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Taking a Sneak Peak at Prescription Diets for Dogs & Cats; Medicine or Snake Oil?

The Veterinary Industry & Prescription Diets go hand in hand, after all, they are called 'Prescription Diets' & vets prescribe medicines, right? Vets, Vet techs, nurses and support staff all undergo years of training and study to gain their degrees. They are passionate people who have a genuine and deep respect & love for all animals, they would never have chosen these careers if they didn’t.

They have so many areas of expertise and skills to learn, anything & everything from sewing up a wound, drawing blood samples, administering vaccinations, desexing, and emergency surgery protocols for trauma victims, and animals hit by cars. They are skilled and highly educated people. Having experienced firsthand what an average day in the life of a vet looks like while I was working there, you literally go to work in the morning with no idea what is going to be thrown at you - everything from why is my Axolotil not eating, to a massive gaping wound on a dogs neck caused by barbed wire.

That particular day stands out in my memory because there were several euthanasia home visits, a cat with a broken pelvis because she was hit by a car as well as the emergency surgery on that poor doggo that tried to jump over that barbed wire fence. It was a day indeed, and days like those happen so often. 

So, having all those skills & techniques required to deal with just these, it’s no wonder that vets don’t tend to spend much time learning about diets, healing using foods & the like. That’s where people like me come into the picture. I can not sew up a dog's neck, nor desex a cat, but I did help that starving Axolotil, because my very specialised field of expertise is nutrition, for cats, dogs & randomly Axolotils! So in no way at all am I suggesting they are at fault here.

University Training for Vets is sponsored by the companies that make Prescription Diets

So, these people are superheroes in my opinion, but what is unsettling is that veterinarians and support staff often find themselves not just under-informed, but also misinformed. Nutrition courses for vets are typically developed by large companies with vested financial interests. And by vested I mean the companies that make all those prescription foods you typically see in your vet's waiting room! Surprisingly, during their University education, the average vet spends only 20 hours or so learning about nutrition and the effect it can have on the bodies of our cats and dogs. Consequently, vets are trained to endorse these companies’ “medicinal” dry & wet dog foods, despite overwhelming evidence that these products may actually contribute to the very health issues they claim to alleviate.

Sales representatives from the big manufacturing companies visit clinics regularly with glossy posters & marketing materials to display. These sales reps are trained to sell the benefits of the products they are tasked to sell. They often are paid bonuses to push more products, it’s business, right? I am sure you may have seen examples of these ‘helpful’ charts the companies provide about dental health or obesity. All they are is advertising disguised as education.

I sat in my vet's waiting room with little Matteo the other day, he was due for his vaccinations. I watched in disbelief & anger as the video on loop was for a dental prescription kibble stocked in the surgery. It was a bloody joke, they painted nail polish on the end of a flathead screwdriver, waited till it was dry then pushed it through a piece of dry dog kibble. And voila! Amazingly the nail polish was scratched off, suggesting that the screwdriver was covered in tarter and was mimicking what happens when your dog's tooth bites into it. Tartar removal!

While this mechanical scraping motion can remove some build-up, it's important to know one simple biological fact about cats' and dog's mouths & the saliva they produce. The carbohydrates that make up most of the ingredients in dry food reacts to their saliva, which turns into starches and then into sugars. Imagine eating a sugary meal every single day! This is the very simple reason, I go into far more detail in this Blog:

and a video on YouTube:

Prescription Diets for Dogs & Cats

“Prescription Diets” are stocked in almost all Vet Surgeries. The term ‘Prescription’ means to be prescribed by a qualified professional, in this case a Veterinarian. Medicines for humans require a prescription from a qualified doctor. These human medicines require rigorous trials over time,  need to be peer-reviewed, pass extensive trials & produce proven benefits before being available for sale and then being prescribed and administering them to patients. 

You visit your doctor, you are prescribed a medicine for your health issue. After some time the script runs out and you revisit your doctor for a checkup and possible refill for the medications if required. You are NOT prescribed a lifetime of medication without regular checkups and monitoring. So, why are dogs and cats put on these prescription diets and left to their own devices without regular monitoring, and -calledblood tests to see if these so call ‘medical foods are working or not? And many of my clients who come to me for help have had their unwell doggo cat on one of these prescription diets for years - with absolutely no improvement, in fact over time their pet's health actually deteriorates, hence reaching out to me to help them!

So what is in these foods to suggest they are medicinal and require a prescription? How are they different to other foods you can buy in your supermarket? And here’s another question, why can you buy them at your local pet store over the counter without any prescription at all?

Let's have a look at the ingredients and compare a prescription dog food claiming to heal itchy skin and a regular dry dog food.

Itchy skin or possible allergy to a type of food? There’s a product for that! Royal Canin Prescription Diet Z/D Skin/Food Sensitivities Adult Dog Food costs $92 for 3.6 kilos! That's more than $30 per kilo of food! Product claim: helps avoid skin & digestive issues caused by adverse food reactions. The Top five ingredients in order of most to last are:

Prescription Diet for dogs with itchy skin

Before you purchase this food, do you know what your itchy dog is actually reacting to? Is it environmental, do they have a sensitivity to a cleaning chemical or shampoo?  If it is say for example, chicken thats causing the issue, have you gone through an elimination diet to see? If Chicken is the problem and you don’t know this is the cause, this product's ONLY animal protein source is Hydrolized Chicken Liver. It will make your dog worse. The third ingredient is Cellulose which is actually Sawdust. So, for $30 a kilo.... I’d be wanting a much better ingredient list! And, what’s in this that is a medicine that will stop an itchy reactive dog from scratching himself raw? 

Let’s compare that ingredient list on a bag of regular dry dog food. This one comes in at $35.15 for 3 kilos, thats around $11 per kilo. The top 5 ingredients in this one look a lot better than the prescription one. Chicken Meal, (a better quality protein source than hydrolised chicken liver) Ground rice, oats, fish meal and chicken fat. The top 5 ingredients generally make up 99% of the food, anything after these around only 1%. 

Regular Dry Dog Food available from Pet Stores

In my opinion the regular dog food is superior, it’s ingredients are far better than the prescription top 5 which was corn starch, not even the whole corn, hydrolyzed chicken liver, cellulose, soybean oil (which has been proven to cause inflammation in human trials and calcium carbonate. which would be synthetic. 

Now, lets compare a prescription dry food for cats with a regular dry cat food. Unfortunately, a really high percentage of cats suffer from renal and kidney issues, so many in fact that I have done a in-depth video on choosing the best foods for your cat to ensure they don’t fall victim to these life threatening illnesses:

Prescription diet for Cats with Renal Illness

This one comes in at an eye-watering $98 per 3 kilo bag. That's almost $33 per kilo! Last time I checked thats the same price as beautiful human grade Atlantic salmon! Luxury indeed!

Okay, the ingredients in the top five are Chicken, whole grain corn, more corn in the form of corn gluten meal, whole grain wheat and Brewers rice. Cats are obligate carnivores, that is they only eat meat. Add up all these grains and you’ve got a major problem here, again, check out the video linked below and you’ll gain an understanding of why. Not to mention this quantity of carbohydrates puts your cat under so much physical stress as their bodies try to process something they simply can not! Now, here’s the corker with this bag of ‘food’. It does list Potassium Citrate in the 16th position. Potassium Citrate is a urinary alkalinizer. It works by making the urine more alkaline (less acid). Anyone who’s suffered a UTI understands that when you urinate it burns, so this tiny insignificant amount of this chemical may help to reduce this sensation. In human land this medicine is available only with your doctor’s prescription & there needs to be blood tests undertaken every 6 months to monitor the human's kidney function. It’s a potassium salt with a saline taste.

Then, the next ingredients of note are the 3 different names for salt. When you eat salty foods, you get thirsty. When your cat eats salty food they too will become thirsty and drink more water. Drinking more water means they have to use their kidneys more to filter and in turn, urinate more. An animal suffering from impaired kidney function should be on a diet that supports the kidneys, not making them work more! The logic here is more wee, less crystals or stones. But by the time your cat is showing symptoms the damage is already done.

So, basically this foods ‘medicine’ is plain old salt, & at $33 a kilo that’s some bloody expensive salt!

Comparing, regular adult cat food ingredients is interesting. In this one the top 5 are Dehydrated Australian Poultry, Peas, Pea Protein, Sweet Potato & Dehydrated Australian beef.

Regular Dry Cat food available from a Pet Store

Already the top 5 ingredients contain 2 animal protein sources in comparison to the single one in the prescription mix. There is one listing of sodium coming in at 17th place,  in comparison the the 3 plus the potassium in the other food. AND, it comes in at $17.95 per kilo. I know which one I would be feeding my cat if I had to choose!!

Show me a study, any study or research proving their claims to be medicinal to be true and I am on board. There are none, other than those undertaken by the companies that make the products. It’s interesting that these studies can NOT be produced by any independent and unbiased verified testing facilities. They have not been done! The only way you can be sure that these products do what they actually claim to is to have them independently tested & verified by an unbiased and independent lab. So, where are these trials that by law need to be made public for human prescription medicines? There is no evidence whatsoever that this has occurred, the companies can’t produce them.

If your vet ‘prescribes’ a specific diet, ask them to explain why & ask about the ingredients used. If they can not explain them to you, ask for an alternative option. Above all, respect your Vet’s knowledge but do not feel intimidated, you have the right to make informed decisions when it comes to your pet’s health.

Prescription Diets/Medicines should be FDA reviewed & verify the health claims on any veterinary diet. They are NOT.

Prescription Diets/Medicines should only be available at the Clinic, they are NOT you can get them at all big pet stores.

So, the real question is how can they be called medicine?

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