The dog food market has exploded in recent years; and there are now hundreds of food brands offering natural products, dog food made especially for puppies, food for dogs with sensitive stomachs and much more – but what do you feed a dog that is ill or has a chronic health condition?

A licensed veterinarian will indicate when it is time to consider a therapeutic diet for your dog, and they will let you know what food you need to invest in for the sake of your dog’s health. Many veterinary clinics sell these products themselves, and they are intended only to be used upon veterinary recommendation.

There is a jungle of dog food options out there, but by knowing what they are and what a vet might suggest in case of a medical complication, you will automatically better your chances of aiding your dog in living a long and healthy life.

Difference between Therapeutic and OTC Foods

Before you can start considering a therapeutic diet for your furry friend, you need to know what a therapeutic food is, and what makes it different from OTC dog food. An OTC dog food short for an “over the counter” dog food – one you can buy without a recommendation from your veterinarian.

This refers to regular pet store dog foods; both premium products and low-quality brands found in the supermarket, and most dog owners with healthy dogs feed OTC foods. Examples of premium OTC dog food brands are Acana, Taste of the Wild, Blue Buffalo, Orijen, Wellness Core, and Earthborn Holistic, while examples of low-quality OTC food brands are Pedigree, Dog Chow and similar.

A therapeutic diet, on the other hand, is one that is modified and designed to contain the nutrients needed to control the development of certain disease and/or health issue. Common reasons for a dog to eat a therapeutic diet are (but are not limited to) diabetes, liver failure, heart problems, obesity, chronic kidney disease and more.

Veterinary Therapeutic Diets for Managing Disease

Dog Veterinary

There are several different dog food brands that specialize in producing therapeutic diets for dogs; where two very well-known examples are Royal Canin and Hill’s Science Diet. The veterinary clinic’s in the United States and abroad usually keep these in stock for when they need to prescribe one for a dog in need, but if not – most assorted pet stores sell these products, and you can always find them online if you live further away from a sale’s point.

The whole point of a therapeutic diet is to provide a balanced diet to a dog whose body might not be able to handle regular dog food. Take kidney disease as an example. The kidneys fill the same function in the body of a dog as they do in the body of a human; they regulate how much of certain minerals (sodium and potassium being examples) exist in the bloodstream and to remove waste products that do not belong. You can find our favorite sodium-reduced dog foods here.

The kidneys also affect the production of urine. Once kidney tissue has been destroyed it is unable to regenerate, and many older dogs suffer from kidney related issues, which is when a therapeutic diet might be prescribed.

A therapeutic diet for kidney disease usually has reduced levels of protein and phosphorus, and it is in most cases not acidified. A composition like this results in less protein waste and it reduces the number of metabolic toxins in the body – saving your pet from feeling lethargic and ill due to his or her kidney condition. Other therapeutic diets work similarly, by balancing components in the canine system and keeping them at healthy levels despite a pre-existing condition.


Veterinarians are not always educated on regular dog nutrition, but no one knows better than them what a dog with a chronic illness needs. The first step is to take your dog to the vet for a proper diagnosis if you suspect that something is wrong so that they can tell you what your dog has, what is wrong and how it can be managed.

It is also important to remember that while not everything can be cured, it can usually be slowed down or managed with the right therapeutic dog food. Without a diagnose, however, there is not much you can do for your dog, so always make sure to bring up any concerns with your trusted vet.

As with any dog food change, a therapeutic diet should be introduced slowly by adding a small portion of the new food to the old food and then increasing the portion accordingly over the next few days. This should help avoid an upset stomach, but even the greatest precaution is not enough at times – so be ready for possibly seeing some loose stools at first. Any real concerns should, as always, be brought up with your veterinarian because not all dog foods will work well for every dog.

Mistakes to Avoid with Therapeutic Diets

The only real mistakes you can make with therapeutic dog food is not to offer it to your dog after your veterinarian has suggested it, as this can have serious health consequences. If for some reason, you feel you can’t afford it or if you have other reasons for not wanting to buy the therapeutic dog food your veterinarian prescribed -bring it up at the veterinary clinic to see if they can offer suggestions for good (and safe) alternatives.

Another mistake would be to experiment with therapeutic diets without having first consulted a veterinarian. These types of kibble products and wet foods are not meant as preventive methods, nor should they be used lightly without first knowing what they are for and if your dog truly needs it.

Self-diagnosing your four-legged friend could end up doing more harm than good, and it can sometimes be straight-out dangerous. Therapeutic dog foods are sold online and in pet stores and they don’t generally require a medical prescription, which is why some dog owners might think it to be safe and okay to use them without a veterinary recommendation.

This is not the case, and unless you have been told so by a licensed veterinarian who has thoroughly examined your dog – you are better off sticking to OTC (regular) dog foods.

Considerations for Growing Puppies


It is unusually for veterinarians to recommend the use of therapeutic diets for puppies, as puppies usually have very different nutritional needs. It could, however, become necessary in cases of acute disease or health scares (recovering from tick-borne diseases being one example), but that would usually be for shorter periods of time.

Veterinarians will usually know what they are doing when prescribing a dog food like this, but you can always ask for suggestions for how to complement the prescribed diet if you are worried, or for clarification on the subject.

Conclusion on Therapeutic Diets

A special diet for a dog with health issues can make the difference between your dog feeling good and your dog feeling bad, and nobody wants their furry bestie to feel any worse than they should. Our dogs deserve to live a long and healthy life after everything they do to make us feel loved and special; and while they can’t live forever, there is still plenty we can do to improve their life quality while they are still with us.

If you think there is something wrong with your dog, or if you suspect he or she might need a special diet, then it is time you make an appointment at your local veterinary clinic.


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Janni is a dog loving writer who currently shares her home with two rescue dogs - Emmett and Frankie. Writing doggie-inspired articles is a way for Janni to share her knowledge, find inspiration, and help others.