Tyrone was king of house and neighborhood. One day, the Persian-tabby cross thought it would be cool to jump from the balcony railing to a window ledge. He missed and fell to the patio below. He survived, but the fall damaged his kidneys, and as he grew older, chronic renal failure set in. By the time he was 14, he was in real trouble. Even without injuries, kidney problems are common in both cats and dogs, especially as they get older. With the proper care, however, your companion can live comfortably for months or even years.
The most common sign of renal failure is increased water consumption and urination. Dilute urine, urine that lacks color or odor, or blood tinged urine, are also telltale signs of a kidney problem. Further symptoms are loss of appetite, weight loss, and even discolored teeth. Your animal’s breath may have a chemical odor, he may have sores in his mouth or light-colored gums, which are an indicator of anemia, and even episodes of vomiting and diarrhea. If he is repeatedly licking his nose, chances are he is nauseated, which is another possible indicator of kidney disease, along with muscle weakness and exercise intolerance. Any of these symptoms warrant a visit to the vet.
Complete blood work, a urinalysis, and a urine culture are important, because only these tests will let you know if you are dealing with an acute or short-term kidney problem, or a chronic, ongoing one. Once a diagnosis has been made and a treatment plan put in place, it is important to feed your animal a diet that will help support his kidney function.
First, make sure that fresh filtered or spring water is always available, and encourage your animal to drink at regular intervals. Water consumption is very important, because keeping the kidneys and bladder flushed helps prevent the formation of crystals and stones. Add extra broth to your animal’s daily meals.
Feeding the kidney compromised animal
In a perfect world, we would be able to offer dogs with kidney problems high quality proteins that closely match the proper mix of amino acids they need. Animal proteins, such as meat, milk, and eggs, are of a higher quality than plant source proteins. Consider high fat and moderate amounts of high quality proteins when feeding your dog, and use low phosphorus carbohydrates to fill in the gap. Beef, lamb, pork, turkey, dark chicken with skin, beef heart, green tripe, white rice, sweet potatoes, and winter squash can be combined in a variety of ways to provide your dog with a nutritious and delicious meal that meets his special needs. Dogs with kidney problems often do better when fed smaller meals through the day, rather than one or two large meals.
One question that’s often asked when it comes to cats and kidney disease, is should you restrict your cat’s protein? Some studies have demonstrated that decreasing protein consumption has no effect on chronic renal disease; further research suggests it may even cause more damage to your cat’s kidneys and other major organs. As well, because cats are picky eaters at the best of times, yours may simply walk away from a restrictive diet, so the bottom line is to feed him whatever he likes, and not overly concern yourself with the percentage of protein.
It is very important, though, to ensure your cat is fed a moisture-rich diet. Commercial dry foods simply can’t adequately meet the needs of a cat with chronic renal failure. A homemade diet is your best line of defense, along with special supplementation recommended by a holistic vet, to further support your cat’s kidney function.
In Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: The Healthful Alternative, author Dr. Donald R. Strombeck offers a variety of easy-to-follow recipes for cats with chronic renal failure. You can choose from a chicken and rice based diet, to beef and potato, or tuna, clams, and rice. It’s as simple as combining 3 ounces of tuna with ½ ounce of canned clams, ½ cup of cooked long grain rice, 1/8 teaspoon of salt substitute (potassium chloride), 1½ calcium carbonate tablets or 600 mg of calcium from ground egg shells, ¼ multiple vitamin-mineral tablet, and 1/10 of a B-complex vitamin-trace mineral tablet. Choose organic ingredients where possible.
Try to include whole grains in your cat’s diet, as they provide a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Nutrients from vegetables like beets help cleanse the blood, while carrots aid in maintaining healthy fluid levels.
Recipes for animals with kidney problems
Kidney Kookies (for dogs)
2½ cups organic flour (spelt, kamut, brown rice, barley, etc.)
½ teaspoon garlic powder or 1 freshly minced garlic clove
½ cup homemade chicken broth or low sodium canned broth
½ cup filtered water
1 cup pureed green beans and carrots.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whirl together ingredients in a blender or food processor until well incorporated. Turn the dough onto a floured board, and knead a few times. Roll it out and cut it into desired shapes, or place the dough on a lightly greased or parchment paper covered cookie sheet, roll it out to the corners of the sheet and lightly score it with a knife. Bake for 25 minutes. Turn the oven off, and let the treats cool completely in the oven. Remove and store in a zip-lock bag or cookie jar. Other vegetables you can use in this recipe include zucchini, parsley, celery, dandelion greens, collard greens, squash, and turnip. Try to use organic ingredients whenever possible.
Salmon Kitty Bits (for cats)
1 can salmon or tuna
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 tablespoons organic catnip
1½ – 2 cups organic flour
Preheat your oven to 350°F and lightly grease a large cookie sheet. In a blender or food processor, combine ingredients until the mixture forms a ball. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board, and knead a few times. Place the ball of dough in the middle of the cookie sheet, and roll it out so it fills the sheet. Use your fingers to ensure the dough reaches all corners of the sheet. Score the dough with a sharp knife to make very small “kitty bits” that will be easy to break off once the dough has been baked and cooled. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven off and allow treats to cool completely before removing. Break into bits along the scored lines. If you want a softer treat for your cat, simply remove the treats from the oven as soon as the baking time is up. The bits should be stored in an airtight container or in a zip-lock bag. They freeze very well.
Supplements for renal failure
Supplements that have a positive impact on both acute and chronic kidney problems include salmon oil, an Omega-3 essential fatty acid that’s helpful for fighting inflammation and supporting your pet’s immune system, and may even slow down the progression of renal failure. Vitamin E is the perfect partner to the fish oil supplement, but don’t use cod liver oil. Cranberry helps stop bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, and aids in the prevention of further infections, while vitamins B and C also work together to support kidney function.
Other supplements include Animals’ Apawthecary Tinkle Tonic, which is an anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, soothing, and tonifying combination made of wild crafted couchgrass, certified organic Echinacea purpurea root, dandelion, marshmallow, and horsetail. Tinkle Tonic is intended to soothe, lubricate, strengthen and protect urinary tract tissues in cats and dogs. Tasha’s Kidney Formula for cats combines medicinal herbs to support the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract. It can be used as a soothing tonic for older cats, and is also used as an anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory supplement for feline urologic syndrome. Renafood by Standard Process is another supplement often recommended for its ability to help support kidney function.
When it comes to kidney disease, we can’t kid around with our animal companions, but we can give them the support they need to live healthier and longer lives.