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The truth about renal diets for dogs with kidney disease

If your dog has recently been diagnosed with renal (kidney) disease you will be anxious to know what steps you can take to minimise your dog’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 dog’s quality of life.

Although the expense of purchasing these ‘prescription diet’ foods can be greater than the regular canned food or dry kibble you are used to feeding your dog, vets argue that they are genuinely effective in the fight against kidney disease. Examples of top quality veterinary diets include: Hills k/d, Royal Canin Renal diet, Specific CKD & CKW, or Eukanuba Renal diet
The advent of these foods in recent years has had a significant and positive impact on the lives of vast numbers or dogs 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 dog.
There are two primary mechanisms by which these foods work

1)      Low quantity, high quality protein content
Special renal diets 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.

2)      Restricted phosphate content
Reduced phosphate content will help to protect the kidneys from further damage, thereby slowing the progression of kidney disease. Restricting the dietary phosphate content also helps to reduce the incidence of calcification of various body tissues, including the kidneys.

There are also dietary additives on the market that bind phosphate, causing it to be excreted through the gastrointestinal system rather than the urinary system.

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 dog 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

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

It is important to consult your vet before changing your dog’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.

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 use of a wet diet, as a dry food has a negligible water content. It can also help to find a way that you dog prefers to take in fluids, e.g. they may like to drink from running water, in which case a water fountain is a good idea, or they may drink water if it is added to their kibbles.

If a special kidney diet is recommended for your dog 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 dog 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 dog will like one of the other options available. The most important thing for an animal with kidney disease is to keep eating, so do not persist with a diet that they do not like.

This article is intended as a guide only. Always seek advice from your veterinary surgeon prior to changing your dog’s diet.