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Feeding a Cat with Renal Disease: A Comprehensive Guide for Pet Owners written by a vet nurse

Renal disease, or chronic kidney disease (CKD), is a prevalent health issue among older cats.

It impairs kidney function, which is crucial for filtering waste products from the blood, regulating hydration, and maintaining electrolyte balance.

Proper nutrition is vital for managing CKD and enhancing your cat's quality of life. In my years working in practice I have encountered many many cases of CKD so in this guide I will delve into the specifics of feeding a cat with renal disease, offering detailed advice and practical tips according to my experience.

First of all we have to try to understand how renal disease works in our cats.

Renal disease is often progressive, meaning it worsens over time. Early signs include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, decreased appetite, vomiting, and lethargy. As the kidneys fail to function properly, toxins build up in the bloodstream, leading to various health issues.

While CKD cannot be cured, its progression can be slowed, and symptoms can be managed through diet and veterinary care.

But what are the nutritional needs for a cat with kidney disease?

Low protein, High-Quality sources:

  • Why it Matters: Excessive protein can overburden the kidneys by increasing the production of nitrogenous waste. Reducing protein intake helps decrease this burden.

  • Implementation: Opt for high-quality protein sources that are easily digestible. Prescription renal diets, such as Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d, Royal Canin Renal Support, and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets NF, are designed to provide the necessary nutrients without overloading the kidneys.

Reduced Phosphorus:

  • Why it Matters: Elevated phosphorus levels can exacerbate kidney damage and lead to mineral imbalances.

  • Implementation: Prescription renal diets contain controlled levels of phosphorus. Avoid feeding your cat high-phosphorus foods like fish, organ meats, and dairy products. Always check labels for phosphorus content.

Increased Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

  • Why it Matters: Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation, which can be beneficial in slowing the progression of CKD.

  • Implementation: Consider adding fish oil supplements to your cat’s diet, but only under the guidance of your veterinarian to ensure proper dosing.

Controlled Sodium Levels:

  • Why it Matters: High sodium intake can lead to hypertension and further kidney damage.

  • Implementation: Feed your cat a diet with controlled sodium levels. Avoid feeding them human food or treats high in salt.

Adequate Hydration:

  • Why it Matters: Cats with CKD are prone to dehydration due to increased urine output.

  • Implementation: Provide fresh water at all times and consider feeding wet food, which has higher moisture content. Adding water or low-sodium broth to dry food can also help.

Some cat owners prefer to prepare homemade meals but this option requires close collaboration with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure the diet is nutritionally balanced and appropriate for CKD management. Please do not attempt to feed home made meals to your CKD cat without consulting a vet.

Feeding a cat with renal disease can be quite challenging, especially if the pet is used to a particular brand or flavour of food. Here are some tips for you to use:

Introduce New Diet Gradually:

Transition your cat to the new diet slowly to avoid gastrointestinal upset. Start by mixing a small amount of the new food with their current food, gradually increasing the new food's proportion over 7-10 days.

Monitor Appetite and Weight:

Keep a close eye on your cat’s eating habits and weight. Loss of appetite is common in cats with CKD. If your cat is not eating well, consult your vet for alternatives or appetite stimulants.

Small, Frequent Meals:

Offer smaller, more frequent meals to help maintain steady energy levels and reduce digestive strain.

Enhance Palatability:

To make the food more appealing, try warming it slightly or adding a small amount of tuna juice, chicken broth (low-sodium), or a commercial flavour enhancer approved by your vet.

Avoid Treats and Scraps:

Human food and non-prescription treats can contain high levels of protein, phosphorus, and sodium. Stick to treats designed for cats with renal disease or those approved by your veterinarian.

In my experience, pet owners all have to overcome similar challanges when it comes to their cats with renal disease.

Specifically these are:

Decreased Appetite:

Loss of appetite can be a significant challenge. Ensure the food is fresh and try different textures and flavours of renal diets. Appetite stimulants or anti-nausea medications prescribed by your vet can also help.

Gastrointestinal Issues:

Cats with CKD may experience nausea or vomiting. Medications to control these symptoms can improve food intake and overall well-being.

Hydration Support:

In addition to providing fresh water and wet food, you might consider subcutaneous fluids (administered under the skin) as recommended by your veterinarian to ensure adequate hydration.

In addition to the special renal food, routine veterinary visits are crucial for monitoring the progression of CKD and adjusting the treatment plan as needed. Regular blood tests, urinalysis, and blood pressure checks help assess kidney function and overall health.

Your vet may recommend additional treatments or dietary adjustments based on these assessments.

I hope this article has been useful and helped you to shine a light on the multiple challanges encountered in feeding cats with CKD. If you have any doubt, please do not hesitate to ask.


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