What Is Prescription Dog Food?

Prescription Dog Food vs. Prescription Drugs

Prescription dog food is just what it sounds like– dog food that requires a prescription. Given that the person writing the prescription is logically a veterinarian, prescription dog food is sometimes called “veterinarian dog food”. Additional names include “veterinary diet” or “therapeutic diet”. As all of these titles indicate, prescription dog food is veterinarian-approved and clinically tested. Each option is made with a blend of key ingredients, which are uniquely formulated to maximize your dog’s ability to cope with a specific illnesses or health concern. Whether it’s your veterinarian, local pet store, or online retailer, prescription dog food differs from over-the-counter (OTC) alternatives, in that it can only be purchased after a trip to the veterinarian, which ends with a signed prescription.

Prescription dog food holds a unique position in the market. Its high-grade formula is considered superior to over-the-counter alternatives, yet it cannot be sold or labeled like a prescription drug. This is due to the fact that prescription dog food does not go through the same, costly and time-intensive testing necessitated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to be labeled as such. For this same reason, prescription dog food cannot be sold, marketed, or described using any of the following “drug” related words: cure, mitigate, treat, prevent

In place of drug testing, prescription food is subject to clinical testing. Once these trials are approved, the responsibility falls in the lap of the individual veterinarian. Each veterinarian follows normal patient intake protocols and discretionary testing in order to properly diagnosis a dog. Prior to a post-evaluative consultation, the veterinarian must determine whether or not to authorize a prescription dog food as part of the recommended treatment plan. If so, the veterinarian must decide which brand offers the most effective nutritional formula, taking into account the dog’s age, symptoms, diagnosis, and comprehensive treatment plan. 

After selecting a brand and specific formula, the veterinarian then reviews the recommended dosage and makes customized adjustments as needed. Once prescribed, the veterinarian assumes responsibility for each dog’s subsequent reaction. It is up to the veterinarian to schedule follow up testing to monitor not only the progression of the diagnosis, but any nutritional imbalances that may result from the addition of a prescription dog food. In order to continue renewing the prescription, the individual veterinarian must assess whether or not the particular dog food is still a relevant dietary component of the dog’s treatment plan.

Unlike over-the-counter options, prescription dog foods can be harmful to the health of a dog if prescribed incorrectly. So, while legally, prescription dog food cannot be defined as a drug, chemically, it can result in nutritional health imbalances, and especially when given to an otherwise healthy dog. For this reason, pet owners are barred from feeding their dog prescription foods without authorized consent from a board-certified veterinarian.

Why Is Prescription Dog Food Prescribed?

There are a number of health conditions that can be addressed with prescription dog food. Regardless of the issue or severity, all prescription dog foods are made with ingredients to improve and promote a healthy immune system. As with most health issues, an improved diet is almost always recommended. In addition to healthier eating habits, prescription dog food may be a good option for canines suffering from health conditions that are specifically associated with vital canine nutritional deficiencies. Prescription dog foods may be a recommended dietary addition for canines suffering from an illness in one or more of the following regions.


  • Symptoms: The most apparent symptom experienced by dogs suffering from joint pain is impaired mobility. This means increased difficulty with basic actions, such as running, walking, and jumping.
  • Benefits: A joint-specific prescription dog food is designed and clinically tested to help dogs gain more mobility by reducing inflammation and preserving cartilage. Additional benefits include a healthier immune system and better weight control.
  • Ingredients: These lifestyle changes can result from a blend of various antioxidants, in addition to the following four key ingredients: Chondroitin sulfate, Glucosamine, L-carnitine, and Omega-3 fatty acids.


  • Symptoms: Dogs suffering from canine kidney disease or decreased kidney function also tend to have a reduced appetite, often resulting in low muscle mass.
  • Benefits: Prescription dog foods for the kidneys are designed with the muscles in mind. Nutrients are specifically increased or decreased based on the ability to achieve the end goal – maximizing a dog’s ability to build and maintain muscle mass. This means increasing the appetite and supporting the metabolism.
  • Ingredients: This is best accomplished through reduced levels of sodium and phosphorous, along with increased level of antioxidants, carbohydrates, and essential amino acids. In addition, L-Carnitine and Omega-3 fatty acids are common ingredients.


  • Symptoms: Canine heart disease and other problems are most commonly associated with lethargic dog behaviors, such as reduced exercising, limited mobility, and excess sleeping. In more advanced cases, this could result in fainting or collapsing. Other symptoms include appetite loss, abdominal swelling, and recurrent dog coughing.
  • Benefits: Prescription dog food helps to increase blood pressure to a normal state, which reduces symptoms associated with overt lethargy. Further, it works to promote fluid drainage and replenish nutrients that were either lost or not properly circulated.
  • Ingredients: Prescription dog foods that promote heart care often have decreased sodium, along with increased levels of B vitamins, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Taurine, L-carnitine, and Magnesium.

Digestive Tract

  • Symptoms: Logically, the most common symptoms of dogs with digestive issues include those that deal with food processing – consumption and excretion. Symptoms may include dog vomiting, regurgitation, constipation, gas, diarrhea, and overall weakness.
  • Benefits: The key ingredients within this kind of prescription dog food are predominantly focused on improving digestion. This includes supporting regular bowel movements, refining stool quality, growing beneficial gut bacteria, and replacing nutrients that promote easy absorption. 
  • Ingredients: Digestive care ingredients typically include probiotic (yeast or bacteria), electrolytes, B vitamins, and essential fatty acids (Omega-3 and -6). Overall, the blend is characterized by an optimal, healthy balance of both soluble and insoluble fibers. 

Prescription dog food can also be effective in helping with less serious medical issues. For example, prescription dog food may be a great option for dogs that are susceptible to weight gain or easily irritated by certain foods and chemicals.

Weight Management

  • Symptoms: Dogs that struggle with weight management have difficulty either gaining or losing weight. Most prescription foods, however, are focused on controlling weight gain. Seek advice from a veterinarian in order to develop a healthy weight management plan for your dog.
  • Benefits: This kind of prescription dog food aids fat metabolization, supports lean muscle preservation, and promotes meal satisfaction. 
  • Ingredients: As with prescription foods for digestive care, weight management diets also include a healthy balance of soluble and insoluble fibers. Additional ingredients include a blend of antioxidants and L-carnatine, whi