Kidney disease is a common health condition affecting dogs, particularly as they age. Managing the nutritional needs of dogs with kidney disease is crucial for their overall well-being and quality of life. Proper nutrition can help slow the progression of the disease, alleviate symptoms, and support kidney function. In this blog, I will explore what the signs of kidney disease are as well as the key considerations and dietary strategies for dogs with kidney disease.
What Do the Kidneys Do?
We can’t dive into kidney disease without first understanding what the kidneys do. Just like in humans, a dog’s kidneys act as essential filters, ensuring the proper functioning of their body. The kidneys are responsible for a multitude of vital functions in a dog’s body. One of their primary roles is to filter waste products and toxins from the blood. They do this through millions of tiny functional units called nephrons, which act as efficient filters. Nephrons remove waste materials, excess water, and harmful substances, allowing clean blood to circulate throughout the body. Moreover, the kidneys regulate the balance of water, electrolytes, and essential chemicals such as sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. This delicate equilibrium is crucial for maintaining normal bodily functions, including hydration, nerve conduction, and muscle contraction. Additionally, the kidneys produce important hormones like erythropoietin, which stimulates red blood cell production, and renin, which helps regulate blood pressure. Proper kidney function is essential for a dog’s overall well-being and longevity.
Signs of Kidney Disease
Now that we know how important the kidneys are, let’s discuss what the signs are when the kidneys aren’t functioning properly. Signs of kidney disease in dogs can vary depending on the stage and severity of the condition. It’s important to note that some symptoms may be subtle or mistaken for other health issues, so it’s always best to consult a veterinarian if you suspect kidney disease. Here are some common signs to look out for:
- Increased thirst and urination: Dogs with kidney disease often exhibit increased thirst and may urinate more frequently. This occurs because the kidneys are unable to concentrate urine properly, leading to increased water intake and more diluted urine.
- Changes in appetite and weight loss: Dogs with kidney disease may experience a loss of appetite or have a decreased interest in food. Weight loss can also occur due to a combination of factors, including reduced appetite, decreased nutrient absorption, and muscle wasting.
- Lethargy and weakness: Kidney disease can cause dogs to become lethargic, low on energy, and appear weak. They may be less active and tire more easily.
- Vomiting and diarrhea: Gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can be common in dogs with kidney disease. These symptoms may be intermittent or persistent, and they can contribute to dehydration and further weight loss.
- Bad breath and oral ulcers: Dogs with kidney disease may develop a distinctive ammonia-like odor to their breath, often described as “uremic” breath. They may also develop oral ulcers or other mouth-related issues.
- Poor coat condition: Kidney disease can affect the dog’s skin and coat, leading to dryness, excessive shedding, and a dull or unkempt appearance.
- Fluid retention and swelling: In some cases, kidney disease can lead to fluid retention, resulting in swelling of the legs, abdomen, or face.
Nutrition and Kidney Disease
Dogs with kidney disease require a special diet to help support the kidneys, slow the progression of the disease, and maintain overall health. Here are some key dietary considerations for dogs with kidney disease:
- Low-Phosphorus Diet: When it comes to kidney disease, one of the primary concerns is managing phosphorus levels in the dog’s diet. Damaged kidneys struggle to eliminate excess phosphorus from the body, leading to a buildup in the bloodstream. High phosphorus levels can further damage the kidneys, exacerbating the condition. Therefore, a low-phosphorus diet is essential for dogs with kidney disease. Consult your veterinarian for specific phosphorus recommendations for your dog’s level of disease and choose commercial dog food brands that offer specialized kidney care formulas.
- Recommended level for dogs with chronic kidney disease: 0.2-0.5% DM
- Wild Earth Maintenance Formula: 1% DM
- Wild Earth Performance Formula: 1.1% DM
- Moderate Protein Content: Contrary to popular belief, restricting protein intake entirely is not advisable for dogs with kidney disease. While excessive protein can strain the kidneys, dogs still require a certain amount to maintain muscle mass and overall health. High-quality, easily digestible protein sources with controlled amounts are recommended. Consult your vet to determine the appropriate protein content for your dog based on their specific condition.
- Recommended level for dogs with chronic kidney disease: 14-20% DM
- Wild Earth Maintenance Formula: 26% DM
- Wild Earth Performance Formula: 31% DM
- Controlled Sodium and Potassium: Sodium and potassium are electrolytes that need careful consideration in a kidney diet. High levels of sodium can increase blood pressure and put additional stress on the kidneys. Similarly, potassium levels should be managed, as imbalances can lead to heart rhythm abnormalities. Commercial kidney care diets are formulated to control these electrolytes within safe ranges, ensuring the overall balance of the dog’s diet.
- Recommended level for dogs with chronic kidney disease: =<0.3% DM
- Wild Earth Maintenance Formula: 0.34% DM
- Wild Earth Performance Formula: 0.43% DM
- Recommended level for dogs with chronic kidney disease: 0.4-0.8% DM
- Wild Earth Maintenance Formula: 0.8% DM
- Wild Earth Performance Formula: 0.7% DM
- Adequate Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil and marine microalgae, offer several benefits for dogs with kidney disease. They have anti-inflammatory properties, support cardiovascular health, and promote healthy kidney function. Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial in reducing inflammation associated with kidney disease and improving the overall well-being of affected dogs. Discuss appropriate supplementation with your veterinarian.
- Recommended level for dogs with chronic kidney disease: 0.4-2.5% DM
- Wild Earth Maintenance Formula: 1.1% DM
- Wild Earth Performance Formula: 1.0% DM
- Increased Water Consumption: Maintaining proper hydration is crucial for dogs with kidney disease. Encouraging increased water intake helps flush toxins and waste products from the body, reducing the workload on the kidneys. Ensure that fresh water is readily available at all times and consider adding moisture-rich foods like wet or canned dog food to their diet. You can also try providing multiple water sources throughout the house to encourage drinking.
Choosing a Food
Proper nutrition plays a critical role in managing kidney disease in dogs. A well-balanced diet, tailored to the specific needs of your dog, can slow down the progression of the disease, support kidney function, and improve the overall quality of life. Wild Earth’s Performance and Core formulas are tailored to meet the needs of healthy adult dogs, and do not meet the dietary requirements of a dog with kidney disease. Work closely with your veterinarian to develop a dietary plan that addresses the unique requirements of your dog, considering low-phosphorus content, controlled protein, electrolytes, and appropriate supplementation. With the right diet and ongoing veterinary care, you can provide your furry friend with the best possible chance of a happy and healthy life, even in the face of kidney disease.
Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva, VMD, cVMA
Dr. Tiffany Ruiz Dasilva is the Professional Services Veterinarian here at Wild Earth. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Brown University, and attended veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in general practice, on telehealth platforms, and in animal rehabilitation. She has worked tirelessly to gain expertise in the field of canine nutrition through numerous certifications and coursework, and plans to pursue her Masters in Animal Nutrition.