The right food can help to improve quality of life for cats with chronic kidney disease
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Old cats and chronic kidney disease go paw in paw. Nearly a third of geriatric cats are diagnosed with the condition. It has no cure, but it can be managed with IV fluids and therapeutic foods.
In fact, diet is the best way to manage chronic kidney disease in cats, but if you’ve ever tried to get a cat to eat something he doesn’t want, you know how frustrating it can be when he needs a special diet. Fortunately, there are ways to meet this nutritional challenge — once you and the veterinarian know what you’re dealing with.
To “stage” the disease, or see how far along it is, your veterinarian will begin by looking at the cat’s overall condition: weight; body, muscle and coat condition; and any clinical signs typically associated with CKD that might affect the diet choices recommended for your cat. It’s important to know such things as whether the cat’s weight is increasing or decreasing, whether the cat is dehydrated and if his mouth, joints or other areas of the body are painful.
Blood work, a urinalysis and a blood pressure test tell the veterinarian if the cat has any conditions such as anemia, hyperthyroidism, urinary tract issues or electrolyte imbalances. With all of this information in hand, the veterinarian can determine whether the cat is doing well on what he’s currently eating or if he needs a change to a therapeutic diet.
Contrary to what you might have heard, diets formulated for cats with early kidney disease do not restrict protein. Cats, especially seniors, need high-quality protein to help maintain their body weight. Your veterinarian may recommend a therapeutic diet with higher protein content but restricted levels of phosphorus. Too much phosphorus increases the risk of further renal damage. Your cat also does not need a sodium-restricted diet, even if she has hypertension (high blood pressure).
If your feline is finicky, you may be worried about getting her to eat a new food. If possible, switch your cat to a therapeutic kidney diet while the disease is still in the early stages. Your cat is likely to still have a good appetite at that point and may be more willing to try something different. Ask your veterinarian for samples of several recommended foods, and see which one your cat likes the best. After she has eaten the food for a week or two, your veterinarian should take another look at her to evaluate her physical condition on the diet.
Cats who have a poor appetite may be suffering from dehydration, an electrolyte or acid-base imbalance, nausea or vomiting, or chronic pain from osteoarthritis or another condition. You and your veterinarian should work together to identify and manage those problems before reaching for an appetite stimulant.
Managing your cat’s dining environment is another way to help improve his appetite. He should have a safe, comfortable place to eat, away from noisy or curious children, dogs or other cats. Try feeding him in a separate room or inside his carrier — if he enters it willingly and enjoys being inside it. You don’t want him to associate the food with being in an area that he doesn’t like.
Therapeutic kidney diets aren’t one-size-fits-all. To make sure your cat is benefiting from the new food, watch her weight closely. If she’s losing weight, you may need to try a different food, or return to the original diet and use supplements recommended by your veterinarian to help manage the disease.
PHOTO CAPTION: To improve a cat’s appetite, feed him away from other pets so he doesn’t feel threatened.