Kidney Diets for Cats: What You Need to Know

With an average life span of 13 to 17 years, indoor pet cats have been a favorite animal companion among as many as 86 million homeowners throughout the United States.

However, it is quite unfortunate that a good share of these feline family members are going to suffer chronic kidney diseases (CKD).

If your pet cat experiences any of these prolonged warning signs at a persistent rate, it is imperative to have it checked by the veterinarian for confirmation and prognosis of CKD:

cat ready to eat

The Father of Western Medicine (Hippocrates) once said, “Let your food be medicine and your medicine be food.”

As it happens, it has become mandatory to follow a strict renal diet for cats diagnosed with CKD. Similar to any effective medical treatment, there has to be precision in terms of numbers representing dietary requirements.

Kidney Nutrition

Nearly two decades ago (the year 2000), it has been reported that 96 out of 1000 cats are diagnosed with chronic renal failure. It is important to remember that such an effort is geared towards “delaying the progress” of CKD – with an emphasis in accepting that such an illness may be unavoidable.

Here are the notable dietary guidelines suggested:

  • Diet must have high water content (at least 70% moisture) to counteract poor hydration.
  • Diet must have limited protein content (no more than 35%) to reduce the kidney’s workload in producing concentrated protein waste.
  • As a direct effect of reducing protein content, phosphorus ought to be cut down as well (no more than 0.6%) since this chemical exacerbates CKD progression.
  • Dry food must have moderately restricted sodium content (no more than 0.5%) to maintain normal blood pressure.
  • Diet must contain high omega-3 fatty acids (up to 2.5%) for decreased organ inflammation.
  • Diet must contain high B-vitamins to compensate for the effect of excess urination, as well as stimulate poor appetite.

It is always important to ask for recommendations from the veterinarian who made the diagnosis. After all, precise modulation of some of these components (protein and phosphorus) is strictly based on the prognosis/stage of CKD. 

cat and a bag of fruits

Home-Made Kidney Diets

One of the principal varieties of feline kidney diet is something that pet owners can easily make on their own. In fact, the ingredients one can get to whip up a home-made kidney diet are relatively simple to acquire – simple in a sense that these items are singular components one can either purchase in groceries or farms.

Home-made kidney diet for cats is a typical case of something considered “simple but difficult.” Half of the difficulties associated with the task of preparing such meals can be addressed by seeking guidance from the attending veterinarian.

There are two main varieties of home-made kidney diet recipes. One is called “low protein” and another is called “high-quality protein”.

The main difference is easily discernible based on the progression of kidney disease. Low protein diet is preferable for cats suffering late long-term stages of CKD with ‘already manageable/masked clinical signs.’

Meanwhile, high-quality proteins are ideal for early-stage CKD with ‘more pronounced’ symptoms.

It is important to understand that when it comes to certain illnesses, cats are very good at masking their pain when they already managed to adapt and overcome. It is therefore understandable for most feline creatures to feel the worst symptoms like lack of appetite and nausea during the earliest stages of CKD.

  • Raw High-protein

Offering them raw high-protein meals (e.g. chicken gizzard + egg yolk + tenderized beef) can stimulate their appetite and compensate for the malnutrition with a prodigious amount of calories in every morsel. After all, domestic cats are just as carnivorous as their huge wilderness cousins.

Despite the argument that excess proteins can damage kidneys further with denser urea production, it is relatively too early to worry about that when nourishment scarcity pose a more immediate health risk.

As mentioned earlier, senior cats with late-stage CKD already have vulnerable renal organs. This is where previously mentioned dietary parameters require strict compliance.

Aside from the fact that high-protein meals increase the kidney’s barely functional workload, raw meats are a perfect host of food-borne pathogens proven too risky for cats with the compromised immune system.

  • Cooked Low-protein

Curiously, cooked low protein diets are a lot more challenging to prepare. Aside from carefully measuring dietary guidelines, one has to accept the reality of chemical changes associated with heating food.

In fact, up to 34% of the micronutrients found in food are lost right after steaming and boiling for several minutes.

One has to also contend with the pet cats’ particular preference in taste. Cooked meals are not entirely congruent to their natural inclination for feasting ‘fresh kills.’

Furthermore, these diets are usually comprised of grains and veggies that need to be carefully chosen in reference to the broad list of foods and plants classified as toxic to feline physiology.

Formulated Cat Foods

Another principal definition of a cat kidney diet concerns with something that is familiar to a lot of people. Commercially manufactured and mass-distributed cat food has the relative advantage of carefully formulated dietary requirements.

In other words, a huge company has funded for the science and manpower that made it convenient and accessible to all potential consumers.

There are two main types of formulated cat food: one is categorized as “over-the-counter” and the other is labeled as “prescription”.

The difference between the two goes well beyond average retail pricing. One has to consider how each of the two varieties will perform based on the severity of CKD as well as the cat’s taste preference.

  • Over-the-Counter

Over-the-counter cat food is pretty much a decent variety one can offer to cats diagnosed with early-stage CKD. Canned over-the-counter cat food offers a relative advantage of having high water content.

It is important to take note that cats with kidney problems run the risk of dehydration and their tendency to drink water is often more whimsical than not. Hence, nutrient-rich (and relatively more appetizing) dry alternatives may entail owners to inject fluids in their cats from time to time.

Choosing the ideal over-the-counter cat foods means going after the animal-based proteins (e.g. chicken, beef, tuna, etc). Unfortunately, reading the ingredients label is just one thing.

Referring to the product’s nutrition facts can get too mathematical. For one thing, gauging the protein and calorie requirements is a matter of balancing between the risk of urea saturation or emaciation.

  • Prescription

True to its name, these kinds of special diets are only purchasable with the written recommendations of a veterinarian. Unlike most of the over-the-counter cat food, prescription diet strictly complies with the guidelines concerning nutrient composition.

There is a very strong emphasis on reducing protein and phosphorus to lessen the kidney’s workload, as well as cutting down sodium to control the risks of hypertension.

Unfortunately, wellness does not always equivalently translate to taste. There have been numerous cases wherein even cats with late-stage CKD struggle with malnutrition because a prescription food proved too repulsive to eat.

Furthermore, some high-end prescription foods sold in the vet clinic seemed too overpriced compared to the same exact item bought directly from the main suppliers.

cat eating tuna filled food

CKD Supplements

The other end of Hippocrates’ aforementioned quote makes a whole lot of sense when conventional feeding methods do not pan out. Medicine ends up being applied or consumed as prodigiously as cat food for kidney health for those late-stage CKD and other severe complications.

Just like the human body, a damaged kidney can cause a wide systemic failure in feline physiology.

For one thing, a pair of failing kidneys can aggravate normal circulation since unfiltered waste substance passes through the bloodstream. This congestion can eventually lead to high blood pressure.

Another acute consequence of kidney malfunction is anemia, which is caused by the lacking production of erythropoietin. Lastly, prolonged malnutrition and dehydration lead to hypokalemia – the condition where muscles weaken to a point of wasting away.

As such, cats with late-stage CKD would require additional interventions to complete their basic nutritional requirements. Such is accomplished by including “supplements” or “medications” in their kidney-friendly diet.

Just like prescription foods, these wellness enhancements are only possible with strict authorization from the attending vet physician.

  • Vitamins and Minerals

For those who opt to feed their cats home-made or over-the-counter diets, it may be suitable to complete optimal dietary needs with micronutrient supplements. B-complex vitamins, omega-3 acids, and antioxidants are prevalent in formulated cat foods.

However, other components like potassium and iron are practically insufficient – considering that they only serve as ‘nearly quantum’ ingredients.

Iron is one of the few minerals that prove deficient for cats with late-stage CKD. Most of the time, they do not get it back by consuming prescription food (due to poor appetite) or oral administration (as it often causes nausea).

Injecting iron has always been the most preferable.

Potassium is also one of the many water-soluble vitamins that are easily depleted from a potentially dehydrated cat with CKD. Hence, commercial potassium supplements are not only administered to fulfill this need, but they also tend to boost a cat’s appetite further.

  • Binders and Fluids

Speaking of soluble and ejectable nutrients, phosphorus is another sensitive concern for some cats with late-stage CKD. Hence, attending vet physicians prescribe administering phosphate binders in every meal which retain a healthier volume of essential minerals that are often upset by kidney complications.

This method of phosphate restriction usually applies to cats with stage 2 CKD.

Lastly, water balance (and in worse case, dehydration) is one of the foremost issues that affect the feline physiology when a cat is diagnosed with CKD.

As mentioned earlier, cats often need to be injected with fluids if they are not drinking enough water. Up to 20 kg of fluid is given to the cat between once a week and once a day.

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