What Is A Therapeutic Diet?
A therapeutic diet is a controlled meal plan that can help in the prevention and further deterioration of certain conditions that dogs can suffer from over the course of their lives. They work by limiting the intake of some foods and increasing the number of others – often the level of nutrients they are taking in.
In humans, therapeutic diets are far more common and sometimes employed without their proactive knowledge. For example, many people cut out sugar these days or eliminate wheat as it upsets their stomachs. But can they be used in dogs to similar success? And is it right for us to employ this tactic?
5 Reasons Why Your Dog May Need A Therapeutic Diet
1. Your Dog Is Overweight
Your dog being overweight is a good reason to start them off on a therapeutic diet – though do be careful if they simply weigh a little bit more than they should do as this could just mean that you need to reduce their portion sizes by a little bit or take them on walks that are just that little bit longer every day. That being said, it may help, for a while to put them on a different food that has less calories so they burn off excess energy more quickly so that it is not stored and kept as fat around their middle.
Some dogs will be like humans however in that they can struggle to lose weight in comparison to their peers. It is in cases like this, where dogs do not lose weight by simply cutting down on calories and increasing their activity levels, that a therapeutic diet may be beneficial and a good idea to employ. If you do choose to look into a therapeutic diet for your dog’s weight problem, it is prudent to run it by your vet first. Not only will they be able to ensure that through their new diet they still manage to ingest all the vitamins and minerals that they need, but they will also be able to ensure this despite your dog eating smaller amounts of food.
In some cases, they may recommend even more specialised food that could help your dog with issues that are causing them to have a weight problem. A good example of this would be food that helps dogs’ joints stay healthy. If they are overweight, they will have been putting their joints under increased strain as well as perhaps having gained weight in the first place as it was painful for them to move. In terms of improving joint health, a therapeutic diet will be higher in protein which helps dogs stay fuller for longer whilst promoting lean muscle mass that will further help their weight loss.
Check out our review of the best dog food for weight loss.
2. Your Dog Is Suffering From Kidney Disease
When a dog suffers from kidney disease, it is a condition that owners must understand is irreversible but possible to help stop in its track or at least slow the progression of. Diet is one of the best ways that owners can do this. Kidney disease is extremely serious and can sadly lead to an untimely death so owners need to be dedicated to a therapeutic diet for their dogs if they want to reap the rewards that a diet can create.
Diets that will help slow the progression of chronic kidney disease need to be low in phosphorus as well as have a moderate level of protein. This concoction of food will hopefully help your dog lead a longer and happier life. Some dogs have been known to go on to live twice as long as those with kidney disease that has not been put on a therapeutic diet formulated for their kidney issues. Fatty acids are also crucial to help with the symptoms of kidney disease. They help with inflammation and any antioxidants included in the food will also help with cell damage.
You may also like our guide of the best dog food for kidney disease.
3. Your Dog Is Allergic To Certain Foods
Just because dogs are not humans, doesn’t mean that they are not susceptible to food intolerances and allergies like us. As humans do, they can suffer from skin problems like dermatitis or eczema, as well as ear infections and irritable bowel syndrome that manifests itself in vomiting, diarrhea and therefore weight loss.
Your vet will be able to inform you what the therapeutic diet will be best to help solve your dog’s food allergy symptoms. Many will advocate a hypoallergenic diet. This means that food contains protein that is included in much smaller pieces. It is thought that this can help as it is easier for them to digest. Hypoallergenic foods will also be high in ingredients that promote healthy skin in addition to nutrients that help the skin’s defences.
Vets are keen to emphasise however that it is not a good idea to jump into a hypoallergenic diet for your dog simply by buying a food off the shelf with no input from a medically trained expert. Vets will often first advocate trying to cut out certain foods or food categories that have been known to stimulate food allergies so that your dog can be helped in the most beneficial way possible.
This is particularly the case if your dog is suffering from bad skin issues simply due to environmental factors. If your dog has been put on a hypoallergenic diet from the get-go, you may be robbing their bodies and immune systems of the ability to fight off skin infections that have been caused by issues in their immediate surrounding area and not their diet at all.
Check out our buying guide of the best dog food for allergies.
4. Your Dog Has Bladder Stones
Bladder stones are incredibly painful for your dog and occur when minerals in your dog’s urine crystallise. They can become trapped in their bladder but can also be found in the urinary tract too. There are different types of stones that can occur and it is what type they are that your vet will have to ascertain before you follow a therapeutic diet. The type the stones are will affect what diet you should follow.
Some bladder stones sadly do not respond to a therapeutic diet. In these instances, your vet may suggest certain foods or unfortunately, your vet may have to operate to remove them to stop causing your dog further pain. Your vet will then prescribe a certain diet that will stop the formation of stones coming back. These diets work with the alkaline and acidic makeup of your dog’s gut to balance the urine pH so that certain crystals cannot reform. Upping your dog’s water intake is also an important step in this work towards prevention of kidney stones.
However, some bladder stones can be relieved with a therapeutic diet. Again, they work to change the overall pH or acidity of your dog’s urine. A therapeutic diet that is restricted in certain nutrients and minerals will also help stop bladder stones forming.
5. Your Dog Suffers From Heart Disease
Using a therapeutic diet for your dog if they suffer from heart disease, has been seen to be one of ways that therapeutic diets can help our canines, but not all vets will recommend them. While, in humans, diet can be seen to be one of the best ways to help relieve the onset and development of heart disease, it does not seem to have the same level of effect in dogs.
However, therapeutic diets, that are formulated to help with heart disease, try to lower the amount of salt or sodium in dog food as well as increasing levels of certain nutrients. Lowering the salt intake is thought to lessen how hard hearts have to work while therapeutic dog food for the cardiac disease will contain a great deal more fatty acids as they can help with inflammation.
However, the benefits of these diets do not seem to stretch across the whole spectrum of cardiac disease. Your vet will be able to recommend or refer you to a specialised cardiologist who should be able to tell you if a therapeutic diet is worth your dog following or not.
It is also important to note, as is the case with kidney disease, therapeutic diets do not cure heart disease. Instead, they prevent any further deterioration which can benefit your dog by supporting an improvement in their quality of life.
Other Points To Consider When Putting Your Dog on A Therapeutic Diet
It can be very tempting to mix and match therapeutic diet foods to try to solve a multitude of problems in your dog or even prevent the onset of some of the issues discussed above. However, vets recommend staying away from practicing this method of feeding. Not only can it mean that dogs may become deficient in necessary vitamins and minerals, but it can also simply have a material impact on the food to perform as you want it to. In short, if you use several therapeutic diet foods at once, or even mix in other foods that you think may help your dog, you are seriously impeding that formulation’s ability to succeed.
Some owners will be worried that they are taking away from their dog’s enjoyment of food if they simply stick to one therapeutic diet – especially ones that are lower in salt and other ingredients that enhance food flavour. However, most dogs will eat any kibble that is put in their food bowl, especially if it is the only option given. This may seem harsh, but particularly in the cases where you are trying to stop a dog gain weight or prevent any further deterioration of renal function, it is important not to give in to their big, kind, pleading eyes. If you are particularly worried about your dog if they refuse food, it could be a symptom of another underlying problem so work with your vet to see if this is the case.
Therapeutic diets can, therefore, be used to maximum effect to help dogs with a wide range of conditions that range from the marginal to the incredibly serious.
However, vets should always be your first port of call before embarking on the use of a therapeutic diet for several reasons. Firstly, they may be able to help in other ways that are quicker or more efficient at bringing about an improvement in any condition that your dog is suffering from. Secondly, they will want to oversee and ensure that your dog still has the right amount of vitamins and nutrients that every dog, regardless of condition, needs. Lastly, they will be able to confirm whether your dog needs a therapeutic diet in the first place.
Sometimes, we may be guilty of putting a dog on the therapeutic diet as it is an on-trend fashion at present – especially in humans. One may not be necessary at all. In a very basic example, some owners may put their dogs on a weight loss therapeutic diet when all they really need is a groom as it is their fur that is making them look bigger than they actually are!
However, if implemented, on the recommendation of your vet, they can work absolute wonders. Under the best circumstances, a therapeutic diet can really benefit a dog in terms of their health and quality of life as well as increasing their lifespan in general. If anything, a therapeutic diet is certainly worth talking over with your vet if you are at all worried about anything that is troubling your dog as diet and a healthy gut can have a huge impact on general well being, if used properly.