I was presented with a very nice retired couple with a very sweet Shih Tzu female dog for a yearly well visit. As is typical with a new client and new patient, I asked about any pertinent past injuries or illness. The lady told me that a few years ago, the dog had surgery to remove urinary bladder stones. I asked her if the dog was placed on a prescription diet that facilitated neutral urine pH in order to prevent future stones. She replied that she fed Royal Canin Urinary SO for 2 years, but her daughter (who is a groomer) last year convinced her to change to a grain free diet which she has been feeding for the past year and per the owner, the dog has been doing fine on it.
Thus, this very nice lady ignored the recommendation of her dog’s previous veterinarian to take the advice of a groomer who has no medical training whatsoever, daughter notwithstanding. I explained to this otherwise lovely couple that once a dog has had urinary pH aberrations to the extent that stones occurred, the grains are far less a threat to her wonderful little dog’s health than abnormal urine pH and imminent bladder stones. What’s more, I explained, there is not one single shred of evidence outside of proven and diagnosed food allergy and autoimmune GI disease that grain free pet food is healthier for dogs and cats. In fact, all anecdotal evidence points to the opposite and makes them less healthy since so many dogs get fat on grain free pet food.
Still, the dog had done clinically well on the diet for the past year and the couple politely remained skeptical to take my advice. As a reasonable compromise, I convinced them to at least let us submit a urinalysis to make certain that the dog’s urinary tract was healthy.
Sure enough, the urinalysis report came back today and the urine showed that the dog had a very high urinary pH and the dog was passing a severe number of urinary crystals, the precursor to stone formation. What’s more, the urine had trace blood in it indicating the the bladder wall was experiencing micro-hemorrhage, as sign of chronic inflammation and likely pain. This couple’s little Shih Tzu is a tough little girl!
I called the couple this AM and got their voicemail. I told them about the results and that they need to get their dog back on the urinary prescription diet ASAP otherwise risk the necessity of needing another surgery. In fact, there could be stones in the bladder already, so I also recommended they return with the dog for an x-ray of the bladder. I am crossing my fingers and toes hoping that they will listen to me this time.
Folks, veterinarians recommend disease specific prescription diets not because we like to sell diets or are in the pockets of pet food companies. In fact, we actually really dislike selling food. The mark ups are terrible and food takes up precious space in a clinic. If money was my motivation I would just let these people carry on with their grain free food and guarantee myself $1500 bladder surgery in the near future.
We recommend the prescription diets because they work. Yes, they have grain in them, but for the vast majority of dogs whose diseases necessitate prescription diets, the nutritional benefit of the disease management far outweighs any harm grains can do.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality throughout a number of subjects and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.