Easing your pet into a kidney (renal) diet

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The Observer is pleased to introduce our newest column, on pets and their health, a monthly feature that will be written by the doctors at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital.

By Dr. Julianne Porter, Rhinebeck Animal Hospital

Kidney failure, also known as renal insufficiency, is a relatively common disease that affects many dogs and cats.
The cause is not often identifiable, but can include age-related degeneration, infections, toxins, immune-mediated diseases, and even cancer. Kidneys are major organs involved in filtering toxins, conserving water, regulating blood pressure and electrolytes, producing red blood cells, and activating vitamin D. When they fail, the effects are widespread. Regardless of the cause, treatment often involves a combination of fluid therapy, antibiotics, supplements, antacids and diet.

Dogs and cats with kidney disease require special diets that are easier on the kidneys and help slow the progression of the disease. These diets are low in protein and phosphorus but your pet must consume enough of the food to fulfill his nutritional requirements and maintain an appropriate body weight.

The first step is to talk to your veterinarian about different brands of diet foods that are specially formulated to help pets with kidney disease. There are a variety of options available, and one brand or formulation (canned versus dry) may be more palatable to your pet than another.

The most important thing to remember is to make sure your pet is feeling well and is not nauseous before starting to introduce the new food. Introducing a new diet when a pet is feeling poorly may cause a food aversion.

You need to be patient when introducing a new diet but you must also make sure your pet is eating an adequate amount of food. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian how much your pet needs to eat each day. Try slowly mixing a new food into his diet over the course of several weeks or place a small amount of the new food in his regular food bowl and a little less of his current diet in a nearby bowl. Slowly increase the amount of the new diet and decrease his regular food every couple of days over the next several weeks and see how he tolerates it.

If you are having trouble, you could try warming or chilling a canned food to see if he prefers a certain temperature. Ask your veterinarian if you can flavor the food with a small amount of low-sodium broth or honey. If these options do not work and your pet still won’t eat a formulated kidney diet, consider a consultation with a veterinary nutritionist. There are a lot of options available, including some home-cooked diets, but they require careful balancing of nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

For more information and some options on formulating home-cooked diets, visit www.veterinarypartner.com and search for “Dietary Therapy of Renal Failure.”

There are guidelines on when to begin a renal diet that your veterinarian can discuss with you. Starting a therapeutic diet early in the disease process is recommended because your pet will be more accepting of the change. It can be difficult making a dietary change, especially in cats, but making the change can help add months, even years, to your pet’s life.

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