Successful management of kidney disease in dogs

For over 13 years, I’ve formulated diets for dogs with kidney disease. Together with the owners, we’ve been able to significantly slow down the disease process, and greatly improve the quality of life for the many dogs I’ve worked with. In this blog, I wanted to share with you the reasons and methods behind this success, so you too can make better decisions about your dog’s kidney health and nutrition

About your dog’s kidneys

Before we dive into the ‘how’, let’s take a minute to better understand the kidneys.

Like humans, dogs are born with two kidneys (in the majority of cases). Shaped like their namesake beans, each kidney is not much bigger than 3 – 5.3 cm for small dogs and up to 6.6 – 9.3 cm for large dogs and is comprised of microscopic structures that help carry out a plethora of functions.

The most important structure is the nephron. This is because the nephrons act as a very efficient sieve-like filtering system that cleanse the blood of toxins and other unnecessary substances produced by normal body function.

At birth, each kidney contains about 1 million nephrons, the number of which decrease over time. Unlike liver, lung, bone and skin cells, kidney cells cannot replace or regenerate themselves. Once a nephron ages or is damaged, it is lost forever.

Without enough functioning nephrons, the kidneys cannot filter and remove waste very well, instead it builds up inside your dog’s body. With waste build up your dog may not feel like eating, lose weight, and have less energy.

Luckily, there are some simple steps we can take to help the workload on the kidneys and try and protect the remaining working filters.

How can you help?

While there are other protocols to successful management of kidney disease in dogs, the most important steps you can take is early intervention and food choice:

Early intervention

  • Chronic kidney disease is a progressive disease and overwork will damage the good filters very fast. By starting dietary management sooner rather than later, you are able to spare the kidneys from nutrients that overtax them and take the pressure off the remaining healthy filters. Consequently, help slow the disease process or even stop the damage from getting worse.
  • Because of decreased appetite some dogs may not accept a dietary change in a more advanced disease stage so early intervention also allows your dog to get used to their new diet regime and changed nutrient requirements.

Food choice

The food type you choose is the second step to a successful diet plan for dogs with kidney disease. While there are several pet food companies that produce foods formulated especially for the management of CKD in dogs, I have had a far better outcome when a balanced homemade diet is fed. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Making healthy food choices is important to all dogs, but it is even more essential when your dog’s kidneys are failing. Preparing a diet at home means that you can choose and buy high quality, fresh food ingredients relatively easily.
  2. Another major advantage of preparing your dog’s food over feeding a commercial diet is that the diet can be individualized to suit your dog’s unique needs. For example, preparing your dog’s meals at home allows you to incorporate foods your dog favours into the diet – which can often persuade even the pickiest eater to enjoy their new diet.
  3. Homemade meals provide flexibility within the nutrient range of the diets. This is important because what your dog can or cannot eat changes over time depending on the kidney function and other underlying health conditions. In other words, a home prepared diet can be tweaked based on clinical and laboratory findings as the disease progresses, to find the ideal diet to manage the severity of the kidney disease at any given time.

Take away message

  • Do not skip your annual vet check-up! At first, kidney disease is silent, and symptoms often don’t appear until the disease is advanced.
  • Be proactive, the key is to find kidney disease before the trouble starts. Be aware of what is normal for your dog and pay attention to any deviation. If you notice anything unusual about your dog’s behaviour or habits, speak to your vet immediately, especially if you have an older dog.
  • If your dog is diagnosed with kidney disease, start a therapeutic diet – don’t wait. If you’d like to prepare your dog’s food at home, I strongly encouraged that you get your recipe from a qualified dietary adviser who will be able to conduct a thorough assessment of your dog and determine how the diet should be modified to bring maximum benefits.

I hope this information was helpful. If you would like further information on kidney disease, I have written a comprehensive guide on diet for dogs with chronic kidney disease. You can find it via this link: Diet for dogs with chronic kidney disease