The right diet is arguably the most important and successful piece of your dog’s chronic kidney disease (CKD) treatment plan. Although your veterinarian can manage concurrent health issues like high blood pressure with medication, he or she has very few good medical options for treating CKD. Since kidney disease often responds to dietary solutions, the food and treats you feed can make a big difference.
Here are three things to know about nutrition for dogs with kidney disease.
Feeding a specially formulated kidney-friendly food can help improve your dog’s quality and quantity of life.
According to board-certified veterinary nutritionists at Tufts University’s Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, a dog with kidney disease should be fed a pet food that contains less phosphorus, protein and sodium compared to regular adult maintenance dog foods. The kidney diet should also include omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil.
Here’s how each change in the nutrient profile of dog food can affect those with kidney disease.
Reduced phosphorus content
Phosphorus is probably the most important nutrient that needs to be adjusted in the diet for most dogs with CKD — possibly even more important than protein. Along with calcium, phosphorus plays an important role in forming and maintaining bones and teeth. The mineral is also involved in nearly all metabolic processes in the body, including the conversion of nutrients into energy.
Extra phosphorus is removed from the body by the kidneys. But diseased kidneys can’t get rid of phosphorus like they normally would, so it accumulates and causes further damage to the kidneys and other tissues. By limiting the phosphorus amount in food, there’s less phosphorus for the kidneys to remove from the body.
Less — but adequate, higher quality — protein
Compared to adult maintenance dog foods, kidney-friendly diets are made to contain lower levels of protein while still meeting dogs’ protein requirements. The protein used in kidney foods is very high quality protein that, when digested, creates less waste for the kidneys to remove. And less waste means less work for the kidneys. When a dog has kidney disease, protein waste products remain in the bloodstream, and, while they don’t damage the kidneys further like phosphorus can, they do depress your dog’s appetite and make them feel sick.
Since protein sources contain high levels of phosphorus, reducing the amount of protein in kidney-friendly diets also decreases phosphorus content.
Limited sodium level
An estimated 60 to 90 percent of dogs with chronic kidney disease also have some degree of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Since high blood pressure may further damage the kidneys and foods high in salt (specifically, sodium) can increase blood pressure, it’s important to feed a diet that’s low in sodium to dogs with kidney disease.
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Increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil
Some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids from marine fish oil, such as menhaden fish oil, may be beneficial for dogs with kidney disease.
First, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) help reduce inflammation, which is associated with increased free radical activity. Although free radicals are produced during normal cell activity, excessive production is harmful to cells and tissues.
Second, omega-3 fatty acids may help lower pressure in key kidney structures (namely, the glomeruli that filter blood in the process of making urine) and improve removal of a key protein-related waste product (creatinine), consequently improving kidney function. If you’re feeding a dog food that doesn’t contain omega-3 fatty acids, be sure to talk with your veterinarian about adding a fish oil supplement.
Rethink what treats you give or eliminate them altogether.
Many dog treats contain high levels of protein, phosphorus and sodium, so you’ll want to rethink what treats you offer your dog with CKD. Treats that are high in protein and, subsequently, phosphorus include treats such as jerky, deli meats, cheese, rawhides, pig ears and others made predominantly with meat or meat meals. High-salt-containing treats to avoid include cheese, deli meat, bread and many commercial dog treats.
While forgoing treats altogether is always an option, it isn’t necessarily a practice that most dog owners want to stop. So instead, you can substitute low-protein and -sodium options such as baby carrots, green beans, broccoli, apple slices, banana or air-popped popcorn without salt or butter. You can also use a canned kidney diet to make homemade treats.
Water intake is important to help prevent dehydration.
Dogs with CKD can’t conserve water by concentrating their urine, so their water intake is critical to prevent dehydration. Make sure your dog always has plenty of fresh, clean water to drink. You can also help increase your pet’s water intake by adding warm water to their dry kibble (assuming they will eat the kibble that way).
The nutrient profiles of kidney-friendly dog foods are different from adult maintenance dog foods in other ways, in addition to phosphorus, protein, sodium and omega-3 fatty acids. To learn more about how they differ, read How a Kidney-Friendly Food Helps Manage Your Dog’s Kidney Disease or talk with your veterinarian.