Specialised veterinary diets: what are they and why do we sell them at Petfix Shop?

One of the exciting product ranges that we stock at petfixshop.ie is the Pro Plan range of foods. The fact that I am a vet allows our shop to stock some products that are not normally sold by pet shops, whether online or bricks and mortar. The Pro Plan foods are a good example: they are “veterinary diets” or “prescription diets”. Today, I want to explain how these are they different to normal diets. And why are they only sold through vets?

The pet food that’s sold through pet shops has been formulated for healthy pets which don’t have underlying disease problems. There are some illnesses that require specialised nutrition, and that’s where these “veterinary” or “prescription” diets come in. The products have been designed as a form of ancillary treatment for some specific conditions. They are still “complete” diets, and while they could probably be fed to other pets without problems, they would not be ideal for them. It’s better to feed healthy pets on food that has been formulated for healthy pets.

So what sort of disease conditions can benefit from specialised nutrition? And which products in the Petfixshop are available to meet this need?

Kidney disease is the classic example: we know that cats with chronic renal failure can have their remaining life expectancy doubled if they are fed a diet specially formulated for cats with kidney disease.  Restricted levels of phosphorus, limited amounts of high quality protein, enhanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other features ensure that the stress on the kidneys and the impact of the disease on the cat’s metabolism is kept to a minimum. It is not easy to home-make this type of specialised formula, and it really does make a big difference.

Weight reduction diets are the next example. While some pets lose weight simply by having their normal rations restricted, sometimes it’s not so easy. There are different types of weight control diets: the general aim is to make pets feel satisfied while taking in fewer calories. The traditional method was a high fibre diet: pets eat more bulk with less calories so they feel more full. The alternative method is to feed a high protein, low carbohydrate diet: this makes pets naturally feel more satiated so that they don’t go looking for more food after their rations have been scoffed.

Diabetes is seen in pets just as in humans. Unlike humans, however, nearly all pets need daily injections of insulin. That said, carefully designed nutrition is an important additional way of helping to stabilise diabetic pets. These contain lower levels of carbohydrates than standard diets, creating less of a blood glucose surge after meals.

So-called gastro-intestinal diets contain low fat levels as well as other highly digestible ingredients. For any pet suffering from an upset digestive system, a gastrointestinal diet helps towards a rapid recovery. If a dog or cat is prone to bouts of vomiting or diarrhoea, this is a useful product to have on the shelf. The special Proplan probiotics, Fortiflora, are a useful extra tool for these situations..

Kidney and bladder stones develop when mineral constituents of the urine crystallise together, forming solid stones that irritate the bladder and have the potential to cause a urinary obstruction. Traditionally, surgery to remove such stones was the only option, but now, specialised diets can alter the chemical composition of the urine, preventing the formation of crystals and stones, and in some cases, helping  bladder stones to dissolve naturally, over a period of time.

Food allergies can cause itchiness in pets, although this is less common than many people think.Diagnosis can be challenging: the only proven way is to feed a trial diet that has been designed not to prompt an allergy. If the pet stops itching, then you have proven that the diet was the cause. Special hydrolysed diets are often the first choice of specialist skin vets: these foods have been pre-treated with “hydrolysis” so that all of the protein has been pre-digested into short chains at a molecular level. The immune system cannot react in an allergic way to such short chains of protein. Feeding a diet like this is the best way to diagnose food allergy: an allergic pet generally stops itching soon after starting to eat nothing but this special food, allowing the diagnosis to be confirmed. To rule out food allergy, the special diet needs to be fed for 6-8 weeks: if the pet doesn’t stop itching during this period, it’s safe to say that food allergy is not the cause.

As well as this specific and high-end anti-allergy diet, so-called “dermatology diets” are available, with ingredients designed to optimise skin health. Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and other specific nutrients have been added as an integral part of the diet.

“Pet-Alzheimers”, also known as doggy dementia or cat cognitive disorder, is seen more and more, now that pets are living longer lives. This can sometimes be helped by feeding a diet with ingredients chosen to support brain function: again, the Proplan range includes this type of food.

There are some other specialised diets from vets that are also available, including low iodine diets to treat hyperthyroidism in cats, special diets to assist with the treatment of certain specific cancers, and others too.

If you find yourself wondering if your pet would benefit from a special diet, ask your vet to find out. Or drop me a message via the Petfix Club Ask A Vet question, and I’ll guide you in the right direction.

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