I've been doing a lot of research on feeding dogs for some time now, and people often ask me to help them find a good quality commercial food. Lately, I've had a few people whose vets recommended Hill's "prescription" diets (or similar foods like Purina EN) which can only be purchased by vet prescription. These foods are usually sold directly by the vet and are very expensive.
People can sense by looking at the labels or reading on-line that these foods don't seem all that healthy, and they would like to feed something better, not to mention cheaper. But they have been told that their dogs need these foods because of allergies, chronic diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems, and they don't know what a good alternative might be.
You may already know that most vets don't know very much about nutrition or dog food. That may seem strange to you, but it isn't much different than medical doctors. In each case, they take a rudimentary course in college, the same course that nurses & exercise instructors (or vet techs) take.
In fact, the veterinary colleges have no required nutrition curriculum.  What information is provided comes in the form of seminars conducts by Hills, Purina and Mars, makers of the Rx foods your vet sells. The textbooks are written and published by people who work for these companies, and their advertising is all over the walls. They also give a commission to the vets for selling their foods. Can you say "conflict of interest"? The vets are taught to "prescribe" these foods as if they're medicine. "Dog has diarrhea? Recommend this!", the salesman tells them, and then launches into the sales pitch about how great the food is.
If you brought your child to the doctor because he had chronic diarrhea or was vomiting, and the doctor said, "Here, feed him this", would you accept that? Or would you want to know what was wrong, why the child is ill, what is causing it? Wouldn't you expect some tests? Wouldn't you want a diagnosis, a prognosis, and an explanation of how the food (medicine) will help?
We need to learn to do the same thing with our dogs. Let's take a look at some of these foods the vets are recommending.

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  • I recently did an analysis of the Hill's "z/d" diet, which is one the vets often prescribe.

    Here is the ingredient list from Hill's z/d "prescription" diet:
    Starch, hydrolyzed chicken liver, vegetable oil (preserved with BHA, propyl gallate and citric acid), powdered cellulose, hydrolyzed chicken, glyceryl monostearate, DL-methionine, taurine, ethoxyquin (a preservative), minerals (dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, salt, ferrous sulfate, zinc oxide, copper sulfate, manganous oxide, calcium iodate, sodium selenite), vitamins (choline chloride, vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, niacin, thiamine mononitrate, calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, folic acid, biotin, vitamin B12 supplement).

    What is here that could possibly help cure an illness or even provide healthy nutrition? "Starch"? What kind of starch? Starch is just a general term for a polysaccharide carbohydrate. There are dozens of sources. If they can't even tell you what it is, it must be pretty disgusting (and from a very cheap source). Then we have chicken liver and vegetable oil. Okay, you could prepare that at home. It isn't therapeutic. Chicken liver is pretty cheap, and vegetable oil...well, again, what kind of vegetable oil?
    Oops, almost forgot...about that BHA and propyl gallate used to preserve the unnamed vegetable oil:

    Some studies on rats have shown that propyl gallate may cause cancer.
    Other side effect of consumption are stomach and skin irritability, as well as allergic reactions that impact breathing. It may also cause kidney and liver problems.
    In some cases, to improve its efficacy, propyl gallate is used in conjunction with 2 other preservatives – BHA and BHT – which are also suspect as carcinogenic.
    Although the FDA considers propyl gallate safe, in other countries it is either banned or very limited in use.

    Next you have powdered cellulose, which is indigestible plant fiber. Very helpful, some bulk. Last of the first five all-important ingredients, again, chicken. Okay, fine.
    Then you have the usual assortment of vitamins & minerals. But wait! What's that "preservative", ethoxyquin?
    Well, this is what it is:
    Ethoxyquin is a chemical preservative – and possible carcinogenic – regulated by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) as a pesticide. While ethoxyquin cannot be used in human foods, it continues to be used in many pet food brands. Ethoxyquin has been found to promote kidney carcinogenesis and significantly increase the incidence of stomach tumors and enhanced bladder carcinogesis, according to several studies, including a recent one by The Department of Pathology, Nagoya City University Medical School, Japan.

    Doesn't this sound like a wonderful nutritious food to feed a sick dog? And for the privilege of possibly poisoning your dog with this stuff, you can pay the bargain price of $4/lb if you order on line...probably double that if you buy from the vet.

    The sole features that makes this food helpful for a dog with a sensitive stomach is the fact that it contains limited ingredients, and that the macronutrients are broken down into their usable components. The protein sources- chicken liver and chicken- are "hydrolyzed". What this means is that the protein has already been broken down into its basic components, amino acids. While there are many means of achieving this, two of the most common are prolonged boiling in a strong acid or strong base or using an enzyme such as the pancreatic protease enzyme to stimulate the naturally-occurring hydrolytic process.
    In other words, your dog's stomach will not have to work hard to digest this food, because much of the work of breaking the food down into it's basic components has already been done. Ever heard of baby food? It would be a lot healthier, not to mention cheaper, to just use a food processor, add some digestive enzymes, and make your own "sensitive stomach food".
    Until we learn to say NO to giving our dogs this garbage, demand answers and real remedies for our dogs' ailments, and let Big Dog Food know we won't buy into this anymore, lots and lots of dogs will continue to be sick and made sicker by the very people who love them and are spending their hard earned dollars to try to help them.
    But hopefully, you and your dog won't be among them.
    • My vet always recommended plain old lean well-drained hamburger mixed with rice for diarrhea & minor digestive upsets. Cheap, easy, and healthy. I highly recommend it for short term treatment. Digestive enzymes, yogurt, and plain canned pumpkin help too.
      But chronic diarrhea is indicative of an illness, and needs to be reliably diagnosed and treated. Feeding garbage with an Rx label isn't going to help cure your dog or solve his problems.
    • I could not agree more, I am always telling people this information. Jack was on a couple of different food but we for now are settled on Instinct grain free. I tried the raw diet for him but he was not a fan.

      He does get raw bones to chew on and he loves them. I also give him Evangers canned food, one to two teaspoons mixed in with his kibble

  • Everybody, dogs and people both, has an upset stomach or diarrhea occasionally; but chronic diarrhea is not normal. We hear about way too many doodles here who have issues with diarrhea, vomiting, and sensitive stomachs. Particularly upsetting to me is the number of puppies with chronic digestive problems. Why is this?
    I really think we have to hold the breeders accountable for the way they are conditioning these babies' digestive systems. With all due respect, if they want to command top-dollar for their puppies, they need to be providing top quality care, and that includes food. For $2000+ a puppy, there is no excuse for feeding Purina or any other food; if they don't care enough about the health of the puppies they are producing to provide top-quality nutrition, maybe they shouldn't be breeding dogs at all. If they're skimping on something as essential as nutrition, what other health issues are they skimping on? If they have so many dogs they can't afford to feed them well, maybe they need to scale back. Do you want to buy from a breeder who cares more about quantity of pups she produces, or the quality?
    Many good breeders are feeding high-quality diets. Some are feeding raw, and others use a combination of home-cooked and commercial foods. Most of you know Dianne Carter, who in addition to being a breeder of ALDs is also a single mom. Dianne researches food issues and posts here frequently. She also consults at a high-end pet food store. Her dogs get nothing but the best, highest quality food; if she can do this, so can every other breeder.
    A healthy puppy does not have chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or constant gastrointestinal problems. If your puppy does, you need to be asking your breeder some serious questions. Your breeder guaranteed you a healthy puppy...didn't she?
    • AMEN!!
    • I couldn't agree more.  

  • Last night I took Duke to a different vet to talk to him about Duke's allergies and a couple other issues. He agreed I should get Duke tested for allergies. He wanted me to put Duke on Hills...can't remember the name but it was maybe a 40-50 lb. bag of I think Duck and sweet potato for Duke's allergies. Out of curiosity I asked him how much it was....$90.00 for a 40-50 lb. bag!!!!!!! I am feeding my guys Orijen and they seem to do well on it and their poop has been great. I'm not making any changes until Duke has his testing and see what the results are. I was really surprised at the cost of that food. Wow!
    • It's really a disgrace...the ingredients are the cheapest imaginable, and they charge more than Orijen for it. I guess we must be paying for all that "medical research", lol.
    • Let me also mention again that Jack is under the care of a veterinary immunology specialist who charges $225 for an office visit, and is worth every penny of it. She recommended I feed him Orijen. I guess she makes enough money from her practice without having to sell Hill's to supplement her income, lol.
    • I too, went through the vet recommended "special diet" for allergies. We did the food trial using RX venison and potato food. After that waste of money and time we switched to homecooked food for her main meal. The improvements in Gracie have been substantial. The vet also recommended her brekfast kibble be switched to a fish style food. We feed Origens 6 fish. Things are going really well now.
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