Sometimes Good Medicine is Simply Good Nutrition

For pets with chronic health issues, veterinarians might recommend specific therapeutic diets.  Designed to provide the right type of nutrition for the pet’s unique problems, these diets are often used for the lifetime of the pet.   But, when finances are tight, are these “prescription diets” really worth the cost?


Feeding your dog or cat seems like an easy chore, but if your pet is suffering from kidney disease, allergies or even cancer, his nutritional needs require special attention.   Most veterinarians keep an inventory of therapeutic or “prescription” diets on hand to help manage chronically sick pets.   In spite of the benefits provided by these diets, the weak economy and rising prices have many owners thinking twice about staying on the more expensive diets.

In 1940, Dr. Mark Morris, a veterinarian in New Jersey, was treating one of his patients, “Buddy”, for kidney failure.   “Buddy” was one of the first “seeing eye” guide dogs in the United States.  Dr. Morris found that he could improve Buddy’s quality of life by providing him with a diet that helped ease the work of his kidneys.  He named this new diet “k/d” for kidney diet and he quickly became inundated with requests from veterinarians for his special food.

Dr. Morris continued to study how the right foods can benefit patients suffering from a variety of diseases.  His visionary work sparked a multi-million dollar industry dedicated to providing optimal nutrition for chronically ill pets.  Today, companies such as Hill’s Pet Foods, Purina Veterinary Diets, Iams, and Royal Canin all commit extensive resources towards research and production of therapeutic diets.

These special diets differ from routine pet foods by the reduction, addition, or manipulation of key nutrients.  For example, k/d has much lower phosphorus and protein levels than normal pet diets.  This balance helps reduce the workload of the kidneys and actually slows the progression of the disease.  For pet stricken with cancer, high levels of quality fat and protein with lower carbohydrate levels can help starve cancer cells and prolong the pet’s life.

Special therapeutic diets are also available for pets with allergies, urinary bladder stones, digestive issues, heart conditions, liver problems and even arthritic pets.

But, all of this scientific research and expertise does come with a cost.   Therapeutic diets often appear to be unusually expensive when compared to regular diets.   As an example, a 30 lb bag of a prescription diet for dogs suffering from allergies can cost more than $90.  For a typical 60 lb dog, this bag of food should last around 45 days, meaning that the daily food cost is $2 per day.

Some owners are tempted to take matters into their own hands and create homemade diets for their pets.  According to the Small Animal Clinical Nutrition text, homemade recipes are often available for a variety of pet illnesses.  However, once the cost of ingredients is added, along with time spent in preparation and extra trips to the grocery, these homemade diets are often just as pricey as the commercially prepared food.

And, without veterinary guidance, these attempts at cost savings often end up hurting the pet.  Owners take short cuts and buy cheaper meats and/or grains due to personal preference or availability of the ingredients.  These lower quality or different ingredients can adversely affect the pet and even worsen his or her underlying disease.  One study also estimated that more than 90% of homemade diets for sick pets are not nutritionally adequate.

So, how can owners keep their pet’s diets from emptying their wallets?  First, talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s overall health condition.  Some pets are put on certain therapeutic diets for a limited time only.   If your pet is overweight, battling bladder stones, or even suffering from digestive upset, it is likely that you only need to feed the special diet for a limited time.

Next, if your pet does need his prescription food for a longer time, order in larger size bags.   The initial cost is certainly higher, but you will save money on a per feeding basis since large bags cost less per pound.

Many veterinarians stock only one brand of therapeutic diet due to lack of storage space and high inventory costs.   Ask your veterinarian if a competing food manufacturer has a diet similar to the one your pet needs and if a cost difference exists.  If the food is indicated for your pet’s illness, it’s possible to save a few dollars with a different brand.

Finally, consider having the diet shipped directly to your home.   Several of the pet food manufacturers offer home delivery of the foods.  This option could save you time and gas money.

These therapeutic diets have enabled millions of dogs and cats to live longer, happier lives despite their illnesses.   On-going research will continue to discover how we can provide the highest level of nutrition to our pets, no matter what illness or condition they might encounter.  Veterinarians will continue to rely on these diets because of their proven track record.  

Respiratory Diseases in Cats

Cats are prone to many respiratory diseases. The most common are infections of the nose, upper respiratory tract and eyes. The causes of upper respiratory infections (URI) are viruses and bacteria. Less commonly, these organisms invade the lower airways (trachea and lungs). Cats also get non-infectious respiratory diseases like asthma.

Feline Respiratory Virus
Two highly contagious virus is to blame for most respiratory infections in cats. These are Feline Herpesvirus-1, which causes feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) and feline calicivirus (FCV), which causes the disease with the same name. Both organisms are easily transmitted through sneezing and contact between cats. They can also be spread on hands, clothing and lifeless objects.

Signs of FVR are sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, which may be thick and green, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite and drooling. Non-vaccinated kittens and cats are often seriously ill and may even die. Signs of FCV is similar but there are differences. The nasal discharge in cats with FCV are wet. FCV can also cause mouth ulcers, diarrhea, and arthritis. Some cases of FCV progress pneumonia, but most cats eventually recover. Although laboratory tests are sometimes used, FVR and FCV is usually diagnosed based on a physical examination.

Treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and preventing secondary bacterial infections. Liquids are administered, since dehydration is common, especially if the cat does not eat or drink. Decongestants and antihistamines help with nasal problems. Antibiotics not kill the viruses, but are prescribed to sick cats to avoid getting bacterial infections. Cats with FCV and FVR also benefit from being kept warm, stress-free, and is fed to happen. Heated, are highly recommended tasty food, baby food taste like meat, tuna flavored cat food, or veterinary diets designed for sick cats. Most cats recover within one week or two.

It is difficult to completely prevent viral respiratory infections, but vaccines are very valuable. Vaccinated cats are less sensitive, and if they get any of these viruses as they usually have only mild symptoms. The combination vaccine given to most cats protects against both FVR and FCV. Keeping cats indoors and to avoid exposure to stray animals is also favorable. If you handle other cats, wash hands and change all contaminated clothing before handling your own cat. The virus can linger in the environment for several days, but cleaning with diluted bleach will remove them.

Bacterial Diseases
Two types of bacteria have been linked to respiratory diseases in cats. Chlamydophila felis (formerly Chlamydia psittaci) causes inflammation of the eyelids and watery eyes. It is spread by direct contact between cats and is treated with antibiotics. There is a vaccine for cats at risk.

Bordetella bronchiseptica causes disease similar to viral disease, with one important difference. Coughing is uncommon with other diseases, but is common in cats infected with Bordetella. Bordetella is highly contagious and can be transmitted between dogs and cats. Bordetella is a serious problem in shelters and other places where many cats are housed. Its significance for individually owned cats are still under research. A vaccine has recently become available for cats Bordetella, but it is especially recommended for cats at high risk, such as those in shelters. Check with your veterinarian to see if your cat would benefit from vaccination against bacterial respiratory diseases.

Other Diseases
Cats, other respiratory diseases as well, but they are uncommon. Feline asthma similar condition in humans. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Emergency treatment may be needed for acute episodes. Asthma isn’t cured but can be controlled with medication.

Cough and breathing difficulties may also be a sign of heartworm in cats. This usually disappears within one to two years, but there is no treatment. It can sometimes be fatal. Cats can be protected against infection with heartworms using a monthly medication. Ask your vet whether your cat needs heartworm preventative medication.