There’s been a shift from pet ownership to pet parenting in the UK. More and more owners are looking for ways to indulge their ‘fur babies’, paying greater attention to their needs than ever before. It’s not just luxury goods for pooches and canine spa days, we’re seeing it in their food too with the rise of prescription dog food.
An increasing number of pet food brands are marketing their products as “prescription dog food”. Owners today are actively looking to improve their pets’ health and wellbeing. Many feed their pets as they do themselves, turning to more natural, raw, organic or even vegan products. They’re giving their pets vitamins and other supplements and are willing to buy premium, high-quality products too.
Diet’s role in pet health
The rising popularity of prescription dog food – whether vet endorsed or not – reflects the fact that owners are paying greater attention to wellbeing. Just as many humans understand that diet has a significant impact on our health, many owners are more aware of their pets’ specific therapeutic needs.
What exactly is prescription dog food?
For a start, dogs are probably even more diverse than humans. A small breed puppy, which has a lot of growing to do, has very different nutritional needs to a fully-grown Doberman. This is reflected in some standard, over-the-counter products. There are published nutritional profiles for different types of dogs, and the serving size and ingredients should be adapted accordingly.
The prescription dog food trend takes this even further, taking into consideration factors like allergens, health, age/breed, or specific health problems such as indigestion and kidney disease. Today, as owners move towards health-focused science-based nutrition, these specialist products are rising in popularity.
What does it mean for producers?
For producers, this means recipes formulated for dogs based on their specialised nutritional needs. The aim is to deliver the ultimate in dietary therapy for pets to encourage their optimal health and wellbeing, i.e., tailor their diets just as we would our own.
Prescription dog food, despite the name, is not necessarily something that a vet has prescribed. Effectively, the trend represents what diet a vet would recommend for particular dogs, based on their unique needs and health.
Some conditions addressed by prescription dog food
Hypoallergenic vs food intolerance
When it comes to food, hypoallergenic is a term that has come to be used very widely, though it is perhaps not quite so widely understood. Dogs are more prone to suffer from food intolerances than allergies. This covers a large category of adverse food reactions that do not involve the immune system – lactose intolerance, for example. On the other hand, allergies affect the immune system, triggered by a response to a protein. The most common food allergies in dogs are a reaction to beef, dairy and wheat.
Figures show that there has been a 75% increase in requests for hypoallergenic dog food recipes from owners over the past two years. For producers, this means greater demand for products that exclude certain ingredients such as soya, dairy, beef, eggs.
Interestingly, hypoallergenic can describe any recipe that avoids some or many common food allergens. However, there are no regulations or certification requirements for brands using the term.
It’s estimated that 40% of dogs are overweight or obese in the UK. Just like we would look for ‘low fat’ or ‘light’ alternatives, weight management products are marketed as clinically proven formulas that can safely support weight loss and maintenance in dogs. The aim is to use natural ingredients to help dogs with weight management issues, reduce obesity and encourage healthy life and mobility.
Examples include the use of fresh chicken, pork and whitefish, ingredients that are low in fat but still nutritious. But it’s worth noting that a weight management diet is very different for each dog and depends on breed, activity levels, age, and health.
This type of prescription dog food is designed to help dogs manage kidney workload. For example, pets with kidney disease need to be fed diets low in phosphorus, protein, and sodium, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. For dogs, it’s essential to keep blood phosphorus low, which is thought to slow the progression of kidney disease and improve survival. Studies show that pets that eat diets designed for kidney disease can live twice as long as those who eat more typical diets.
Prescription diets can also help dogs with Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). These are caused by a particular E. Coli, a type of bacteria that can collect on the exterior of the urinary tract. Studies show that cereal heavy diets can increase alkaline levels in the urine, thus creating the perfect environment for E. Coli to thrive.
Raw food diets full of whole foods that contain B12 vitamins, Vitamin C and minerals are thought to be the best way to prevent UTIs in dogs. Raw foods also contain certain live probiotics to promote a healthy gut.
These products are specially formulated to support dogs suffering from digestive problems. This includes gastrointestinal conditions such as acute and chronic diarrhoea and vomiting. Essentially, they use easy to digest ingredients and have low fibre content to maximise digestibility and increase nutrient consumption.
Gastrointestinal disorders affect a dog’s stomach and intestines, resulting in pain and other problems, so ensuring they have access to the proper diet is key to helping resolve these issues and ensure they can live their best, healthiest lives.
As consumers continue to humanise their pets’ eating habits, there is a growing need for producers to meet this demand.