Fetch 2018: The Power of Nutrition in Disease Prevention


Veterinarians are in a unique position to alter the course of disease with early nutritional interventions in at-risk patients.

Food Therapy

It is undeniable that pet owners want their pets to live as long as possible. Veterinarians are great at providing preventive care services such as vaccinations and parasite prevention, but nutrition expert Donna Raditic, DVM, DACVN, feels we should be doing more.

Dr. Raditic, who works wirh Nutrition and Integrative Medicine Consultants in Athens, Georgia, feels that veterinarians are excellent at reacting to disease and treating medical conditions once they are diagnosed, but “where we fail over and over…is in being proactive,” she said. During her lecture at the 2018 Fetch conference in San Diego, Dr. Raditic discussed the many ways in which nutrition can be used to prevent disease.


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Obesity, a common concern among pets, has been linked to numerous medical conditions such as endocrinopathies, joint disease, urogenital problems, and decreased life span. By identifying patients at risk for obesity and intervening early, veterinarians can greatly improve the quality of life and longevity of their patients.

Dr. Raditic offered several practical tips that veterinarians can use to prevent and manage pet obesity:

  • Avoid “AAFCO All Life Stage” diets. These diets are formulated to be fed to animals at any life stage and are always higher in calories than foods formulated for adult dogs.
  • “Take the measuring cup out of the equation,” Dr. Raditic said. Instead, she suggested advising owners to use a gram scale to measure pet food, allowing owners to be more exact about feeding amounts. Once owners have weighed the appropriate amount, they can translate that into a specific measuring scoop for daily use.
  • Explain to owners the appropriate body condition score (BCS) for their pet. Start early and address this during puppy visits.
  • Examine patients after spay/neuter surgery to evaluate BCS and intervene earlier in cases with weight gain.
  • Use veterinary therapeutic diets for weight loss. Reducing the amount of an OTC diet based on calorie count alone can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Therapeutic diets are formulated to have a specific amount of nutrients per kilocalorie to maintain a balanced diet.

Preventing Chronic Disease States

Dr. Raditic challenged the audience to consider using therapeutic diets before chronic disease processes begin. She recommended evaluating at-risk patients based on their genetic predisposition for diseases such as osteoarthritis, disk disease, chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disease, and skin disease.

For patients with a genetic predisposition to joint disease, such as golden retrievers, great Danes, or dachshunds prone to disk disease, Dr. Raditic recommended the following:

  • Maintain lean BCS starting from puppyhood.
  • Feed a veterinary therapeutic joint diet. High in omega-3 fatty acids, these diets have been shown in multiple studies to increase weight bearing, decrease radiographic osteoarthritis changes, and reduce inflammation when fed prior to onset of orthopedic disease.

Therapeutic diets can also be fed proactively to patients at-risk for chronic GI or skin diseases. Dr. Raditic noted that many patients prone to GI disease are also prone to skin disease, and vice versa. The link between these 2 conditions is the immune system and adverse food reactions. Dr. Raditic believes that starting a hypoallergenic diet early in the course of disease can slow progression and prevent chronic disease states.

Take-Home Message

During routine examinations, veterinarians should evaluate patient risk for certain conditions such as obesity, joint disease, GI disease, and skin disease. When an at-risk patient is identified, the pet owner should be educated about the risks and offered nutritional advice to improve quality of life for the patient.

Dr. Boatright, a 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, is an associate veterinarian in western Pennsylvania. She is actively involved in her state and local veterinary medical associations and is a former national officer of the Veterinary Business Management Association.

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