There are basically three types of food you can feed your dog:
- Prescription dog food: Also known as veterinary diets, this type of dog food is available only from veterinarians. Some major providers of prescription dog food are Purina ProPlan, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Eukanuba, Innovative Veterinary Diets (IVD) and Royal Canin.
- Over-the-counter dog food: OTC dog food is generally available in grocery stores, pet supply stores, etc.
- Not labeled as dog food: Everything from hamburger to table scraps to cat food. We won’t discuss this food except to say that you should talk with your vet about nutrition and safety before feeding your dog any
Prescription dog food offers several advantages:
- Formulations: Prescription dog food is scientifically formulated for both general nutrition and to meet the challenges of various health conditions faced by dogs. They may be prescribed by veterinarians to prevent or treat diagnosed conditions. OTC dog foods can be formulated with or without any scientific evidence and usually claims only to “support” or “promote” particular goals.
- Efficacy: For a dog food to claim to effectively and safely prevent or treat disease, it must provide research backing up its claims to the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), a branch of the Food and Drug Administration. This is required of prescription dog foods, but not OTC dog foods, since they don’t make medical claims. All pet foods should meet the standards of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and those of state feed control officials, but only the CVM enforces and oversees medical claims applied to dog foods.
- Specificity: Prescription dog foods can be narrowly formulated to meet the treatment requirements of specific conditions. OTC dog foods seldom offer formulations as narrow.
- Quality: The major prescription dog food manufacturers are well-known for using high quality ingredients and to report nutritional content precisely. OTC brands, especially the bargain-basement variety, may substitute cheap ingredients for more expensive (and more nutritious) ones. There is no guarantee that an OTC dog food will deliver the nutrition your dog needs.
Special Veterinary Diets
Veterinarians turn to prescription dog foods to provide special diets to help treat or prevent diseases and conditions. These are some examples:
- Kidney diets: These diets are meant for dogs with diagnosed chronic renal failure. They are not meant to prevent the disease. These diets are low in protein, sodium and phosphorous. Some manufacturers provide different formulations for early and advanced stages of renal failure.
- Liver diets: For dogs with liver disease, these diets are similar to kidney diets except the restriction on phosphorous.
- Cardiac diets: These formulas restrict sodium intake. They also may be enriched with the biochemicals taurine and carnitine, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids, all of which may be efficacious for heart and circulatory disease.
- Joint health diets: Typically, these diets are supplemented with glucosamine and chondroitin, which have been shown to relieve joint pain and improve mobility. Other nutritional components might include carnitine, Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, chromium and perna mussel.
- Dental diets: A couple of prescription brands offer oral care diets that are meant to remove tartar from a dog’s teeth. They are not meant to be a substitute to the regular oral care, such a brushing, that your vet recommends for your dog.
- Diabetes diets: In this regard, cat foods seem to be more advanced than dog foods. Cat foods for diabetic cats employ high-fat, high-protein, low carbohydrate formulas, whereas dog foods tend to emphasize high fiber. At least one dog food manufacture offers a glucose control diet that corresponds to the preferred cat-food formulations. Some restricted calorie diets may have formulations that work for diabetes.
- Obesity diets: These prescription dog foods provide about 2/3 to 3/4 of the calories offered in regular diets.
- Senior diets: Some old dogs are fat, others are skinny. Your vet will prescribe a diet that is appropriate for your senior dog’s weight.
- Allergy diets: Allergies can result in skin disease and gastrointestinal disease. Because this covers a lot of ground, there are, not surprisingly, a variety of dog food formulations meant to treat allergies – diets that improve a dog’s coat or reduce gastrointestinal symptoms. Fish, lamb, duck and rice are often included in these formulations. Your vet can prescribe the best dog food for your dog.