The Ultimate Guide to Prescription Diets for Dogs

If you’re looking to help your dog lose weight or treat a specific condition, then you need to know about prescription diets. Prescription diets are specially formulated diets that are designed to meet the specific needs of a dog’s individual health condition. There are a wide variety of prescription diets for dogs available, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. In this article, we provide you with the ultimate guide to prescription diets for dogs, so that you can choose the best option for your dog’s health and wellbeing.

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 here A wide variety of therapeutic diets are available at veterinary offices. may change at any time with little notice.  Always consult with your veterinarian regarding the best therapeutic or prescription diets for dogs or cats. 

Prescription Diets for Dogs


Therapeutic Diet or Prescription Diet … 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.


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 therapeutic doet available by prescription transformed Buddy’s quality of life 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 stomachache, 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  Therapeutic diets can alleviate some skin allergies.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.”


Hill’s Pet Nutrition is the largest manufacturer of therapeutic diets with their Prescription Diet brand, followed by Eukanuba Veterinary Diets (Iams Company).  With Mars’ purchase of Royal Canin and Royal Canin’s purchase of IVD from Heinz, and the Waltham brand going away, Royal Canin would be a growing number 3 behind Hill’s, still dominant, and Iams.  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.

We hope you enjoyed reading this ultimate guide to prescription diets for dogs and now ready to make the best decision. While there are many effective prescription diet options, it all depends on your dog’s unique needs. So, if you still have questions about what to select for your pup, don’t hesitate and contact a vet right away!​ We at Petcarer understand how difficult it can be when making such a choice but we will always be available to help in any way possible. Thanks again!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common dietary problem suffered by dogs?

The form of diabetes that affects dogs most frequently is mellitus, which is frequently a genetic illness. It might also be a condition that develops as a result of poor diet. Obesity and chronic pancreatitis, both linked to the calibre of the dog’s diet, are frequent causes of diabetes and its symptoms.

What should be included in a dog’s diet?

Domestic dogs can obtain nutrition from cereals, fruits, and vegetables in addition to the meat that makes up the majority of their diet. These vegetarian and vegan foods can be a valuable source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals in addition to serving as fillers. Meat, fruits, grains, and vegetables make up a good dog diet.

How does diet affect dog behavior?

Domestic dogs can obtain nutrition from cereals, fruits, and vegetables in addition to the meat that makes up the majority of their diet. These vegetarian and vegan foods can be a valuable source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals in addition to serving as fillers. Meat, fruits, grains, and vegetables make up a good dog diet.

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