Kidneys are some of the most important organs in the body. Dealing almost strictly with blood, kidneys control blood pressure, filter out waste and excess water, stimulate red blood cells, and help maintain a proper balance of acids and minerals. Without kidneys, your system is much more susceptible to urinary tract infections, diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy, among other things. This post will be covering the topic of kidney failure in cats, detailing exactly what it is and how to treat it.
There are two types of kidney failure that cats experience: Acute renal failure, and chronic renal failure. Acute failure is usually caused by the ingestion of a poison (like antifreeze or pesticide), trauma, dehydration, blood loss, or infection. It flares up very quickly, and can be deadly if left untreated. If you notice your cat vomiting an unusual amount, urinating less than usual, having a general lack of energy, or experiencing a loss of coordination, take her to the vet right away. Acute renal failure is not hard to cure if it is caught early enough, but the longer you wait, the harder it becomes to treat.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for chronic failure. Developed by years of wear and tear, kidney failure becomes chronic when the kidney tissue is actually replaced entirely by scar tissue. This condition is untreatable, and is often caused by prolonged stress on the kidneys (manifesting almost exclusively in older cats) , although it can also be brought about by trauma and infection. Life expectancy after diagnosis is a few months at best, and prolongment of life is rare. Treatment of chronic kidney failure is more about alleviating pain than curing the illness, although sometimes proper care can slow the spread of the symptoms. As your cat ages, notice her weight, energy, and urination habits, all of which can indicate chronic renal failure.
When treating kidney failure of any kind, a proper diet is absolutely crucial. High protein diets tend to get a bad rap, with many industry professionals recommending a low-protein diet as the solution to kidney problems because it is believed that high protein diets produce chemicals that are extremely hard for kidneys to filter. While this is true of many high protein diets, it isn’t the full picture. It all goes back to how exactly your animal’s body processes certain macronutrients for energy. This is important to understand because cats specifically actually need high animal protein diets to properly thrive.
Firstly, there is a huge difference between “high protein” and “high animal protein”. Cats are carnivores. This means that protein that comes from plants will indeed be harmful on their bodies because they can’t actually process the nutrients in an efficient and conducive way. Protein that is derived from meat is actually very available to them, helping them to maintain muscle and organ heath easily and naturally. The first step towards preventing kidney failure is to read the ingredients list on your cat food. Processed cat foods that contain high amounts of filler ingredients (plants and grains), while still having a high protein percentage, will inevitably lead to degenerative issues related to malnutrition. Raw, freeze-dried, and even processed cat foods with a long list of meat and organ ingredients will not be nearly as hard for cats to process, resulting in longevity.
Secondly, take note of the fat percentage. Another reason why it is believed that high protein is bad for kidneys is because improperly balanced diets, with high protein and low fat, are actually harmful when used over long periods of time. When your animal’s diet doesn’t have enough fat, then they end up using either carbs or protein for energy. I expounded on the problems with carbs in my article about diabetes, so here, I will focus on protein.
Simply put, the by-product of converting protein to energy is nitrogen, which is very hard for kidneys to filter. Long term feeding of a low-fat, low carb, high protein diet results in constant stress on the body, causing overexertion and the failure of many critical organs, kidneys included. In order to properly use protein, therefore, an adequate amount of fat is absolutely necessary as an alternative energy source because fat converts to water, which kidneys filter with ease.
Finally, the third macronutrient to pay attention to is moisture – how much water is in the food. This is vital to maintaining not only kidney health, but the health of all other organs in the body. Raw foods, foods that haven’t been cooked at all, are the best sources of water because of something called innate cellular moisture. All organic matter is composed mostly of water and when that water has not been cooked out, it provides hydration on a cellular level, allowing water to absorb through the bloodstream rather than having to be filtered through the digestive system in order to be used.
Mammals are woefully inept at efficiently processing imbibed liquid. Most of the water we drink actually has to be used to process the water, rather than to hydrate us. Cats are particularly inefficient in this regard, having to use more than three-quarters of imbibed liquid just to simply digest said liquid. No matter how much water your cat drinks, it simply isn’t enough, which is why getting that water from a food system is so important.
Whether your cat currently is dealing with kidney disorders or you are simply trying to prevent them, a food with high animal percentage is crucial for both proper protein and fat absorption. The less processed the diet is the better, because the harder your cat’s body has to work, the worse shape it will end up in. Adding in fresh meat, raw eggs, raw milk, and other unprocessed animal products will have massive long term benefits and help your cat avoid many common “age related” health problems.