by Geoff Williams
If you have a dog who has kidney disease, you have probably been told that your pet may still live a long and happy life.
You're probably also keenly aware that what your dog eats has never been more important.
It can be scary at first, knowing that you can no longer casually feed your dog table scraps (OK, not a good idea, even with a healthy dog), and that you need to really think about his diet in a way that perhaps you hadn't before. But if you're unnerved, it may be because you haven't yet fallen into a routine. Feeding a dog with kidney disease isn't always hard, but you and your pet may need to make some lifestyle changes.
Best Foods for a Dog with Kidney Disease
The good news, especially for the overwhelmed pet parent, is that you probably won't have to get too deep into the weeds to figure out the feeding process. There are dog food brands on store shelves that are formulated for dogs with kidney disease and dog brands that are available by prescription, so you don't have to set up a corner of your kitchen for food prep, where you'll be making special doggie meals. You can do that, of course, but you and your veterinarian may decide that you don't need to.
Still, whatever approach you and your vet decide on, one thing is clear:
"The goal is always going to be high quality foods with low protein. High quality protein but low protein," says Dr. Julie Bailey, a veterinarian and a professor and dean of Becker College's School of Animal Studies in Leicester, Massachusetts.
Why is that important?
The kidneys’ job is to rid the body of toxins, Bailey says, so when the proteins break down, you don't want there to be an excess of it.
Low phosphorus levels are also important, Dr. Bailey adds.
Phosphorus is an essential mineral, but too much of it can lead to hyperphosphatemia, an electrolyte disturbance in which abnormally elevated levels of phosphate appear in the dog's blood.
Moist Foods Are Good for a Dog with Kidney Disease
An internet article about how the word "moist" is the worst word ever went viral, getting four million views, but whether you hate that word or not, "moist" is a useful word to remember when feeding a dog with kidney disease.
After all, kidneys are all about water. Water helps everyone's kidneys remove waste from the blood, coming out of the body as urine.
"When a dog is having kidney failure, it’s vital that his food is moist to provide much-needed hydration," says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a holistic veterinarian based out of Los Angeles. He owns California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness and provides holistic treatment for cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group.
"In kidney failure, the body is not properly excreting toxins through the kidneys," Dr. Mahaney says. "As a result, more moisture is needed to flush out nitrogen, creatinine, phosphorous, and other metabolic wastes from the body. Therefore, my primary recommendation is to feed a diet that is moistened by water or low-sodium and free from vegetables of the onion and garlic varieties."
That doesn't necessarily mean that you need to buy canned brands of dog food that are formulated for kidney disease, or that you should stay away from dry dog food brands formulated for kidney disease.
Talk to your veterinarian, Dr. Mahaney says, but he adds that he would be wary of dog foods that have too much sugar or, especially, propylene glycol (PG), an additive found in many pet foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration labels it as safe for pets, as Dr. Mahaney admits, but he isn't a fan of it and says, "Frequent ingestion of foods and treats having PG won’t improve his overall health."
Dr. Mahaney also recommends that protein sources be "highly bioavailable, which means that the nutrients are readily absorbed and cause minimal stress on the body in the digestive process.
Ideally, Dr. Mahaney says, you would be feeding your dog "fresh, cooked, moisture-rich, lean protein sources, including chicken or turkey breast, or defatted beef."
Dog Treats for Dogs with Kidney Disease
If you want a healthy pet treat to give to your dog with kidney disease, an occasional carrot can be good for them, Dr. Bailey says. "Green beans can be good sometimes, too," she adds.
The main reasons behind those foods are that carrots are low in calories and high in fiber and vitamins. Green beans have vitamins, too, as well as iron.
But don't just start feeding your dog random fruits and vegetables, Dr. Bailey warns. "Grapes and raisins are toxic," she said.
In fact, those fruits can actually cause kidney failure in dogs.
Preparing Meals for a Dog with Kidney Disease
Whatever you and your veterinarian decide to go with, whether canned or dry dog food, or fresh and cooked meats, the hardest thing about having a dog with kidney disease is often not what to fix but to make sure your dog is eating regularly, Dr. Bailey says.
"Dogs with kidney disease tend to have trouble keeping weight on," Dr. Bailey says "They tend to not have a great appetite, so I would lean towards feeding your dog a few times a day."
She adds that you'll also want to make sure your dog has easy access to water. That's vital for all dogs, of course, not to mention all living creatures, but especially so if your dog has kidney disease.
If your dog has not been diagnosed with it, it may be hard for you to know for sure whether your dog has kidney disease. But at least at feeding times and every time you fill the water bowl you can feel good knowing that you're making a difference in your dog’s quality of life and possibly extending his or her lifetime by years.
"As a general statement, a lot of what you do at home has a very good chance of extending your dog's life," Dr. Bailey says.
"We can only make the recommendations. What you do at home definitely matters in this case. It's kind of like going to your cardiologist. They tell you to go on certain medications, and it's your decision whether you do it or not," she says. "Your pet's health is to some extent in your hands, so you want to make sure you make good choices."