Cats suffering from kidney disease should be on a diet that doesn’t strain their renal system too much. While there are specialist options for kidney disease cat food that you can buy, they’re not always the best choice. Often a fresh, healthy diet is best choice to help cats struggling with kidney disease.
Understanding Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
There are two kinds of kidney disease in cats – acute renal failure and chronic renal failure. Chronic Kidney Disease (sometimes called Chronic Renal Disease) is a sustained, long-term issue that is very serious – it’s one of the leading causes of cat death.
Most kitties with chronic renal failure are the ones that need to be put on a restricted diet.
CKD has several causes, but one of the most common is dry food (kibble). And this is all down to the moisture content of food.
The symptoms of CKD include:
- Change in the cat’s appetite
- Weight loss
- Poor hair quality
- Bad breath
- An increased amount of urine
- Noticeable dehydration with increased thirst
The problem with CKD is that it’s a slow burner. You may not notice symptoms in your cat until they lose 60-70% of their working kidney tissue. So by that point, it becomes imperative that you act fast.
Adored Beast, a company that sells cat health products, has a guide on the stages of kidney disease in cats and various ways to manage it, including dietary changes.
And that’s because it may require a particular cat food diet to help your cat perform the necessary renal functions.
The Links Between Diet and CKD
Cats don’t tend to drink much water. Instead, they get the moisture they need from their food rather than a water bowl. And yet dry cat food has a very low moisture content – around 10%. That’s not enough, and while you can provide a kitty water bowl, your cat may not get the water they need to stay healthy.
Yet dry food is still prevalent. It’s a cheap and easy option for many cat owners, which is why so many cats are fed kibble even though it’s not the best choice for them.
If you are trying to avoid kidney problems, it is essential to remember that you want to have food that is high in moisture but with a low phosphorus and low sodium content.
If you’re already having issues and are looking for diets for cat kidney problems, then you’ll want to pay particular attention to the phosphorus and sodium content and keep that as low as possible. At this point, dry food should not be an option (unless your kitty is completely refusing to eat – sometimes it’s more important to eat than not).
For a while, putting cats on a low-protein diet was recommended to help take some of the pressure off the ailing kidneys. This is now not usually recommended. Cats have higher protein requirements than many other animals, so your cat should maintain protein intake to give the body energy for the fight ahead of it.
This interview with Dr. Ruth Roberts, an expert on kidney disease in cats, explains in detail why low-protein diets are not the right choice, along with some other key discussion points:
Cats facing kidney problems should eat the same types of food as healthy cats – only it is more important that you are feeding high-quality foods. If your cat has been diagnosed with a chronic problem and you need to find a good kidney disease cat food, there are a few specialty foods on the market. Corn, wheat, and bi-products are big no-nos and should be avoided at all costs.
These foods are sometimes recommended by conventional veterinarians, but often because they’re an easy option. Names you might be told about are:
- Hill’s Prescription Diet K/D
- Royal Canin Renal LP21
- Eukanuba Multi-Stage Renal Diet
- Purina NF Kidney Function
However, combining fresh food and filtered water will always be better than specialist cat food. While these foods are lower in protein, phosphorus, and sodium, a fresh raw diet will be free of unnecessary additives and will be the healthiest option.
Raw Food Diets and CKD
As mentioned above, there was the belief that high-protein diets were bad for cats with CKD because you wanted to take the pressure off the kidneys. That’s now been proven false.
You want to feed your cat the best diet possible, with the highest quality foods, and a raw food diet is one of the best options for your cat – whether they suffer from CKD or not. You might have noticed in the interview with Dr. Ruth Roberts above that it’s now believed a slightly cooked raw diet might be best for a kidney cat.
Raw food provides the right amount of moisture for your kitty and a healthy amount of calories without any harmful waste products that dry kibble is loaded with.
It’s a high-quality protein that will give your cat the energy they need, helping to deal with the symptoms of CKD and fight kidney damage.
However, while raw food is typically the healthiest option, older cats may do better with cooked food that has been warmed thoroughly. It’ll be easier for your cat’s gut to handle than cold, completely raw food. It may also help to add water to turn the meal into more of a soup.
There is an important distinction to make if your cat has kidney problems. A raw food diet typically consists of a high percentage of muscle mass and smaller percentages of organ tissue and calcium.
That calcium can usually come from bone, but that is calcium phosphate, so it should be avoided for kitties struggling with renal problems. Keep the same diet going, but switch to eggshells – they contain calcium carbonate instead, helping to keep your cat’s phosphorus levels in check.
Increased amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids can help cats needing renal support. Too many toxins will be produced if no fats are present, and symptoms may worsen. It is best if you balance fats with high-quality protein.
Be sure to check out the guide to raw diets if you want to learn more about the raw pet foods available, how a raw diet can improve your cat’s quality of life,
How To Wean Your Cat From Dry Food
Another problem for cats suffering from CKD is that dry cat food can be highly addictive. If you’ve raised your cat on dry food or adopted a cat used to eating dry food, transitioning them off grains to a wet-food diet or, ideally, raw food diet can be difficult.
Some tips you can try are:
- Make sure the feeding area is clean and appealing to your cat.
- Establish set eating times so that your cat knows when they are going to be able to be fed.
- Transition gradually – start with 75% old food and 25% new food for a few days before moving to 50/50. Take your time if you can.
- Pick up the food after 30 minutes. Train your cat that they can’t be picky with the new food.
Of course, ensuring your cat is being fed is important. You’ll want to consult your veterinarian before making significant changes if they suffer from kidney disease. They can tailor special veterinary diets to your cat’s needs, knowing what they are used to eating and helping you find the right solution for your kitty.
Other Tips for CKD Sufferers
As well as dietary changes, you can do some other things to improve the conditions around your home for CKD-affected cats. These include:
- Making sure nobody is smoking in your home
- Avoiding high temperatures in your home
- Keeping the air fresh, especially if you live somewhere with high levels of car traffic (and therefore fumes)
- Make sure your cat isn’t stressed in their environment, and make changes if they are
Diet is crucial if you’re proactively trying to avoid renal problems or reacting to a kidney disease diagnosis. Canned food is better than dry food, but the best cat food for cats is a raw diet, so transitioning to that – with your veterinarian’s support – could be extremely helpful for your kitty. However, you may need a specialist cat food tailored to tackling kidney disease.
Please pay attention to the ingredients in your cat’s food and ensure they’re getting the correct protein levels without high levels of phosphorus and sodium.
Other Resources for Kidney Disease Cat Food
The most comprehensive website about cat renal failure is TANYA’S COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO FELINE CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE – her website is incredible!
Fetching Foods is a raw food website with great advice on CKD and raw food.
If you want to learn more about proper feline nutrition, please see these sites:
Whether you are doing research on the best foods out there or you need to make a decision fast, there are some excellent kidney-friendly cat food resources on the net:
This group on Facebook has a list of kidney diet-approved foods: FELINE CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE.
Some readers have reported that making sure renal failure kitties drink enough water is very important to keep the kidneys flushed. Cats like fresh water, so often, kitties are more encouraged to drink water from a cat water fountain like the one from Pioneer Pet or another best cat water fountain.
Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,