Food to Treat Kidney Disease in Cats and Dogs The 4 Principles of Nutrition for Pets with Kidney Trouble

Food to Treat Kidney Disease in Cats and Dogs
expert or vet photo
vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Cats and dogs with kidney disease need special nutrition. Learn the 4 principles of managing kidney disease through diet.

Kidney insufficiency also called kidney disease or renal disease is a serious problem for pets and will need immediate treatment. Dietary modification and healthy pet foods are the best way to treat kidney disease in cats and dogs and slow its progression.

It is well known among veterinarians that the following dietary principles will prolong your dog or cat’s life significantly, which is why your veterinarian will prescribe a therapeutic kidney diet when your pet is diagnosed with kidney disease.

Be aware that, in general, dry dog food or dry cat food formulated for animals with kidney disease will have carbohydrates listed as the first ingredient. For example, Hill's Prescription Diet k/d Kidney Care Dry Dog Food. When it comes to healthy dogs and cats, this is something most guidance tells pet owners to avoid, yet for your pet with kidney disease, a different set of guidelines is needed.

The 4 Major Principles of Managing Kidney Disease

1. Protein Restriction:

Most people familiar with kidney disease hear that protein restriction is essential for treatment. The truth is that while protein does not directly affect the progression of the disease, it does have other unwanted side effects.

When too much protein is present, the kidney cannot appropriately get rid of nitrogen, which is then turned into a product called urea. Your veterinarian may note that your dog or cat’s blood urea nitrogen (BUN) is high. This can be due to causes other than kidney problems, but it does indicate that your pet may have kidney disease.

When too much urea builds up in the body, it will make your dog or cat feel ill and nauseous. Protein is often restricted once urea starts to rise out of the normal range to keep this from happening.

Unfortunately, over-the-counter dry dog foods and cat foods will not be appropriate since they supply levels of protein for a healthy adult dog or cat. For a dog with kidney disease, protein intake should be about 1/2 of what's in typical food. Cats with kidney disease should have about 1/4 to 1/3 the amount that's in typical food.

2. Phosphorus Restriction:

Though perhaps less well-known than protein restriction, phosphorus restriction is one of the more important concepts since increased phosphorus is directly associated with the progression of kidney disease.

The most relevant indicator of kidney problems in your dog or cat’s blood work is creatinine concentrations in the blood. Creatinine is a normal byproduct of muscle function and is normally filtered out of the body by the kidney. If the body cannot do this efficiently, then the creatinine level in the blood increases above normal.

The same common ingredients in your pet’s diet are often sources of protein as well as phosphorus. So oftentimes, as creatinine starts to increase out of the normal range, urea eventually follows. Protein restriction goes hand-in-hand with phosphorus restriction.

3. Salt Restriction:

In many cases, as the kidney fails, blood pressure rises in the kidney blood vessels, making management of “kidney hypertension” a must.

The easiest way to help control kidney hypertension is to decrease the amount of salt your pet gets. Many over-the-counter foods contain about 2-8 times what’s appropriate, so kidney diets have been formulated to contain low salt content to combat the hypertension issue.

4. Increasing Long Chain Omega-Three Fatty Acids:

The long-chain omega-three fatty acids from fish oils will help combat kidney hypertension because they can relax the blood vessels to a degree, which will improve blood flow. Additionally, if there is inflammation in the kidney, the fatty acids that are incorporated into many therapeutic kidney diets will help dampen the inflammatory effects. The amount of fish oil added to the food varies slightly between manufacturers, so talk to your vet to make sure you have the right food for your pet or if a supplement is necessary. You can check out the Nordic Naturals Omega -3 supplement.

The effects of these fundamental changes in diet have been well-documented. Getting your pet on a therapeutic diet or food prescribed by your veterinarian will decrease the clinical signs associated with the disease and will significantly prolong your dog or cat’s life.

Food to Treat Cat and Dog Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract problems are some of the most commonly reported ailments in both cats and dogs, affecting pets of all ages and genders. Here’s what you need to know to treat your pet’s UTI through diet and nutrition.

What is a UTI?

Urinary tract infection (UTI) is a general term for a painful infection that is usually caused by bacteria entering the urethral opening. This can result in crystals or stones in the bladder, incontinence, or bacterial infections. Unfortunately, UTIs tend to be a recurring illness, and common ailments like diabetes can increase your pet’s risk, which is why it’s important to recognize the symptoms and know how to treat them and help prevent them.

Your dog or cat may benefit from a special diet for UTIs (like Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Urinary Tract Health Formula Beef and Chicken Entree) if he or she has had any of the following symptoms:

  • Pain or difficulty urinating
  • Lack of urination or very frequent urination
  • Incontinence or housebreaking/litter box problems
  • Bloody, bad-smelling, or cloudy urine
  • Change in appetite or water consumption
  • Over-grooming / excessive licking of the urinary opening
  • Lethargy

If you suspect your pet has a UTI, particularly if he or she seems to be in pain, see your vet or an online vet immediately. Bladder infections can become serious and even fatal very quickly. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose a UTI after a physical, blood work, and/or urinalysis.

Treating and Preventing a UTI with Diet and Nutrition

The primary course of treatment for a UTI is antibiotics for dogs and cats, like Clavamox. Always be sure your pet completes the entire course, even if the infection seems to have cleared up.

But there are also ways you can shorten the duration of the illness and help prevent it from returning in addition to medications.

  • Switch your pet to canned food, which has a much higher water content than top-quality dry dog food or cat food and can help promote and increase your pet’s water intake. Increasing water intake will help dilute your pet’s urine and keep the bladder system flushed out and healthy.
  • Always give your pet access to clean, fresh water. A pet water fountain with filtered, aerated water may encourage your pet to drink more frequently. You could also encourage water consumption in cats by slipping something like a little tuna water into the water bowl.
  • If the UTI is not caused by stones, cranberry extract, which contains Vitamin C, hippuric acid, and antioxidants, may help balance the bladder’s PH and may decrease the inflammation in the bladder wall. However, steer clear of this if your pet has stones, as too much Vitamin C may increase the problem.
  • Bromelain is an enzyme often derived from pineapple that may improve the effectiveness of some antibiotic treatments—check with your vet if this is useful for the antibiotics you’re using.
  • Feed your pet high-quality food without fillers or unnecessary additives to keep their immune system strong.
  • If you leave your pet’s dry food out in the “free feeding” style, be sure the bowls are clean and regularly throw out any old leftover food at the bottom of the bowl to prevent bacteria or mold from growing and being ingested by your pet. You can also look into an automatic pet feeder.

Many dog food brands now have healthy food for pets, specifically promoting good urinary tract health, which will contain some of the above supplements. Read the labels carefully before giving your pet additional supplements to avoid overdoses of vitamins and nutrients.

Another Possible Cause for Urinary Tract Problems in Cats

For cats, many urinary tract issues, such as bloody urine or straining to urinate, are caused by a disease called interstitial cystitis and not by an infection. Interstitial cystitis should be treated with increased water consumption and an increase in salty foods. The salt will help with water absorption and will soothe the bladder wall.

Be sure to take your cat to the veterinarian to get a proper diagnosis.

This article was written by PetCareRx Consulting Nutritionist Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine. The information contained, however, is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian.

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