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.
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 CatInfo.org for adding some detail to what I wanted to say.