Monday, May 20, 2013

When Pet Food is Medicine

 


Proper pet nutrition is more than just diet choices for the healthy pet. It’s even more important to properly feed the sick pet or those with chronic diseases. What you put in your pet’s food bowl can help, or harm his ability to cope with illness.

Peek into your average veterinary office and you’ll likely find one or more brands of therapeutic diets- foods created to manage pet specific pet health conditions. Veterinarians prescribe therapeutic diets to help pets with kidney disease, diabetes, pancreatitis, weight loss or heart disease. Special digestive diets may focus on hypoallergenic ingredients, fiber content or fat levels.  Some diets prevent or dissolve mineralized stones in the urinary bladder. There are even diets to keep the spring in your arthritic dog’s step, and diets to aid in treating pets with cancer.

The grandfather of veterinary nutrition was Dr. Morris who in 1940 designed a diet to improve longevity of his dog, Buddy, who was a seeing-eye dog battling kidney disease. His efforts led to the introduction to Hill’s K/D diet, a favorite diet used today for dogs and cats with kidney dysfunction. Today many more diets and conditions are addressed by companies such as Science Diet, Royal Canin, Purina and Iams.  

As a veterinarian I recognize the value that therapeutic diets lend to managing my patients’ health. But my strongest testament to their value is as a doggie momma who feeds a therapeutic diet to my own dog, Magnum.

My Labrador Magnum suffers from food allergies with frequent facial skin infections, bad skin odor, scratching, and unpleasant gastrointestinal signs with diarrhea and flatulence. After several diet trials with various hypoallergenic diet approaches, he now thrives on a rabbit based therapeutic diet by Royal Canin. His doggie kisses are sweeter smelling now, he’s content, and he isn’t a walking gaseous explosion anymore.

But be prepared to dig deeper in your wallet for therapeutic diets. The research behind these foods will cost the consumer more than average pet foods. Just look at the example of Magnum’s food- this diet runs $86 for a 25 pound bag of dry food. This sure isn’t cheap. But the investment can pay off in lower medical costs and fewer veterinary visits, justifying the additional cost.  In Magnum’s case, we are able to avoid continued treatment of skin infections, thereby avoiding medication use, and he is spared incessant itching.

Some pet owners turn to home cooked diets in order to avoid the costs of therapeutic diets. Without guidance and veterinary nutrition analysis, pet owners may risk shortchanging their pet’s nutrition. One research study identified that over 90% of home prepared diets for sick pets failed to be nutritionally adequate. Quality ingredients aren’t cheap and a well-produced home cooked diet often ends up costing far more to prepare than commercially produced therapeutic diets.

If your veterinarian recommends nutritional management with a therapeutic diet, discuss all the options with your doctor. Inquire about different brands and sizes of food packages available as many options are available. Get your money’s worth on these diets by following your veterinarian’s recommendations. Avoid mixing therapeutic diets with regular foods- this only hinders your pet’s results and give you a false sense of saving money by making the food last longer.

As for Magnum, I choose to feed him his therapeutic diet and avoid popping pills into him. That’s my gauge of a therapeutic diet success- food that serves like medicine in the doggie bowl, but without the hassles.