Veterinary Diets for Dogs and Cats

By: Jennifer Coates, DVMUpdated:

Prescription Pet Food for Dogs and Cats
Photo: iStock / chendongshan

Veterinary Diets for Dogs and Cats

Nutrition plays a crucial role in the overall health and well-being of any pet, just as it does with people. That’s why the clichéd phrase “You are what you eat” is thrown around so often. It’s true when a pet is healthy, but even more so when he is sick. Diet is a crucial part of any treatment plan. Since nutrition is such a powerful tool for combating illness, veterinarians commonly recommend veterinary diets for an ailing animal.

What Are Veterinary Diets?

Veterinary diets are specially formulated to help manage specific health issues. When standard diets lack the best ingredients or nutrients to battle an illness, veterinarians may suggest a veterinary diet. Being on a veterinary diet could reduce or eliminate the need for an animal to receive medications or other forms of treatment. These products go through extensive testing and quality control and can be life-changing for a struggling pet.

Types of Veterinary Diets

Gastrointestinal Diets

Pets can experience gastrointestinal issues like vomiting or diarrhea for many reasons, including:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Dietary indiscretion
  • Colitis
  • Infections
  • Problems with the digestion or absorption of food

These conditions may respond to a highly digestible pet food made with a careful balance of fiber, fats, protein and carbohydrates. Gastrointestinal veterinary-recommended diets often include prebiotics and antioxidants to support smooth digestion and a strong immune system.

Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care is a canned veterinary diet specially formulated for easy digestion. This is helpful when a dog is recovering from illness or surgery and needs to eat a gentler diet. *

Low-fat gastrointestinal foods, like Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Gastrointestinal Low Fat dry dog food, are recommended sometimes when a dog experiences difficulty digesting fat or needs help with weight management in addition to a gastrointestinal diet.

Because many pet parents prefer to feed grain-free diets to their fur kids, it’s no surprise that some brands, such as Blue Buffalo, offer a grain-free gastrointestinal option. Natural Veterinary Diet GI Gastrointestinal Support Grain-Free canned cat food is ideal for felines who need an easy-to-digest diet.

Hypoallergenic Diets

Food allergies can wreak havoc on an animal’s skin and digestive health. It’s hard to watch pets live with the discomfort from chronic food allergies, but a veterinary-recommended diet may be all that is needed to return them to health. Veterinarians also typically recommend hypoallergenic diets for pets who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease.

Veterinary diets that are specially formulated for food allergies avoid common allergens found in standard diets. They are made either from a single, novel protein source or hydrolyzed proteins, meaning the proteins have been broken down into small pieces that avoid detection by the pet’s immune system.

Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed Formula is a dry dog food that utilizes a vegetarian formula containing a single hydrolyzed protein source (soy). Cats also can benefit from hydrolyzed proteins, such as those included in Hill’s Prescription Diet z/d Original Skin/Food Sensitivities dry food. This diet also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for a healthy coat and skin. *

Kidney Diets

Many types of kidney disease cannot be cured. However, with appropriate treatment, many pets can go on to enjoy life for quite some time. Diet is a huge part of the program, and veterinarians typically recommend veterinary diets for pets with kidney disease.

To reduce the workload on the kidneys, veterinary kidney diets generally:

  • are made from high-quality protein sources
  • contain low levels of phosphorus and sodium
  • have added vitamins and minerals

Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d Kidney Care Chicken & Vegetable Stew canned cat food provides all of the above as well as omega-3 fatty acids to combat inflammation. For dogs, Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets NF Kidney Function Formula dry dog food also checks all of those boxes. A vet also might recommend this food for dogs suffering from any disease that requires lower sodium levels. *

Urinary Diets

Diet can make a huge difference for pets suffering from disease of the lower urinary tract. Urinary tract problems might include:

  • Bladder infections
  • Stones or crystals
  • Inflammation in the bladder
  • Incontinence
  • Cancer of the urinary tract

Foods in this category typically restrict minerals that are linked to stone formation, while promoting overall urinary tract health. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Urinary SO dry dog food aims to increase urine volume which decreases the chances that crystals and stones will form.

A feline-friendly option is Hill's Prescription Diet c/d Multicare Urinary Care with Chicken Canned Cat Food, which can prevent the formation of the two most common types of urinary stones in cats—struvite and calcium oxalate. It even dissolves struvite stones, often eliminating the need for surgery! Cats who are at risk for recurrent urinary problems can eat Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d Multicare long-term as a preventative measure. *

Overweight cats are more prone to a variety of health issues, including urinary tract disease. If your cat is susceptible to weight gain and requires a urinary care food, your veterinarian might recommend Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet WU Weight Management + Urinary Care Grain-Free canned cat food. It contains reduced fat but increased levels of fiber to help your cat feel full.

Other Veterinary Diet Options

The veterinary-recommended diets mentioned above are not the only ones available. Other health problems that may benefit from a veterinary-recommended diet include:

  • Dental disease
  • Joint support
  • Brain aging/disease
  • Cardiac care
  • Recovery from serious illness or injury
  • Weight management
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Cancer

If your veterinarian suggests a veterinary diet dog food or a veterinary diet cat food, know that in some cases, it may only be necessary for a short period of time. Keep in touch with your veterinarian so he or she can monitor the efficacy of the diet and determine if and when it is appropriate to transition back to your pet’s regular food.

*  “Hill’s Prescription Diet” refers to their veterinary diet product line and does not require a prescription from a veterinarian.

By: Dr. Jennifer Coates
Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado in the years since. She is also the author of numerous articles, short stories, and books, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, children, dog (Apollo), and cat (Minerva).


By: Jennifer Coates, DVMUpdated: