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Why Your Dog Doesn’t Need That Expensive Prescription Diet

Dog-Dislikes-FoodI remember when, as a younger veterinarian, the reps who promoted prescription diets would say, “Be sure to tell your clients that the diet is not guaranteed to prevent recurrence of the condition. However, be sure the pet doesn’t eat anything else.” While one pet after another did have a recurrence, I began to question why a prescription diet was necessary, or for that matter, even a good idea!

Now, it’s been well over a decade and I’ve run a successful holistic practice without using any prescription diets. We manage or cure disease with fresh, healthy species-appropriate diets.

High Price, Low Value

Recently a new client told me she had just purchased an eight pound bag of prescription diet for $28.00. I was aghast! It’s been awhile since I’ve been aware of how much these foods cost. I’m surely going to stop telling customers that raw foods cost more than kibble now!

Despite the high cost, some prescription diets continue to include preservatives like ethoxyquin! Ethoxyquin is a dinosaur from the dark ages of kibble manufacturing. In the last decade or so, common sense and consumer pressure won out and cancer causing preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin have disappeared from most premium, over the counter pet foods. At least they were removed from the foods targeted at pet owners who might take the time to look at the label.

It’s an embarrassment that the foods that have continued to contain these toxic ingredients are those prescribed by the “most knowledgeable” segment of the pet community, the veterinarians. Why is it that pet owners are apparently the only ones looking at the label?

If anybody took anything more than a precursory glance at prescription food labels, they’d see how vast amounts of starchy, genetically modified (GMO) corn continues to be a staple. Excessive starch consumption contributes to obesity and predisposes pets to insulin resistance and diabetes. GMO corn exposes the gastrointestinal tract to pesticides and allows intestinal bacteria to become pesticide manufacturing plants, a potential cause of inflammatory bowel disease or even intestinal neoplasia: Mercola.Com

It’s sad to note that the only way we’ve been trained to judge the quality of dog food is stool consistency. While it could be a fair reflection of the digestibility of the nutrients in the food, in reality, pet food manufacturers know how to artificially thicken those stools by using ingredients like cellulose. Methylcellulose is a semi-synthetic complex carbohydrate that can absorb large quantities of water. It can work as a laxative with increased water consumption but without it, methylcellulose firms the stools: Orthomolecular.Org One of the most noticeable changes when switching from a prescription diet to raw food is the decrease in stool volume, due to a dramatic decrease in this waste ingredient. This would be a true indication of food digestibility!

Manufacturers of most prescription diets also caution against long-term feeding of their diets. Most of these diets are extremely restricted in specific nutrients and they are not intended to be fed long term, as significant deficiencies can develop. However, this caution is not commonly relayed to pet guardians.

Low Protein Diets And Kidney Disease

Perhaps the most detrimental of the prescription diet myths is the claim that a reduced protein diet must be fed to manage senior pets or those with kidney or liver disease. A well respected veterinary endocrinologist and author of a text book on how to home prepare balanced diets for pets, states that it’s important to NOT restrict protein content in pets with liver disease. She explains that as liver disease progresses, it will become necessary for muscle tissue to help clear metabolic waste. If protein has been restricted and muscle wasting has occurred, this function won’t be possible. Pets on low protein diets will succumb to the effects of toxin buildup in the body sooner rather than later, due to the loss of this muscle mass: Home-Prepared Dog And Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck

In my holistic practice I’ve successfully fed raw diets with large amounts of quality proteins to my liver and kidney patients for years. We combine each meal with probiotics and healthy amounts of blended greens to help remove waste protein (urea) through the feces. This blending, the presence of moisture, and the quality of the protein help limit the waste protein, which can become a burden to the compromised organs.

In addition, a fresh diet containing a variety of nutrients, including bone with adequate calcium, can help to balance phosphorous. Phosphorous can damage the kidneys when present in excess quantities. Consumers have been misled to believe that high protein content is the issue but a raw diet consisting of large amounts of quality protein can help maintain muscle mass and is very palatable.

Aging pets enjoy eating a variety of fresh, meat-based foods as their lives progress. Their health and bodies are more easily supported and repaired with nutrients from fresh, unprocessed foods, not those expensive prescription diets.

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25 Responses to Why Your Dog Doesn’t Need That Expensive Prescription Diet

  1. Dr. Jodie Gruenstern February 28, 2014 at 1:07 PM #

    Recently, Dr. Chew at the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association convention presented research which showed that the phosphorous ranges upon which veterinarians rely as “normal”, should be a narrower range. What this means is a “normal” but high end phosphorous could be contributing to kidney damage sooner rather than later. Meat is high in phosphorous. Calcium binds phosphorous and sends it out in the stool so that it is not burdensome to the kidneys. This is an important concept for raw feeders! It is vitally important to balance and bind the excessive phosphorous and remove it and to be way more concerned about this than the protein level in the diet. Most of you already know that quality protein is wonderful for maintenance of good muscle mass and aids in toxin removal as kidney and liver patients age and progress. This research proves it is the balancing and removal of the phosphorous that is key. Feeding adequate bone and or calcium and adding greens and probiotic for cleansing and detoxing enhances quality of life and longevity. Dr. Chew emphasizes Vitamin D intervention as helpful and important in the appropriate management of phosphorous levels in kidney patients as well.

  2. susan macdonald December 10, 2013 at 2:19 PM #

    my dog is also on a prescription diet royal canine so. I have a golden retriever not yet two. We’ve tried a few times to change her food, canine cavier for seniors(because it said on there website it helps with crystals) and also origin. Everytime we switch her foods her ph went up and she developed struvite crystals and blatter infections. I ended up spending 500 a pop to get rip of the problems any suggestion. She has also had yeast infections on her vulva and ears and had been itchy on these other foods.

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern December 10, 2013 at 6:50 PM #

      I do not recommend taking a dog off his/her prescription diet and simply changing to another dry kibble. I don’t care how expensive or ‘special” the dry kibble is, it is still full of starch and dry. It is NOT a “species-appropriate” diet. Especially dogs and cats predisposed to urinary tract disease need to be on prey-concept, wet diets. So, unfortunately the dietary changes you mentioned which “did not work” did not include changing to a meat-based, wet diet. Also, these fresh, meat-based diets can be “tweaked” with added vegetation which can manipulate the urinary pH to inhibit the production of struvite or calcium oxalate crystals or stones. We begin with a current urinalysis, then feed a reputable, balanced commercial raw diet. Then after 2 to 4 weeks on that diet we check a urinalysis and manipulate as needed from there. We provide clients w/ a list of fruits and veggies which drive the pH higher or lower as needed.

  3. betsy November 23, 2013 at 1:54 PM #

    Have a 13 year old golden. She had a tumor removed from her liver a year ago. She had been on EVO dry for last 8 years and did great. After surgery was not able to keep kibble down so vet put her on Prescription diet I/D and did well with Flora but now in last 7 months her entire underside from stomach to flanks is raw and irritated and vet now is giving her medication (Tramol) for allergies. I believe its from all the corn and rice in food. Can you suggest another (more natural) and healthier alternative can food. Please get back to me as soon as you can

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern November 24, 2013 at 11:31 PM #

      Canned food? I do like the Nature’s Logic, but it is still processed. Try to add blended, lightly cooked dark leafy green veggies (brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, etc. maybe even some beets) these are all great for liver disease. I would try to use a health practitioner who can provide your Golden with the Standard Process Livaplex and maybe their SP Cruciferous Complete. Are you using Denosyl or Denamarin? Animal Apawthecary has a good quality milk thistle. I recommend bloodwork before the change and then again two to four weeks after the change. I would suggest a bile acid panel and/or at least an ALT and SAP. Good luck with your buddy.

  4. Gillian Bassett November 19, 2013 at 9:12 PM #

    Why would you infer that it is in part due to GMO corn? What is your issue? Where is your proof ? Where is your research or links to relevant websites to verify these statements??? ? ..please, if you consider yourself an expert on nutrition, do not create unnecessary fear. Please provide references so I and others can make these decisions independently.
    Any issues I had with my pet food in general was in regard to corn content in the food, and just that, high corn content rather than high protein content. Pets were never meant to live on cornmeal or substitute. Please, teach nutrition and do not ‘preach’ non GMO, when you should encourage, protein first, on any list of ingredients..as we do for ourselves…

    • Kerstan A. November 21, 2013 at 2:33 PM #



      Not trying to coax you into anything, but just open your mind a little bit. Give it a chance.

      Using simple logic and common sense, we can deduce the fact that eating a modified, unnatural diet is in NO way healthy.

      Ask yourself this – Why would our creator [ whether it be 'God' or 'Nature', whatever you personally believe ] create us without the proper tools, internal systems/functions, etc. to be able to survive naturally? Wouldn’t that be contradicting? That’s like having every human being born without teeth. Our species would surely not survive.

      It’s no different with GMO’s.

      We are created to eat a species-appropriate, NATURAL diet, designed as NATURE intended, not a MAN-MADE one.

      This applies to not only us and our canine companions, but EVERY species on the planet.

      Just think about it, really.

      By no means am I a certified ‘expert’, but I have done an extensive amount of research, as well as having a free, open thinking mind, practice common sense and logic, and excellent innate intuition.

      You may disagree with me, and that is OK, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion and perspectives.

      I just urge you to keep an open mind about things, is all.

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern November 21, 2013 at 3:52 PM #

      Unfortunately most corn in this country IS GMO, unless it is labeled that it is not. We can all only do our best with what we feed ourselves and our pets. I feel it is my duty to inform and share information so pet guardians can make their own well-informed decisions on what to purchase to feed their pets.

    • Jennifer Broome December 18, 2013 at 9:03 PM #

      Gillian, if you are going to off-handedly refute an article written by a veterinarian who does offer sources in her writings, you must also come up with proof yourself in order to seem credible.

      You, yourself, are preaching a high protein diet – and yet, without credentials, this seems ludicrous to me. Are you yourself a veterinary nutritionist? Where are your sources? Your credentials?

      You entreat Dr. Gruenstern to “teach nutrition and do not ‘preach’ non GMO”, yet every source I have seen concerning GMO foods has only predicted – or reported – trouble. And these are actual scientific sources and have nothing to do with any religious outlook about the way God made us.

      I don’t feed my dogs anything I wouldn’t eat. Heck, I won’t feed my dogs some of the things I *do* eat. I am most certainly not feeding my dogs corn – especially not GMO corn!

  5. Mare - Ontario November 19, 2013 at 7:49 PM #

    JJ, I’m no expert by any means but have done plenty of research over many years in an effort to try to help my pets, so, based on my own experiences, that of many others online and the research I’ve done, if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that your aged dog’s inability to tolerate raw is because its gut, after almost 14 yrs of consuming commercially-prepared dog foods rather than ‘real’ foods/treats without toxic chemicals and species-inappropriate grains and preservatives etc. is just too messed up at this point. The gut flora is more likely than naught completely unbalanced from the norm for a canine, the body likely is dependent on the heavier starch rather than animal protein content to which a lifetime of eating such foods can lead. My last Airedale Terrier (@ RB 2008 aged 14 1/2 yrs) was unable to tolerate much raw either until about the last yr and a half of his life. With the use of 4 small meals/day, gut healing supplements such as L-glutamine, slippery elm inner bark, marshmallow, probiotics, digestive enzymes etc etc etc, along with time and patience, his gut healed to the point where he became not only able to tolerate but thrive on a raw diet…which can be a very long process indeed depending on the individual and how badly affected is the gut plus how well or not the endocrine system is still functioning (ie. thryoid = metabolism; pancreas = digestive enzymes and insulin production, etc etc) For instance, hypothyroidism and digestive problems often go hand in hand (or is that paw in paw?) according to world-renowned canine thyroid expert Dr W Jean Dodds, DVM and author (Hemopet: http://hemopet.org/ + Nutriscan: http://nutriscan.org/). Plus the toxic body burden of the liver, kidneys and other organs by your dog’s advanced age may be so heavy now due to lifelong toxic accumulation from the many vaccines, heartworm and flea medications over the lifetime not to mention the toxic world we live in today which dogs, being so close to the ground and with noses to the ground as their natures tend make them much more vulnerable than are we hoomans, that the body can no longer properly detoxify as nature intended. Suggest you enlist the aid of a Master Herbalist such as Robert McDowell: http://www.herbal-treatments.com/home/treatments-for-dogs &/or Veterinary Homeopath, Diana Hayes: http://www.holisticanimalmedicines.com/ both of whom consult online and ship their respective herbal or homeopathic remedies the world over. Sending zen for good luck and better health to you & your dog.

  6. Kerstan A. November 19, 2013 at 3:05 PM #

    Once again, a great article dismissing the ignorance that surrounds prescription dog foods, as well as kibble in general.

    It seems that the major reason behind why conventional veterinarians push prescription kibbles and kibble in general is notoriously due to making profit.

    It’s a money-making cycle.

    Feed your dog an inappropriate, kibble-based diet. Due to the inadequacies and lack of proper nutrition in kibble, your pet’s health will gradually deteriorate over time, starting with less obvious signs, such as ‘doggy breath, oily/greasy coat, large piles of smelly/mushy stools [ firm stools are not necessary an indicator of a good or proper diet, as explained in this article ], slight tartar buildup, minor allergies, minor hair loss and skin chewing, etc.’. Once your pet’s health starts to deteriorate at a faster pace, with more obvious signs, such as ‘bald spots/patches of hair loss, excessive chewing and scratching, fowl doggy breath, extreme tartar buildup, fowl mushy stools, excessive oily/greasy coat, vomiting, excessive allergies, behavioral issues, etc.’, you will seek veterinarian care, where they then will simply try to sell you the prescription diet gimmick, keeping you in an everlasting, vet profiting loop.

    Here’s a good read about this : http://rawfed.com/myths/vets.html

    Now J J, how long has your dog been on a kibble-based diet? By no means am I a veterinarian or certified to diagnose your dog, however, most dogs go through a ‘detox phase’ after switching to an all natural, species appropriate RAW diet.

    When a dog’s immune and digestive systems have been compromised due to eating an inappropriate, grain-based diet, their internal systems will not be running up to par as they normally would be, therefore causing similar reactions to that of your dog’s.

    Here’s a good read : http://rawfed.com/myths/bacteria.html

    Lastly, there is no such thing as ‘too much protein’ for a dog, a CARNIVORE.

    Good read for this too : http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=protein_myth

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern November 21, 2013 at 3:45 PM #

      Great point about the “detox/cleanse”, thank you for adding that. High protein does need to be removed via the GI tract in liver and kidney patients however. Dark greens with the meat and probiotics can help facilitate that. This will decrease the burden of waste protein on those compromised organs.

  7. A Shelton November 19, 2013 at 2:48 PM #

    I would like to give my renal compromised GSD more meat/protein in his diet BUT I am scared to go back to a high protein diet. He is doing well on Royal Canin’s low protein/kidney diet. I supplement with canned tripe every other day. His BUN is normal and cretinine is stable at 2.0. However, I know he has kidney damage so I am scared to go back to old diet since he’s doing well now. The prescription diet is overly expensive for what it is but some of us have few choices.

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine November 21, 2013 at 11:26 AM #

      There are many choices. Did you know that Darwin’s now offers a raw veterinary diet for renal disease? They know, as most holistic vets do, that low quality proteins (found in plant less digestible plant matter) are the issue for the kidneys, not protein itself. Dr Chris Bessent talks about diet and kidney disease in the May issue of Dogs Naturally Magazine – if you’re a subscriber, you should go back and read it, you might find it useful.

      • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern November 21, 2013 at 3:35 PM #

        Be sure to check a pet’s calcium and potassium levels before utilizing Darwin’s. As i recall, Darwin’s contains Epakitin and/or Renakare? which can add calcium and potassium, respectively. Many pets with kidney disease need this addition, but some do not. So be sure your veterinarian checks a baseline before utilizing these.

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern November 21, 2013 at 3:41 PM #

      Sometimes you can “tweak” a prescription diet to improve upon it by at least adding a quality source of probiotics/prebiotics ( I like the Flora4 by Carn4 or the Mercola probiotics.) You can add some dark, leafy greens, blended for fresh antioxidants. You could add some enzymes and a nice source of fresh omega 3 fatty acids….anchovy sardine oil or krill oil with astaxanthin, etc.

  8. MA November 19, 2013 at 2:00 PM #

    One further point, just please make sure that your dog is receiving enough nutrition from the Royal Canin diet. That is the company that is using chicken feathers as protein in some of their diets.

  9. Marge November 19, 2013 at 1:57 PM #

    I would say that your situation shows that dogs are different and the same cure does not work for every animal. If you used the same raw food each time, or the same protein, that might be the problem. But it is hard to change from something you know that your friend will do well on after bad experiences with what you are told is better.

    My question is, that although I agree with this article, who is the author. It is not showing on my display.

    • J J November 19, 2013 at 2:22 PM #

      I would dearly love to have a raw fed dog, but like I said, she throws it up and gets sick. I tried to go by the guidelines of a holistic vet online. I fed a wide variety of protein sources and did not fixate on one source all the time. Nothing worked so I am just sticking with the RC. I won’t put her through another hospital stay. She is almost 14 and is too old to spend too many times hooked up to an IV. But I agree with the species appropriate approach. I also fully agree if she had been fed raw from birth she would be a lot healthier now. Thanks for the reply.

  10. J J November 19, 2013 at 1:31 PM #

    My dog has liver problems and throws up any raw meat I try to give her. Why does it make her sick if it is so good for her? I am feeding her Royal Canine Gastrointestinal Low Fat prescription and she has never thrown up on it one time. Am I missing something here? I don’t understand any of this. She has landed in the hospital with an IV and dehydrated. This has happened three different times each time I fed her raw foods and I start really slow each time. So somebody explain this to me, please.

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern November 20, 2013 at 12:03 AM #

      To answer properly I would need to know more specifics…but here are some thoughts. Did you try commercial raw diets or home-prepared? Were they consumed too rapidly or were they fed cold? It is important to always feed raw foods slightly warm, even just splashed with hot tap water. Rapid ingestion or over feeding can also cause vomiting. For liver or kidney disease it is important to mix the balanced raw diet with a generous amount of blended, warm dark, leafy greens. This promotes the removal of waste protein via the intestinal tract thereby decreasing the burden to the liver or kidneys. Did you try different proteins, for example rabbit vs. beef? Different brands? There have been many dogs and cats who have done well long term on these diets despite having liver or kidney disease.

  11. MIchelle O'Neill November 19, 2013 at 1:19 PM #

    Is the paragraph on Low Protein Diets And Kidney Disease correct? Was it suppose to say kidney disease or is liver disease correct?

    • Dr. Jodie Gruenstern November 21, 2013 at 2:42 PM #

      Dr. Schenck refers specifically to liver disease, but the principle is the same for loss of muscle mass due to protein restriction in kidney patients as well.


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