It’s very possible that a renal (kidney) diet is in your dog’s future. Kidney disease is one of the most common illnesses of aging canines, with more than one in 10 pets developing it at some point, usually when they’re older.
The good news is that while high-tech treatments like kidney transplants and dialysis are generally unavailable to dogs (cost generally precludes them), your ability to keep your pet feeling well for as long as possible is greater than for many other diseases of aging. Specifically, your role as in-house nutritionist is critical because by making the right food choices, you can extend your dog’s life, and quality of life, significantly.
The veterinarian will almost invariably prescribe a therapeutic (prescription) diet as soon as kidney disease is diagnosed. It will be relatively low in phosphorus, protein, and sodium. Such a diet can actually help slow the progression of the illness, in part by putting less stress on the kidneys to filter various byproducts of the digestion process.
We can’t stress enough how important it is for the diet to be followed to the letter. An eight-year-old beagle we treated for kidney disease at our Foster Hospital for Small Animals had been doing fine on the prescribed food we recommended, but one weekend he suddenly developed life-threatening symptoms: vomiting and dehydration. Friends of the owners’ children had been feeding him potato chips and other junk food, which served to stress his kidneys unduly. The crisis had become so bad within just two days that the owners were on the verge of putting the dog to sleep, but we were able to get him back to where he had been with the administration of IV fluids.
The thing is, even sick dogs need treats. They’re part of the quality of life, and they’re currency for the bond between the two of you. So what treats can you give a dog with chronic kidney disease?
Treat options for failing kidneys
Some companies that make therapeutic diets also manufacture treats specifically formulated for dogs with kidney disease. You can ask your vet about them, but like the prescribed diets, they will tend to be on the expensive side.
Another option is to feed people food, as long as it has fewer than 150 milligrams of phosphorus per 100 calories and fewer than 100 milligrams of sodium. You can obtain the phosphorus, sodium, and calorie content of foods by looking up the USDA Food Composition Database at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/. (Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of a dog’s calories whether he is sick or healthy.) Treats should also be relatively low in protein. High-protein foods include beef and poultry and also dairy products (which are also sometimes high in sodium).
So what’s left? For one thing, produce. Watermelon, apples, bananas, green beans, baby carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and blueberries all make the cut. (But don’t feed grapes, raisins, or onions, which are toxic to dogs.)
You can also add sweet items like maple syrup or honey to your pet’s kibble. Many dogs lose their appetite as their kidney disease progresses, and that only worsens their condition. But these high-sugar foods (which are devoid of protein, sodium, and phosphorus) often work as appetite stimulants, allowing your dog both to get the nutrition he needs and enjoy his meals as well.
If you stick with treats of produce and sugary condiments while feeding your dog the prescribed kibble for kidney disease, you’ll keep him feeling comfortable as long as possible.