Vet Recommended Cat Food : 4 Brands You Should Carefully Consider

When you’re looking for the best cat food, it’s good to have an expert on your team.

Your veterinarian has first-hand knowledge and a professional understanding of your cat’s health and medical history, giving them unique insights into their nutritional needs. This makes them a particularly useful resource in the quest for the perfect food. Whether your cat is suffering from specific health conditions or is thriving, your veterinarian can help you to pick out a food that works for them.

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In that sense, vet recommended cat food can be a very good thing. But when we talk about veterinarian recommended foods in general – referring to the unit of all foods most often associated with veterinary office sales – things get a little bit questionable.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the foods most commonly recommended by vets and why a growing percentage of the pet guardian population is no longer seeking out vet recommended food.

What is vet recommended cat food?

In accordance with AAFCO labeling recommendations, in order for a food to attain “vet recommended” labeling status, a food must be approved by the majority of veterinarians polled in a “statistically sound” survey. The “statistically sound” definition is nebulous – it depends on the type of food and the company who sells it. AAFCO notes that some companies have earned “vet recommended” labeling with a survey of around 300 veterinarians.

Just like human doctors, veterinarians recommend a range of different cat foods and it’s difficult to pin down exactly what a “vet recommended” food is.

Conventionally, vet recommended cat food is often a prescription formula, meaning that it’s only available with a veterinarian’s prescription. Prescription foods are specially formulated for specific diagnoses and usually have a record of helping to manage those conditions. There’s no official oversight guiding the use of the “prescription diet” label.

Although prescription formulations are sometimes perfect for the condition, a prescription diet isn’t necessarily better than a non-prescription food. Always bear in mind why a specific food is recommended for a given condition. Still not sure about prescription cat food? Take a look at this article. It goes deep to determine whether or not prescription diets are really worth it.

Top Vet Recommended Cat Food

Hill’s Pet Nutrition – especially Hill’s Science Diet and Hill’s Prescription Diet

Hill’s Pet Nutrition, currently owned by Colgate-Palmolive, is a well-respected leader in cat and dog food. The company employs over 220 veterinarians, nutritionists, and food scientists, bolstering its reputation for producing only science-backed food for complete and balanced nutrition.

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The non-prescription Science Diet line has the distinction of being the #1 veterinarian recommended pet food brand. The Prescription Diet line is available only with a veterinarian’s prescription and targets specific health issues, including kidney health, urinary tract health, and digestive support.

Click here to read a comprehensive review of Hill’s Science Diet.

Royal Canin – especially Royal Canin Veterinary Diet

Royal Canin is currently owned by Mars.

Created by a French veterinary surgeon in the late 1960’s, this pet food company enjoys a reputation for rigorously investigated, scientifically formulated foods for cats and dogs. The Veterinary Diet line is only available with a veterinarian’s prescription and targets specific health conditions and requirements. Their cat food lineup includes dry and canned food.

Royal Canin owns several research centers around the world, allowing it to formulate recipes targeting specific health conditions and needs. The company has also published numerous scientific veterinary texts, including a scientific quarterly magazine called Veterinary Focus.

Click here for a comprehensive review of Royal Canin cat food.

Iams

In all non-European countries, Iams is currently sold by Mars. It’s owned by Spectrum Brands in Europe. Iams offers both dry and wet cat food. The Proactive Health line targets specific dietary needs including dental care, hairball management, and digestive health, but these foods don’t require a veterinarian’s prescription.

Click here for a comprehensive review of Iams cat food.

Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets

Part of the pet food giant Nestle Purina, Purina’s Pro Plan Veterinary Diet line is a line of wet and dry foods formulated for specific health conditions, including diabetes, urinary tract health, and allergies. These diets require a veterinarian’s prescription.

Click here for a comprehensive review of Purina Pro Plan cat food.

All of the above vet recommended brands use ingredients that many would perceive as low-quality. They often use plant and animal by-products, along with grains like corn, wheat, rice, and oats. Dry foods are well-represented in the vet-recommended category, and like all kibble, these invariably contain hefty doses of carbohydrates. It’s not uncommon to find artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives in these foods.

According to the veterinarians who endorse them, that doesn’t matter. These foods are scientifically formulated for optimal nutrition. They’re complete and balanced. They’ve been formulated under expert nutritional oversight and provide ideal levels of macronutrients and micronutrients – nourishing your cat according to science.

Like it or not, this message is losing resonance in cultures increasingly focused on natural, organic, and ancestrally-inspired foods for both people and their pets.

The Rise of Dr. Google – Are Veterinarians No Longer the Authorities on Feline Nutrition?

According to TruthAboutPetFood, an article in The Veterinary Practice News involved the following excerpt:

“Clients relying on internet sources and word of mouth get confused about pet nutrition and health, but veterinarians can be a trustworthy voice of reason. “Dr. Google, by so-called experts, is rampant, and we are no longer the only opinion on animal nutrition and health,” said Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, Dipl. ACVSMR. “We can get drowned out by the white noise on the internet,” he said of veterinarians. “We need to re-establish ourselves as the authority in animal nutrition.”

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It’s a telling commentary on the current state of the client-veterinarian relationship.

Although veterinary advice still holds a lot of weight when it comes to the decisions people make about what to feed their pets, vets in general appear to be losing authority. A growing percentage of the cat guardian population would rather consult informational websites or Dr. Google than ask their vet for food recommendations. In other words, veterinarians are falling from their unique position as bearers of animal nutrition wisdom.

Here’s a video from Rodney Habib commenting on the trend towards distrust of veterinary nutritional advice:

Vet Recommended Cat Food: In Most Cases, It’s Anything but Raw.

The use of raw or home-cooked food is one of the most intense conflict points between veterinarians and their clients. As more and more people seek out fresh foods for their pets, most veterinarians insist that dry and canned commercial food are the only reasonable options. This division is driving a wedge between veterinarians and their clients.

In 2017, a survey of over 2,000 raw feeders revealed that people who fed their pets raw food reported lower trust in veterinary advice both “in general” and “with respect to nutrition” than those who fed their pets non-raw food. The same survey also indicated that these respondents were over twice as likely to consult online resources than their veterinarian when it came to making decisions about feeding raw food.

Veterinarians have an obligation to discourage foods that could potentially harm humans as well as pets, and a raw diet, even if properly balanced, represents a public health hazard.

The Merck Veterinary Manual advises that “…veterinarians must also consider the potential legal implications of recommending raw meat–based diets. While zoonotic risks can be associated with feeding both commercial and home-prepared diets, if a pet owner, for example, develops a Salmonella infection from feeding a contaminated commercial diet, the pet food manufacturer is generally at risk of legal action. However, veterinarians who recommend home-prepared raw meat–based diets are potentially liable if an owner becomes sick from preparing these diets or as a result of pets shedding pathogens in their feces.”

Save for the rare veterinarian who’s willing to take a risk and recommend a dietary choice that could jeopardize their reputation and come back to bite them legally, most vets simply won’t recommend or condone raw cat food.

Why do so many people distrust veterinary nutritional advice?

Fueling the trends towards distrust of veterinary nutritional advice is the idea that veterinarians really aren’t well-educated on nutrition, and that what they do know about nutrition comes straight from representatives of the largest pet food manufacturers.

Pet food consumer advocacy sites like TruthAboutPetFood claim that veterinarians only go through a couple of hours of nutrition classes, and that almost all of these classes are sponsored by large pet food companies like Hill’s Pet Nutrition, giving the vets of the future a biased perspective on companion animal nutrition.

In an article posted on the Feline Nutrition Foundation website, Andrea Tasi, VMD, a 1988 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, says that “In my 4 years of veterinary school, I had one class, one semester long, on nutrition. Most of this course focused on which prescription diet to recommend for which disease and why. For well pets, I was taught to recommend “Pick one dry food and stick with it.”

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In all likelihood, your veterinarian is not a veterinary nutritionist and isn’t specifically qualified to talk about feline nutrition. The average veterinarian is not a nutrition specialist. In most cases, what a veterinarian has learned about nutrition comes from experience and continuing education, and not their years in veterinary school.

Are veterinarians bought by pet food companies?

A cornerstone of the anti-veterinary cat food belief system is the idea that after years of free pet food in veterinary school, continuing education events sponsored by pet food manufacturers, and the availability of certain brands for sale in veterinary offices, veterinarians are left with an allegiance to certain pet food companies based not on nutritional merit, but dollars, cents, and good marketing.

In her piece “How the System Works Against Pet Food Consumers”, pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton implies that the largest pet food manufacturers influence veterinarians, saying that “The largest manufacturers of pet food donate heavily to the veterinary industry, those same manufacturers provide nutritional training to vets which in turn relay that nutritional information to consumers. Veterinary schools publish scientific papers funded by the largest manufacturers – supporting the system. Veterinary continuing education programs are funded by the largest pet food manufacturers. The largest chain of veterinary clinics (Banfield Pet Hospitals) is owned by the largest pet food manufacturer.”

Let’s see what a couple of real veterinarians say about this theory.

In an article on Catster, Dr. Eric Barchas describes the idea that vets have been bought off by pet food companies as a “slanderous assertion” and an “insufferable insult”. He goes on to elaborate on his personal experience with major pet food companies as a veterinarian.

“Iams once flew me to Dayton, Ohio, to tour its plant. Purina once flew me to Atlanta, Georgia, for a nutrition symposium. I appreciated both trips, but I continue to feed a different brand to my pal Buster — a brand that has never given me a penny.”

But not all veterinarians feel that these claims are misplaced.

Dr. Tom Lonsdale, Australian veterinary surgeon and author of Raw Meaty Bones, says that there is a systemic problem beginning with the relationship between veterinary colleges and major pet food companies.

“For many years, the veterinary elite has enjoyed a comfortable ride on the back of the junk pet food Trojan horse. Junk food poisoning of pets is the worldwide norm, thanks to veterinary protection for the economic colonialists Mars, Nestle, and Colgate-Palmolive.”

In the same video, Dr. Lonsdale goes on to state that major veterinary colleges are inappropriately linked to and influenced by Hill’s Pet Nutrition (Colgate-Palmolive), Nestle Purina, and Mars.

All things considered, vet recommended cat food is just as diverse as any other category.

Veterinarians are a valuable resource for pet health knowledge and it’s always a good idea to have a conversation with your vet about what your cat is eating. But your vet’s opinion is not the final word – veterinarians come with diverse life experiences and educational backgrounds. And very few of them are experts on nutrition.

When choosing food for your cat, consider all of your options and look beyond the label. Like “premium” food can be excellent or terrible, so can vet recommended food run the quality gamut.

Mallory Crusta

Mallory Crusta offers simple, honest knowledge about natural cat care and products that work so that you can spend less time researching natural cat care and more time having fun with your cat. She blogs about it at WildernessCat.com.

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