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Veterinary diets, also known as therapeutic diets or prescription diets, are formulated to address specific health issues in cats, such as obesity, kidney disease, or food allergies. Unfortunately, the way these diets are marketed are often misleading, and they may be a poor nutritional choice for your cat.

What does prescription diet really mean?

“Prescription” is a bit of a misnomer for these diets, because they are not drugs, they don’t contain any medical ingredients, and you do not need a prescription to buy them. The only reason why they’re called prescription diets is because the manufacturers of these diets chose to only sell them through veterinarians. There is no independent agency that oversees the claims of these diets, nor are there a lot of independent studies about their efficacy.

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Quality concerns about prescription diets

Most prescription diet ingredient lists read like a primer on what cats shouldn’t eat. They often contain corn, wheat, soy and peas – all things that should not be fed to an obligate carnivore. Essentially, these diets use cheaper ingredients instead of quality animal protein, and yet, they are more expensive than “regular” premium diets.

Why do vets recommend these diets?

In an ideal world, your veterinarian would be the authority on what you should feed your cat. The reality is that most vets receive very little nutritional education in vet school, and what little they do receive is sponsored by the same companies that manufacture these diets. I have a great deal of respect for vets who take time out of their already extremely busy schedules to educate themselves about species-appropriate feline nutrition.

For more information about why prescription diets are generally not a good choice for cats, please read veterinarian Dr. Lisa Pierson’s take on these diets.  I also encourage you to read other articles on her website. Dr. Pierson has been the leading voice about species-appropriate feline nutrition for decades.

 Image by Mircea Iancu via Pixabay

9 Comments on Why a Prescription Diet May Not Be The Best Nutritional Choice for Your Cat

  1. I just brought Tasha back from the animal hospital. She has Pancreatitis. She is on 2 different pain meds, an appetite stimulant, and anti nausea medication. They started her back on an i/d diet which she is eating. She also has problems with constipation and is also on cisapride and miralax 2x day. I will keep her on this i/d diet as it is a pate and I also water it down a little. Hopefully she will pull thru this. She is adjusting well so far. The pain meds are making her feel so much better.

  2. Hi Abby,
    Our Doodles was the same. She started having crystals at around 6 months old. We tried the veterinary diets and she hated them. Eventually she stopped getting the crystals at around 9 or 10 years old. She is now 20 years old and hasn’t had a problem with crystals for the last 10 years. We do not give her dry food at all and she just eats Fancy Feast but the pates only. According to vet website that Ingrid has a link to (which I found many years ago and is very knowledgeable), the FF pates are not bad for kitties but the rest of FF line not so much.

  3. I worked as a vet tech for over 20 years and was appalled by the ingredients in those prescription diets. Cereal, animal by-product, the corn, wheat, soy and peas you’d mentioned, as well as any number of unhealthy fillers and ingredients.
    Many/most vets receive perks from those animal food companies in return for prescribing those foods to their clients.
    Thank you for bringing this issue to light!
    I’ve been shaking my head at this for many years.

    • It is mind boggling that these diets have taken such a hold in the veterinary profession, isn’t it, Cathy? Simple common sense would dictate that these ingredients are not appropriate!

  4. I always wondered if these foods, if they were really helpful or just something expensive sold through the vet. Thanks for this information.

  5. This is horrifying. I adopted my Dawn 5 years ago (or so). She had been given a certain food (because she had urinary infections). I kept it up for a while, but she didn’t like it. I started feeding her regular Fancy Feast varieties. Last Thanksfiving she started going into the litter box every 5 minutes. She had crystals in her urine. We are now giving her Hills & Purina prescription dry/canned foods and she hasn’t had a problem since. I sneak in a drop o regular food once a week. She seems to be dong OK, though the vet was very emphatic that she should be fed only this prescription food for the rest of her life….She doesn’t like it. And we’ve tried every name brand of prescription food crystals. She doesn’t like any of them.

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