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The truth about renal diets for cats

If your cat has recently been diagnosed with renal (kidney) disease you will be anxious to know what steps you can take to minimise your cat’s suffering. Providing an appropriate diet designed specifically for renal disease sufferers is arguably the simplest way for you, as an owner, to positively impact on your cat’s quality of life.

Although the inconvenience and expense of purchasing these ‘prescription diet’ foods is often greater than the regular canned food or dry kibble you are used to feeding your cat, vets argue they are genuinely effective  in the fight against kidney disease.

The advent of these foods in recent years has had a significant and positive impact on the lives of vast numbers or cats suffering from renal disease, and vets almost universally advise their use as an essential part of the treatment regime. For these reasons it is important for owners to understand how kidney foods work to support their beloved cat.

How do these foods help?

There are two primary mechanisms by which these foods work.

1)      Low quantity, high quality protein content

The predominant effect of the low protein diet is to minimize production of uraemic toxins so that the feels better. Low protein diets may help extend life in cats with kidney disease. Special kidney foods contain less protein than regular foods. However, although present in lesser amounts, the protein that is used in them is of a higher quality than that in a normal diet. Many of the toxic waste products that the kidneys remove from the bloodstream are the result of protein breakdown; less protein in the diet means a reduced amount of waste for the kidneys to process. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that their natural diet would consist almost entirely of protein and fat. Protein therefore tastes good to cats and stimulates their appetites - this is one of the reasons cats with kidney disease must continue to have some protein in their diet.

2)      Restricted phosphate content

High phosphorus accelerates renal failure, and restricted phosphorus slows it down. Therefore, reduced phosphate content will help to protect the kidneys from further damage, thereby slowing the progression of kidney disease. In cats restricted phosphate content helps to reduce the incidence of a secondary syndrome called Renal Secondary Hyperparathyroidism. Restricting the dietary phosphate content also helps to reduce the incidence of calcification of various body tissues, including the kidneys.

Whilst understanding each of these aspects of renal diets, the most important point is that research has shown that foods meeting these criteria can provide significant benefits to your cat in terms of improving their clinical condition and decreasing the levels of the toxins in the bloodstream that your vet uses to monitor the progression of renal disease.

Choosing the right food

 Cats with renal failure are often elderly and commonly have oral pain and a reduced appetite; therefore, highly palatable food is essential.

It is important to consult your vet before changing your cat’s diet – this is especially true of patients with other diseases as well. In some cases the other condition also requires a special diet, and should take precedence over dietary modification specific to the kidney problem. Most vets will also have some preference for a specific brand or brands.

The list below outlines the diets available (all in wet and dry varieties):

  • Hills Prescription Diet Feline K/D

    • Diet Feline K/D has been specially formulated by veterinarians to help manage kidney disease in cats. Kidney disease may develop because of other diseases or changes in health, breed/hereditary tendencies and even nutritional factors.

  • Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Feline Renal S/O Wet

    • Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Feline Renal S/O is a complete dietetic food intended for cats for the support of renal function in case of chronic renal insufficiency.

    • This dietetic food contains a low level of phosphorus and a restricted level of protein, but of high quality.

Correcting dehydration is an essential objective in management of patients with renal failure. In order to encourage as much fluid consumption as possible it is worth considering that use of a wet diet, as a dry food has a negligible water content. 

If a special kidney diet is recommended for your cat it is important to note that some animals will demonstrate a preference for one brand over another. If the first kidney food you offer your cat is not met with enthusiasm do not despair, talk to your vet about which other brands might be suitable. These foods are designed with palatability in mind; it is probable that your cat will like one of the other options available.

This article is intended as a guide only. Always consult your veterinarian prior to changing your cats diet as they will be able to advise the most suitable food for your cats specific problems.