Best Prescription Dog Foods For Medical Conditions

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Dog food has become a controversial topic of late, and pet parents want to feed their pups the best. If your dog is healthy there are likely many diets that they would do well on (and a few to avoid).

However, if your dog has an underlying medical condition your vet may recommend a prescription diet as part of their treatment plan. Nutrition plays a large role in managing disease processes, both in people and in dogs. A few of the most commonly recommended prescription diets are discussed below.

There are many others available for conditions ranging from dental health to stress management, so be sure to talk with your vet about whether a prescription diet may be beneficial for your dog. 

Dog Food Brands Backed By Science 

At our core, veterinarians are scientists, and with so many different options available, our recommendations for dog foods are based on those brands that provide us with research and data to back up their products. The top three pet food brands – Hills, Royal Canin, and Purina – that are commonly recommended by vets and veterinary nutritionists, not only have nutritionists on staff to formulate their diets to meet all nutritional requirements, they also perform additional and in-depth feeding trials to see how dogs actually respond to their food. These companies make over-the-counter as well as prescription diets, and are always a good place to start if you are looking for a high-quality diet for your dog. 

If your veterinarian recommends a prescription diet for your dog, they will also continue to work closely with you on other ways to manage their condition. Rarely does diet work alone, rather it complements other types of medical and/or surgical treatments. For each condition discussed below, there are several excellent diet choices, and your vet will likely have a favorite or specific recommendation tailored to your individual dog. 

Prescription Diet For Food Allergies

  • Why is a prescription diet recommended? Food allergies occur when a dog becomes allergic to something (usually the protein source) in their diet. Dogs can also be allergic to fleas or something in the environment. The main symptoms of allergies are pruritus (itchy skin), and recurrent skin and ear infections, however some dogs with food allergies also have gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. Food allergies are diagnosed and treated by feeding a hypoallergenic diet. This may be a hydrolyzed diet (in which the protein source is broken down into pieces so small the body does not recognize or react to it) or a novel protein source (something to which the dog has never been exposed to). These diets are also easily digestible to promote gut health and contain ingredients beneficial to support a healthy skin barrier. Unless a dog is extremely picky, the hydrolyzed diets listed below are generally recommended over novel protein diets. 
  • Vet recommended diets: Royal Canin Ultamino, Royal Canin Hydrolyzed protein, Hills z/d, Purina HA
Royal Canin Canine Ultamino Dry Dog Food, 8.8 lb
  • Clinically proven to help reduce skin reactions that may be due to sensitivities to common proteins found in pet foods
  • Minimizes the risk of reaction with proteins extensively broken down to a size that’s virtually unrecognizable by the immune system
  • Reinforces the skin barrier with specific nutrients to support healthy skin in dogs with skin sensitivity and irritation

Prescription Diet For Urinary Issues

  • Why is a prescription diet recommended? Bladder stones are a common cause of urinary issues in dogs. They may cause bloody urine (hematuria), urinary accidents in the house, frequent urinary tract infections, and straining to urinate. Depending on the type of stone present, they may either need to be surgically removed or dissolved with a prescription diet, known as a dissolution diet. Struvite stones are especially susceptible to dietary management. There are several different diets that may be recommended depending on the type of stone present and the goals of treatment (dissolution vs prevention of stone formation). They work by creating urine that is unfavorable for bladder stones and decreasing the components needed for stone formation. Royal Canin’s SO index (formulation to promote a urinary environent that is unfavorable for stones) is now present in many of their other prescription diets as well. 
  • Vet recommended diets: Royal Canin urinary SO, Hills c/d, Hills u/d, Hills s/d (for stone dissolution only and not long-term use), Purina UR
Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Feline Urinary SO In Gel Canned Cat Food , 5.8 oz, 12 Pack
  • Helps dissolve pure struvite stones and helps prevent calcium oxalate stones
  • Lowers the risk of crystal formation using RSS methodology for bladder health
  • Supports urinary health with an exclusive S/O Index, and creates an environment unfavorable to crystal formation in the bladder
  • Helps prevent struvite stones from reoccurring

Prescription Diet For Kidney Disease

  • Why is a prescription diet recommended? Chronic kidney disease (CKD) occurs for many reasons in dogs, and causes a failure of the kidneys to filter waste products effectively. These products (BUN and creatinine) build up in the bloodstream and make your dog feel ill. Common symptoms of kidney disease include increased thirst and urination, and poor appetite, vomiting, lethargy, and ulcers in the mouth as disease progresses. There is no cure for CKD, however there are ways to help keep your dog comfortable and slow the progression of disease, and feeding a prescription renal diet is key. A prescription renal diet should have the following components to help reduce the workload on your dog’s kidneys and compensate for metabolic imbalances: lower protein (less than or equal to 14-20% on a dry matter basis), lower phosphorus (less than or equal to 0.2-0.5%), lower sodium (less than or equal to 0.3%), and high in omega 3 fatty acids (0.4-2.5%). It is also important for dogs with kidney disease to increase their water intake to prevent dehydration, and for this reason it can be beneficial to offer canned food or add water or low-sodium chicken broth to their meals. 
  • Vet recommended diets: Royal Canin renal support (comes in multiple formulations to help encourage appetite), Hills k/d, Purina NF
Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Renal Support Early Consult Dry Dog Food, 5.5 lbs.
  • A veterinary-exclusive dry dog food to support kidney health
  • Supports kidneys at an early stage with moderate phosphorus levels and an antioxidant complex
  • Highly palatable dry dog food formulated to help support renal function with long chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA
  • Helps promote tissue and cellular health by providing a blend of antioxidants to help neutralize free radicals
  • Specifically designed by scientific experts in cat and dog nutrition

Prescription Diet For Gastrointestinal Disease

  • Why is a prescription diet recommended? There are many instances when your vet may recommend a gastrointestinal (GI) diet that is easily digestible, highly palatable, calorie dense, and contains added omega 3 fatty acids and healthy fiber. Such diets may be used short-term for GI upset (such as vomiting and diarrhea) due to dietary indiscretion (if a dog eats something they shouldn’t), illness, parasites, stress, or as a side effect of medication or anesthesia. Dogs with pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or food insensitivities may need to eat a prescription diet long-term. Hills has recently developed ActivBiome+ as part of their GI diet line, to help nourish your pet’s microbiome, or the good bacteria in their gut. Alternatively, adding probiotics (such as Fortiflora) to promote these good bacteria may also be beneficial. 
  • Vet recommended diets: Hills i/d, Hills i/d low-fat, Hills gastrointestinal biome, Royal Canin gastrointestinal, Purina EN
  • Home-cooked bland diet for short-term use: If your pup only needs something short-term to settle their stomach, you may wish to make a home-cooked bland diet such as plain boiled meat and rice. These diets are not complete and balanced and are only meant to be fed for a few days. 
Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care Chicken Flavor Dry Cat Food, Veterinary Diet, 8.5 lb. Bag (Packaging May Vary)
  • Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care Chicken Flavor Dry Cat Food is specially formulated by Hill’s nutritionists and veterinarians to support your cat’s digestive health
  • Helps improve digestion and stool quality
  • Highly digestible with an optimal balance of natural fibers to help support regularity
  • Prebiotic fiber helps promote growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut
  • Clinically proven antioxidants help support a healthy immune system

Prescription Diet For Weight Management

  • Why is a prescription diet recommended? Based on a study in 2019 of adult dogs seen at Banfield pet hospitals, over 50% were considered overweight or obese. A prescription diet is often recommended to help dogs lose weight while continuing to provide optimal nutritional support and keep them full between meals (something that just decreasing their regular food does not do). For these diets to successfully result in weight loss you must also follow through with a strict feeding schedule, limit treats, have frequent weight checks, and increase physical activity if possible. 
  • Vet recommended diets: Hills metabolic, Hills r/d, Hills w/d, Royal Canin satiety, Royal Canin weight control, Purina OM
Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic Weight Management Chicken Flavor Dry Dog Food, Veterinary Diet, 27.5 lb. Bag (Packaging May Vary)
  • Hill’s Prescription Diet Metabolic Dry Dog Food clinical nutrition helps dogs lose weight and keep the lost weight off naturally by activating their unique metabolism
  • 96% of dogs lost weight at home in 2 months
  • Helps keep lost weight off and provides energy for active play
  • Easy weight loss: dogs lose weight without excessively reducing portion sizes
  • Activates pet’s metabolism for easy and effective weight loss

Combination Prescription Diets

It is not uncommon for our pets to develop multiple disease processes at the same time, especially as they age, and these pet food companies have you covered. Many have started making combination diets for pets with concurrent disease, for example Royal Canin renal support and hydrolyzed protein, for dogs with both food allergies and kidney disease. 

Other Feeding Considerations 

  • Food aversions – If your pet is hospitalized or feeling very ill, your vet may recommend that you wait to transition them to their prescription diet until they are back home and feeling better, so that they do not develop a negative association with the new diet. 
  • Home-cooked diets – If you are interested in preparing home-cooked meals for your pet long-term, it is important to make sure that they are also complete and balanced. You can do this by using a service such as balanceit.com to purchase recipes and supplements. 
  • Treats – As pet parents we love to spoil our dogs with treats, however if your dog is on a prescription diet talk to your vet about what treats they can and can’t have. Often times there is a prescription treat available as well. 
Photo of author
Dr. Liza Cahn, DVM

Liza is a veterinarian who graduated from MSU CVM in 2013 and spent five years working in small animal practice. She loved working with dogs and cats and educating owners on all aspects of veterinary medicine, especially animal behavior and dermatology. She has since transitioned to remote work to be able to spend more time at home with her husband, two young kids, and two cats. She is thrilled to be able to combine her passions for veterinary medicine and writing.