There are many different diets available for every day feeding for healthy dogs but there is also a range of specialist diets specifically designed to help individual illnesses.
1 in 3 dogs in the UK are overweight and being as little as 20% heavier than they should be can increase the risk of developing joint problems, diabetes or heart disease. If you place your hands over your dog's ribcage you should be able to feel each rib easily. There are various weight-loss diets available- some work by being low fat and high fibre. These are calorie-controlled diets and the fibre part helps make the dog feel fuller. Others have L carnitine added to help burn fat quicker and reduce fat storage.
Stiff joints occur when there is abnormal wear leading to joint inflammation, pain and loss of cartilage. This reduces mobility and affects the quality of life. Symptoms include a reluctance to jump, play ball or go upstairs or slowing on a walk. Gentle exercise is generally encouraged as it keeps joints moving, reduces weight and keeps muscles strong. Joint diets help maintain cartilage with high levels of essential fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin.
Bladder stones are formed when crystals in the urine join together. They can irritate the bladder wall and cystitis but can also lead to more serious problems if stones block the tubes leaving the bladder and stop your dog urinating. Diets to help prevent or dissolve bladder stones have controlled levels of magnesium, phosphorus and calcium which reduce the risk of struvite and calcium oxalate stones. These diets tend to be low in sodium. Alternative diets restricted in protein can be used if oxalate, irate or cystine stones are formed.
Kidneys filter waste and toxins from the blood into the urine. As pets get older they lose kidney cells resulting in a loss of renal function. Dogs with kidney disease often lose appetite and struggle with enough calorific intake. Kidney diets contain high levels of quality protein and controlled phosphorus levels but low sodium. This is designed to minimise the work that the kidney has to do and reduce waste products.
Diets are available to support behavioural changes seen in older dogs such as disturbed sleep patterns or inappropriate toileting. They have specifically selected anti-oxidants and omega 3 fatty acids to help improve learning ability and maintain brain function.
Diets can also help manage heart disease in conjunction with appropriate drugs. They have reduced salt to help minimise fluid retention. Additional taurine and L carnitine support the heart muscle. It also has high levels of antioxidants which neutralise free radicals which can damage heart muscle cells.
Diets to help liver function aim to have highly digestible protein, carbohydrates and fat. They help limit the production of metabolic toxins from nutrients saving the liver cells some work.
Many dogs suffer from intermittent or chronic diarrhoea. Diets available to help with an inflamed bowel are highly digestible to help improve digestion and absorption. They are often enriched with prebiotics to support gut flora. Many contain ginger to help soothe an inflamed gastrointestinal tract. These can be used short term to help clear up a tummy upset or long term if your dog suffers from irritable bowel disease.
Diets are also available to help support dogs with sensitive skin. Many food allergies manifest as itchy skin rather than diarrhoea. Hypoallergenic diets are made from hydrolysed protein and a single purified carbohydrate source. They often have a novel protein source such as salmon, egg or venison that your dog is unlike to have encountered before.
All the diets discussed here are prescription foods which can be used by your vet as an adjunct to treatment for a specific condition.