Prescription Diets for Cats Are a Scam

Although Hill’s have the patent on the phrase “prescription diet”, other major pet food manufacturers such as Purina, Iams and Royal Canin also manufacture similar products which are sold through veterinary clinics to give the impression that they have specific health benefits for cats. For example, I have Royal Canin Dental. It has labelling such as ‘veterinary exclusive” and “veterinary diet”. On the packaging there are scientific looking diagrams and the whole package looks very much as if the product has connections with the medical profession. It is dry cat food and the pellets are larger than normal. That’s about it. The idea is that the larger pellets scrape the plaque off the teeth.

Prescription diet cat food
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Prescription diet cat food presents a certain image: medical and science based.

As mentioned, prescription diet cat food is always sold at veterinary clinics. You can buy online these days too. So the big manufacturers have roped in veterinarians to market their products because people associate the food with the veterinary profession which gives it kudos. It makes the food look better, more scientific and therefore effective.

Most veterinarians have, it seems, a rather poor education on the subject of cat nutrition. In America, the so-called prescription diets are not validated or scrutinized by scientists or a government agency. It is up to the veterinarians to ensure that they do what they say on the packet.

In the USA, feline nutrition is not taught well at veterinary college, apparently. The coursework is minimal. The lecturers have connections with the pet food industry. Therefore what they teach is biased towards what the pet food manufacturers produce. They indoctrinate the veterinarians into believing that dry cat food with the word “prescription” on it is genuinely a quasi-medical product. This is convenient for a veterinarian because when he has a problem which involves his patient’s diet he can reach for the appropriate bag for a quick fix.

Any veterinarian worth his salt will know that dry cat food is inherently a rather poor cat food because it does not contain enough water. In addition, the ingredients are listed in such a way that the grain in the food is split up into several sections. Each section has a small amount of grain in it. Therefore, these ingredients are listed towards the bottom of the list. They look rather insignificant. However, when added up they become extremely significant. Therefore, the manufacturers mask, through judicious and deceitful labeling, the true content of their cat food.

In addition these diets contain ingredients which are simply not high-quality, which is what you’d expect in a ‘prescription diet’. Like all dry cat food they are high in carbohydrates on a dry matter basis. It is said that high carbohydrate diets such as this can cause hypoglycemia and ultimately lead to type 2 diabetes (source: Your Cat by Elizabeth Hodgkins DVM).

As mentioned, there is no requirement for the manufacturers of these prescription diets to meet with government standards. You would have thought that with the word “prescription” in the name of the product that there would be some oversight. This is because the word “prescription” when applied to human medication implies a medicine which has been prescribed by a doctor and which has gone through years of testing.

The veterinarians appear to have been brainwashed by the manufacturers into believing that these products are actually genuinely useful because in America, we are told, that 99% of veterinarians who sell prescription type diets to cat owners genuinely believe that they’re doing something beneficial.

Prescription diets are also known as “alphabet diets” because, as you can probably guess, within the name of the product are letters of the alphabet to make them sound more technical and scientific.

To add insult to injury, people pay a premium price for prescription diets. There must be a good profit in it. Perhaps some vets are in it for profit and realize the products are misleading. Today, unusually, I won’t be that cynical and stick to my original remark that the veterinarians have been brainwashed!

Sometimes even taking the cat off dry cat food completely and transferring to wet cat food may be sufficient to resolve certain medical problems such as urinary tract disease, which is exacerbated by dry cat food. Alternatively, making your own raw cat food is a good idea and it does not take as long as one thinks. However, once again we are deterred in doing this by veterinarians who believe that people are unable to handle raw ingredients properly without allowing bacterial contamination to occur.

The next time you are at the vets and she ‘prescribes’ an alphabet dry cat food, ask her how it works and if it has been scientifically proven to work. Ask why the ingredients are not all good (are any of them of high quality?).

My thanks to Lisa A. Pierson, DVM and her website for adding some detail to what I wanted to say.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

You may also like...

6 Responses

  1. Elisa says:

    I’ve heard a lot of negative remarks about the A/D food. There may be others that would work just as well but after saving more than half a dozen I just wouldn’t want to chance switching when a cats life is at stake. The KMR is just as important as it supplies fluids. We’re never without that either.

  2. Sandra Murphey says:

    I think the bigger the manufacturer, the more potential for poor quality, since profit is the bottom line. At this point, I’m also looking at pet food manufacturers that have never had a recall. I expect to pay more, but my attitude is
    “Pay NOW or Pay LATER”

  3. Harvey Harrison says:

    I saw through the scam a long time ago. You only have to read the ingredients to see right away there is no difference between prescription diets or other high-priced foods and cheaper brands that don`t make any outrageous claims. Saying “specially selected cuts” or “only the highest quality meats” doesn’t prove anything. “Scientifically balanced” is an outright lie because dry food hardly contain any high quality protein, and contain large amounts of harmful carbohydrates and grains. The reason why canned food is helpful is not because of any specific ingredients for special care. It is because it contains proper animal, fowl, or fish protein, and is soft and palatable. Any brand would do. Does the label say what it contains that makes it suitable for special care? I don`t thinks so, because it doesn’t contain anything different from the usual canned food. How can they say special care when they don`t know what problem the cat may have and therefore what special care or diet it needs? I was shocked the other day in Istanbul when I learned that the price of Purina Pro Plan dry cat food is EUR 45 per 3kg bag. That is approx 125 Turkish Lira, or $51. Here I can get 3kg of Goody from Turkey or La Cat from Israel for 29 Turkish Lira. There are many other brands from Italy and Spain that cost 90 TL per 20 kg bag, that`s $36. Admittedly in Turkey you can get generic dry cat food in bulk but sold by the kilo for just a few Lira. Knowing what rubbish goes into the usual brands of cat food I suspect that generic is not all that bad, and maybe better.

    • Well said Harvey. I never believed in this prescription stuff but vets do tend to promote it and even sell it like salesmen. I bought the Royal Canin Dental because my current vet recommended it and gave me a free sample. I don’t believe in it except it is large pellets which I like. I have advocated large pellets.

  4. Elisa says:

    Although I agree in general, we’ve saved several cats from dying with a mixture of KMR milk with Hills Prescription Diet A/D Critical Care canned food. It can be mixed and syringed or offered in a bowl for a sick cat. At $2 a small can we only use it for emergencies. It pulled Midnight through panleuk and Jubilee through the calicivirus when she was too weak to even stand on her own.

    • Sandra Murphey says:

      Elisa, I looked up the ingredients of Hills A/D Critical Care canned food, and believe that any canned food that can be mixed and offered with a syringe would help a malnourished animal. Here are my findings:

      Food Type: Wet Food
      Life Stage: Adult
      Health Consideration: Malnourished
      Primary Ingredient: Water
      Package Weight: 5.5 oz

      Water, Pork Liver, Poultry Liver, Chicken, Corn Flour, Pork Protein Isolate, Fish Oil, Chicken Liver Flavor, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Guar Gum, Potassium Chloride, Taurine, Choline Chloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbic Acid (source of Vitamin C), Zinc Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Beta Carotene, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Biotin, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite, Folic Acid

      Guaranteed Analysis:
      Crude Protein (min) 8.5%
      Crude Fat (min) 5.25%
      Crude Fiber (max) 0.5%
      Moisture (max) 78.0%
      Ash (max) 2.2%
      Calcium (min) 0.18%
      Phosphorus (min) 0.17%
      Magnesium (max) 0.019%
      Taurine (min) 0.06%

      Per the ingredient analysis listed here recently:

      Pork Liver- cheapest source of flavoring, etc.
      Chicken Liver-cheap source of flavor, often included diseased tissues, etc.
      Corn flour- can create bowel distress, weight gain, source of protein?, filler
      Sodium Tripolyphosphate-rancid meat preservative!
      Guar Gum-cheap non-nutritive filler
      Magnesium Oxide-has caused tumors in lab rats, antacid

      There are some good ingredients, but they are listed toward the end, which indicates smaller quantities.

      I found it interesting that the primary ingredient is WATER.

      Thank you for the opportunity to increase my knowledge of some of these ingredients I knew nothing about.

      I’m glad that you were able to pull your babies through Calicivirus. I saw a lot of that in the shelter, and I wonder now how they pulled those cats through. It’s very contagious, so the cats had to be quarantined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *