Holistic Support: Best Diet for Cats with Kidney Disease – Part 1 of a 2-part blog series.
Zoltan the Cat:
One of my clients has a 13-year-old kitty named Zoltan who has struggled with pancreatitis. He is now eating a much better diet, and his pancreatitis has subsided drastically. However, recent bloodwork revealed elevated kidney levels. His owner is now using a blend of kidney support supplements, but his vet is pushing a prescription kidney diet with lower protein levels. The veterinary food has a high number of carbohydrates which will most likely re-trigger his pancreatitis. What’s a cat parent to do? Both issues are serious so how do you know which direction to go?
Kidney disease is the most common disease cats develop and ultimately die from. I’ve had four cats over the years who developed this disease, and after Kiwi died from it, I knew I had to make some preventative changes to help my other cats. In the 2018 Animal Wellness Summit I attended online, one of the topics caught my eye, and I knew I had to watch it. It dealt with one of the most confusing issues surrounding cats with kidney disease: the best diet to feed them and holistic ways to provide support.
How Kidney Failure in Cats Starts:
The kidneys are made up of little tubules called nephrons. Their job is to filter and reabsorb fluid. There are so many nephrons available in younger cats that the body holds a portion in reserve. With age, or in cases of kidney damage, nephrons stop functioning and the reserves kick in. Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, describes the progression of the disease:
With no nephrons left in reserve, as damage to the kidneys progresses, signs of chronic kidney disease will start to appear. Because of the system of reserve nephrons, there are no signs of kidney insufficiency until the damage is really significant. When two-thirds of the nephrons are lost, the kidneys will no longer be able to conserve water, and the cat will pass larger amounts of diluted urine. By the time the creatinine levels are elevated on a kitty’s blood work, 75 percent of nephrons in both kidneys are gone.
Do Cats Need A Low Protein Kidney Diet?
I shudder to think back on how I used to feed my cats strictly a dry food diet. I realize now that the lack of moisture in their diet contributed significantly to my cats’ kidney disease. Years later, I began combining kibble with some wet food. I still remember coming home from the vet the day we had to put Kiwi down. The first thing I did was throw all the remaining kibble we had in the trash. From that day forward my cats were on a wet diet. They were so excited! The looks on their faces were priceless. It was almost like they were saying to themselves, “Yay! Mom finally got it!”
Many vets today recommend a low protein diet for cats with kidney disease. The school of thought was that too much protein in the diet was too hard on the kidneys.
However, this assumption is incorrect, as Dr. Becker explains:
“Many veterinarians still insist that a renal diet should be low in protein, despite studies that show aging pets — including those with kidney disease — need more, not less protein. But it has to be a very high-quality protein. So, here’s the thing. If your cat is addicted to a food with rendered ingredients, meaning if your cat is eating poor quality food that is difficult to digest and process, I do recommend you reduce the amount of toxic protein in the diet.
However, if your cat is eating human-grade protein, then protein restriction is often counterproductive and actually exacerbates problems of weight loss and cachexia (muscle wasting), two common health issues for cats with failing kidneys. Many veterinarians will suggest a prescription dry food diet for kidney disease, but I absolutely recommend against this as well. Unless a prescription dry food is the only food your cat will consume, I don’t recommend you feed prescription dry kidney diets.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series at the end of the month to learn the best diet for decreasing inflammation and improving kidney function & gut health in cats.