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Q: Our Dalmatian had urinary crystals. He's now on a veterinary Science Diet U/D, as well as medication. He has done well on this regimen, but the food is very expensive: $73 for a 30-pound bag. None of our local pet stores carries this product. Any advice?

A: I get similar queries all too often. More than $70 for a 30-pound bag of food is about twice the price of what the same company charges for its nonprescription dog food. I can't entirely blame the pet food companies since veterinarians also contribute to setting prices on prescription foods. Still, a lower suggested retail price for veterinary clinics might save lives. At least you can apparently afford to buy this special food. Some people can't.

Dr. Jody Lulich, professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, Minneapolis, is internationally recognized as an expert on urinary crystals. He says there are other veterinary prescription diets, but the prices don't vary too much from the one you current pay.

Lulich offers two alternatives: Your dog might or might not do well on a canned senior diet or a canned vegetarian dog food. Both have less meat and therefore produce a more alkaline urine. However, Lulich cautions that since you say the food you currently buy is working, transitioning to a nonprescription choice might not be effective.

Lulich says you might also contact a veterinary nutritionist who could formulate a diet you could prepare to meet your Dalmatian's individual needs. Of course, you'd need to pay the nutritionist but it would likely be a one-time fee. However, it's quite possible that buying fresh ingredients regularly would exceed the cost you're now paying, not to mention the time involved in cooking for your pup.

Lulich concedes that although he is offering alternatives to answer your question, none are great.

Vegetarian diet isn't healthy for cats, dogs

Q: What do you think about vegan cats? My understanding is that cats are carnivores. Do vegan diets meet cats' nutritional needs? I do see that at least one manufacturer now makes a vegan diet for cats and dogs.

A: Dr. Ray Russo is a veterinary nutritionist from Kingston, Mass. He says several members of his own family are vegetarians but his cats are not. "Cats are obligate carnivores and require far more protein than we do. Cats should not be fed vegetarian diets," he says.

Among other issues, cats fed vegetarian diets miss out on amino acids essential for their good health. A prolonged vegetarian diet may create a serious health risk for cats. Russo adds, "Cats and dogs do have different nutritional needs, so one diet does not fit all."

Though it's true that dogs don't require as much protein as cats do, Russo also recommends against vegetarian diets for canines.

"I understand the packaging of vegan dog and cat foods is really to ride the wave of our own interest in vegetarianism. But that doesn't mean it is necessarily in the dog or cat's best interest," he says. Offering occasional vegetables and/or fruit tidbits to your pet, such as carrots, green beans or bananas, is a good thing, however, particularly for dogs.

Send questions to Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207 or e-mail