by Vanessa Voltolina
Chronic kidney disease occurs mostly in older dogs, as the kidneys lose function over years. While chronic renal failure cannot be reversed or cured, treatment and management aimed at reducing the contributing factors and symptoms can slow its progression.
There is a plethora of misinformation on the internet, and any natural therapies should always be discussed with your veterinarian.
PetMD spoke with Los Angeles-based veterinarian Jeff Werber, DVM, and Brooklyn-based Katie Grzyb, DVM, Medical Director at One Love Animal Hospital, to find out natural methods for helping slow disease progression and tackling the side effects associated with chronic renal disease in dogs.
“A low protein diet is recommended to slow the progression of renal disease in pets,” says Dr. Grzyb, as is a diet that is low in phosphorus, calcium, and sodium. Diets lower in protein and these minerals can help stabilize and even improve kidney enzymes—leading to a healthier pet with a longer life span. (Diets low in sodium are often considered for dogs with secondary hypertension.)
Most pet diets are protein-based and high in phosphorus, which worsens renal disease. Dr. Werber notes that there is typically a 20 percent reduction in the amount of protein given to a dog with chronic renal disease—but it should still fall within the minimum amount on a pet food label. The protein given should be of high biological value, namely through animal protein sources.
The exact nutrient breakdown and pet food should be determined on a dog-by-dog basis (prescription or over-the-counter) with help from your veterinarian.
Many dog parents feel that making their dogs’ food from scratch is one way they can help. It can be done, but don’t go it alone.
“There are veterinary dieticians who often give phone consults to pet owners who would like to make home cooked diets for their pets with renal disease,” says Dr. Grzyb. This ensures that the animal is getting the appropriate amount of electrolytes and protein while being nutritionally balanced.
Both experts agree that making fresh, clean water available at all times is paramount. It’s also an easy task for pet parents to accomplish for their furry friends.
When it comes to filling up your canine’s water dish, “tap water is absolutely fine,” says Dr. Grzyb. While there are hot debates about tap versus purified water, she notes that tap water has never been proven to cause any worsening of the kidney disease. Dr. Werber agrees, and notes that while purified spring water has less solutes, “there is no proof to support that purified water is any better for pets.” Providing purified water is fine if that is what you desire, just be sure it’s fresh water—whatever the source, says Dr. Werber.
Also, adds Dr. Werber, “subcutaneous fluids [fluids placed under the skin] can be very helpful in hydrating an animal with chronic renal disease.”
Dr. Grzyb recommends speaking with your veterinarian so that he or she can prescribe the appropriate type of fluids for the specific pet patient and determine the amount and frequency to be administered.
“Owners can be taught how to administer these fluids at home in a calm environment for the pet, and invasiveness is at a minimum,” says Dr. Grzyb.
“Cranberry extract products are helpful for overall urinary tract health,” says Dr. Grzyb.
While cranberry juice is not used to treat or prevent kidney disease, some evidence suggests that cranberry juice and extract may help prevent urinary tract infections, and therefore increase the comfort of your pet during this time.
While there is no medical research supporting the use of acupuncture in pets—similar to the lack of concrete research supporting its use in humans—many holistic veterinarians swear by it. Acupuncture stimulates specific body points that are aligned with the central nervous system and related organs with fine needles.
“Acupuncture is believed by some to help increase blood circulation to the kidneys and improve overall detoxification,” says Dr. Grzyb.
While this treatment is not likely to harm your pet, it may ultimately be a drain on your wallet.
Fatty acid supplementation may be helpful for dogs with chronic renal disease, says Dr. Werber. While there is more research needed, preliminary studies conclude that long-chain polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, obtained primarily from dietary sources such as cold-water fish, have diverse and potent mediating effects on the immune, inflammatory, and metabolic pathways in humans.
Most specially-formulated kidney pet foods will have a higher level of potassium and polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids) due to these associated kidney benefits.
“CoQ10 has been touted as a great nutrition supplement for kidney function,” says Dr. Werber. Human studies have indicated that CoQ10, an antioxidant, may be helpful for renal disease.
CoQ10 is best absorbed with fatty foods, and may be found in concert with fish oil and vitamin E. Again, speak with your vet to determine the safety and appropriate dosage for your pet.
When a pet is stressed, there may be a decrease in appetite and water intake, which can be detrimental. As often as possible, try to keep your pet calm, cool, and collected. It may mean limiting trips to the dog park in favor of solo walks, enlisting a home pet sitter if boarding stresses your pet, or relocating your pet during a large home gathering. Extremes in temperature may also put stress on your dog’s immune system. Keep your home a comfortable temperature, or invest in a canine winter coat if temps are freezing.
The most common clinical signs with chronic renal failure are weight loss, drinking frequently and urinating frequently, nausea, vomiting, and disinterest in food. Frequent urination means an otherwise well-trained dog may begin having accidents in the house. Dr. Werber says to keep your cool, since your dog likely can’t control his bladder.
Over-the-counter medications may help to ease nausea and vomiting. Discuss with your vet whether famotidine (Pepcid) and omeprazole are appropriate, and in what dosages. (If your dog is vomiting frequently, he or she should be seen by a professional immediately.)
Chamomile tea may also help to settle upset doggy tummies and is recommended for colic, gas, and anxiety. If your dog’s breath is less than desirable, it’s likely the result of “uremic breath,” says Dr. Werber.
Uremic breath is a side effect from an elevated BUN (blood urea nitrogen) level associated with renal disease. There are over-the-counter and prescription oral rinses for this bad breath.
It’s important to speak with your veterinarian to determine your pet’s specific needs, and discuss any natural therapies you are considering for your pet. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight, blood work monitoring as needed, and offering fresh, clean water to your pet is all vital to prevent the progress and to allow early treatment of chronic kidney disease.