Choosing the Right Therapeutic Diet for Your Dog

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Choosing the Right Therapeutic Diet for Your Dog

Many dogs can benefit from therapeutic diets. These diets are formulated to help with specific health conditions your dog may have. Does your dog have arthritis? Bad breath? Chronic age-related kidney disease? There may be a diet that can help your dog! Be sure to discuss this with your vet. Below is a list of health conditions that may benefit from a therapeutic diet.

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therapeutic diets, just like medications, require a prescription from your vet. When feeding these therapeutic diets, your vet will often strongly advise you not to feed any other types of food, treats, or table scraps, as these can defeat the purpose of feeding that therapeutic diet in the first place.

Hepatic (Liver) Disease

The liver metabolizes protein, and if it is not functioning properly, it is unable to properly rid the body of ammonia and toxins. This can lead to neurologic problems (hepatic encephalopathy). If a dog has liver disease, veterinarians will often advise putting them on a liver diet, which contains less protein and specific types of proteins that are easier for the liver to handle.

Renal (Kidney) Disease

Many older dogs suffer from chronic, age-related changes to the kidneys, and some younger dogs may be born with kidney defects or acquire kidney damage from toxicity or other injuries during their lifetime. These dogs may benefit from being on a therapeutic kidney diet. These diets are lower in protein and require the kidney to do less work. Decreasing the amount of “toxic” products like ammonia are ideal when the kidneys aren’t functioning as well as they should be (just like liver diets).

For more information on kidney disease in dogs, check out our article!

Osteoarthritis/Mobility/Joint Health

Whether it’s age-related or due to an injury, arthritis is just as common in dogs as it is in people (maybe more so). Many dogs benefit from glucosamine, chondroitin, Green-Lipped Mussels, omega 3 fatty acids, and other antioxidants (as research progresses, the list lengthens!) therapeutic diets for joint health include these ingredients at a prescription-strength dose for your furry friend. These diets are often advised for older animals and those with any previous injury or surgery to a joint.

Allergies/Digestive Care

Dogs can have food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and other gastrointestinal issues that may require special diets. In addition, they can have environmental allergies/atopic dermatitis, or an immune-mediated skin condition (like eczema and psoriasis in people).

Special diets include:

  • Novel protein diets (such as venison, rabbit, duck) for dogs that have beef and/or chicken allergies
  • Hydrolyzed protein diets
  • Limited ingredient diets
  • Skin and food allergy combination diets
  • And more…

For more information on allergies, head over to our related article!

Urinary Disease (Crystals/Stones)

Some dogs can be predisposed to forming urinary crystals, which can cause inflammation and irritation of the urinary bladder. Sometimes bladder stones are formed, which can cause severe, even life-threatening issues. It can be just as important to check your dog’s urine as it is their bloodwork.

Urinary diets are formulated to help prevent the development of crystals and help dissolve existing crystals. There are several types of crystals and therefore several types of urinary diets. Consult with your vet to determine which may be appropriate for your dog.

Weight Management/Metabolic/Diabetic

Several different types of diets exist to aid in weight loss and increase metabolism. In general, these diets are meant to provide more of what dogs need and less of what they don’t. For example, a diabetic-friendly diet will have more proteins and fats, and fewer carbohydrates and sugars.

Although many over-the-counter brands advertise themselves as weight-loss diets, it’s important to consult with your vet. Some of these diets, while lower in calories, may not have the proper distribution of protein/fat/carbs, etc. for your specific pet’s needs.

Worried that your dog may be overweight? You can read more about pet obesity, here.

Dental Health

There are two methods by which dental products can be beneficial to your dog’s teeth: mechanical and enzymatic. Mechanical action helps scrape tartar off the teeth, while enzymatic action helps destroy bacteria on the teeth.

Most dry kibble crumbles when chewed. Unfortunately, most dogs crunch a little and then swallow a lot of the kibble unchewed. Dental diets are formulated specifically to shear apart and then scrape the teeth as they’re being chewed. For this reason, you’ll find that dental diets are a larger size kibble than usual. There are many products out there called ‘dental treats’ that actually don’t have any mechanical or enzymatic function.

Please keep in mind that nothing is more effective at preventing periodontal disease than brushing your dog’s teeth!

Cardiac (Heart) Disease

If your dog has heart disease, your vet may advise you to feed a heart-friendly diet. These diets may have lower sodium and potassium and more protein/amino acids. Sometimes heart-friendly diets contain extra magnesium to compensate for the loss that occurs within the body when a dog takes certain heart medications. If your dog has heart disease combined with liver or kidney disease, it’s important to discuss these diets with your vet, as they may conflict with your pet’s current treatment plan.

Aging (Brain, Neurologic)

Diets for senior and geriatric dogs that may or may not have dementia or other neurologic problems are formulated to help them be clear, focused, alert, and aware. Most of these diets have an increased amount of antioxidants and certain amino acids to aid in this process.

*Combination Diets

There are several therapeutic diets that help with more than one condition:

  • Overweight + arthritis
  • Food allergy + skin allergy
  • Urinary crystals + stress-induced urinary issues


There is a wide variety of therapeutic treats to go along with your dog’s therapeutic diet. These allow you to still keep that human-animal bond while rewarding your dog with a treat that is beneficial, and not detrimental, to their specific condition.

*Grain-Free Diets

Grain-free dog food diets are mostly a fad that resulted from the human gluten-free frenzy that the media has been running with for the past decade or so. The fact is that most dogs that have food allergies are allergic to meat proteins (beef and chicken), and very few are allergic to grains.

Dogs are omnivores just like people, and grains are part of a balanced diet. They aren’t a bad thing unless your dog has a specific allergy to a specific grain. (You can have your dog tested for food and environmental allergies if you’re concerned about grain allergies.) The most common grains in dog food are barley, rice, and wild rice, wheat, and oats.

Feeding a grain-free diet to a dog that would be perfectly fine eating grains is not without risk. In the past few years, a spike in heart disease (Dilated Cardiomyopathy) has been noted in many dogs that are fed grain-free and boutique diets. For more information, see the FDA’s report, which lists all diets involved.

Read more:

How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog

What You Need to Know About Feeding Your Dog a Raw Diet

What foods are toxic to dogs?

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