinary Diets (Iams Company) and Purina Veterinary Diets (Nestle Purina). Waltham Veterinary Diets (MasterFoods) is a much smaller factor in the United States as compared to Europe, and Heinz Pet Products has a line, Innovative Veterinary Diets, targeted chiefly to skin and allergy problems have been recently acquired by other companies. As of January, 2005 ROYAL CANIN is becoming a major player in the therapeutic veterinary diet arena. Companies, such as The Iams Company, offer numerous choices for therapeutic diets. For example, Dicke indicates, “The Iams Company produces 28 therapeutic products, including dry, canned, and biscuits. These formulas address a variety of medical conditions in the dog and cat, including food allergy, intestinal disorders, renal disease, obesity, and urinary health.”


Today, pet food companies spend tens of millions of dollars on research and development of better diets for pets. What this means is that pet owners are demanding and purchasing higher quality diets that enhance the life experience of their dogs. Proof lies in the fact that since Dr. Morris’ early explorations into the theory that food can be used as therapy there now exists a multi-million dollar industry based on the production of therapeutic diets for pets. New nutritional principles are rapidly being discovered through modern, scientific research. “Nutrition research has moved beyond defining minimal requirements for animals and on to defining optimal nutrition under various conditions,” says Dottie Laflamme, DVM, PhD, DACVN, Veterinary Nutrition – Communications Specialist with the Nestle Purina PetCare Company. Our companion animals today are beneficiaries of newer nutritional research and development that has made available to us a wide spectrum of therapeutic diets. Today’s veterinarians dispense a multitude of therapeutic diets, and they have become as much a part of daily veterinary practice as antibiotics, gas anesthesia or Heartworm prevention. Additional pet food manufacturers are entering the therapeutic diet arena. The bottom line is this: Therapeutic diets, acquired via a veterinarian’s prescription, are a vital aspect of modern pet health care services.
Why? Because they work.



ROYAL CANIN family of products.


Read more about grain-based diets and meat-based diets here.

E-mail a friend who might be interested in viewing this page.


Click on the link at the beginning of this article…
“The Internet Animal Hospital” has one of the biggest selections of dog and cat foods on the Internet. Choose a food, then check out the ingredients list to see how different pet foods compare regarding quality of ingredients.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Please follow and like us:
Visit Us
Follow Me
Follow by Email

Follow hart 1-800-hart:
call HART crazy .. but you either like something or you don't - HART likes everything and everybody! Well, except Asparagus.

  1. john
    | Reply

    Interesting reading, thanks man.

Leave a Reply to john Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *