Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Kidney Care

The right food can help to improve quality of life for cats with chronic kidney disease

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Old cats and chronic kidney disease go paw in paw. Nearly a third of geriatric cats are diagnosed with the condition. It has no cure, but it can be managed with IV fluids and therapeutic foods.

In fact, diet is the best way to manage chronic kidney disease in cats, but if you’ve ever tried to get a cat to eat something he doesn’t want, you know how frustrating it can be when he needs a special diet. Fortunately, there are ways to meet this nutritional challenge -- once you and the veterinarian know what you’re dealing with.

To “stage” the disease, or see how far along it is, your veterinarian will begin by looking at the cat’s overall condition: weight; body, muscle and coat condition; and any clinical signs typically associated with CKD that might affect the diet choices recommended for your cat. It’s important to know such things as whether the cat’s weight is increasing or decreasing, whether the cat is dehydrated and if his mouth, joints or other areas of the body are painful.

Blood work, a urinalysis and a blood pressure test tell the veterinarian if the cat has any conditions such as anemia, hyperthyroidism, urinary tract issues or electrolyte imbalances. With all of this information in hand, the veterinarian can determine whether the cat is doing well on what he’s currently eating or if he needs a change to a therapeutic diet.

Contrary to what you might have heard, diets formulated for cats with early kidney disease do not restrict protein. Cats, especially seniors, need high-quality protein to help maintain their body weight. Your veterinarian may recommend a therapeutic diet with higher protein content but restricted levels of phosphorus. Too much phosphorus increases the risk of further renal damage. Your cat also does not need a sodium-restricted diet, even if she has hypertension (high blood pressure).

If your feline is finicky, you may be worried about getting her to eat a new food. If possible, switch your cat to a therapeutic kidney diet while the disease is still in the early stages. Your cat is likely to still have a good appetite at that point and may be more willing to try something different. Ask your veterinarian for samples of several recommended foods, and see which one your cat likes the best. After she has eaten the food for a week or two, your veterinarian should take another look at her to evaluate her physical condition on the diet.

Cats who have a poor appetite may be suffering from dehydration, an electrolyte or acid-base imbalance, nausea or vomiting, or chronic pain from osteoarthritis or another condition. You and your veterinarian should work together to identify and manage those problems before reaching for an appetite stimulant.

Managing your cat’s dining environment is another way to help improve his appetite. He should have a safe, comfortable place to eat, away from noisy or curious children, dogs or other cats. Try feeding him in a separate room or inside his carrier -- if he enters it willingly and enjoys being inside it. You don’t want him to associate the food with being in an area that he doesn’t like.

Therapeutic kidney diets aren’t one-size-fits-all. To make sure your cat is benefiting from the new food, watch her weight closely. If she’s losing weight, you may need to try a different food, or return to the original diet and use supplements recommended by your veterinarian to help manage the disease.


What are a dog’s

vital signs?

Q: What are vital signs in dogs, and what do I need to know about them?

A: Vital signs are just what they sound like: indicators of life and health. Specifically, they are body temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate. It’s a good idea to know what your dog’s vital signs are when he’s healthy and feeling good so that you will recognize the difference if he gets sick.

Normal body temperature for a dog is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, but a normal range is 100.2 degrees to 102.8 degrees. Any time your dog’s temperature is lower than 100 degrees or higher than 103.5 degrees, he needs to see the veterinarian right away. A high temperature, or fever, can be caused by heatstroke, bacterial or viral infections, uncontrolled seizures or other conditions. A lower-than-normal temperature may be caused by hypothermia (exposure to cold) or shock, kidney failure or certain types of heart disease.

The normal pulse rate for a dog is 75 to 120 beats per minute (bpm). The rate varies depending on the dog’s size, age and health. You can feel your dog’s pulse if you press your finger against the blood vessel in the V-shaped area where the undersides of the hind legs join the body. To get the bpm, count the beats for 10 seconds, then multiply by 6 to get the total for one minute.

Respiratory rate is the number of breaths your dog takes per minute. In healthy dogs, the normal respiratory rate is 15 to 20 breaths per minute. Get to the veterinarian if you notice that your dog’s breathing is shallow, labored or rapid. More than 35 breaths per minute is cause for concern and warrants a trip to the veterinarian right away. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Future cat food

may block allergies

-- If you love cats but allergies to them make you sniffle, sneeze and feel miserable, the future of cat food may hold hope for you. Researchers at Nestle Purina and the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have preliminary results showing that Fel d1 -- the protein that causes allergies -- may be blocked by adding to cat food an egg product ingredient that reduces or neutralizes levels of the protein in cat saliva, hair and dander. A small pilot study then found that humans with allergies to cats had substantially improved responses when exposed to bedding from cats fed the anti-Fel d1 diet. Don’t rush to get a cat, though; the results must be replicated in a larger human population before an anti-cat-allergy food or supplements can be developed.

-- How should you introduce your puppy to a new object, sound or environment? We suggest taking it slow in our book “From Fearful to Fear Free.” Proceed in a way that helps your pup remain calm and unafraid. Pair new experiences with tasty treats or a favorite toy. Build confidence by letting him become familiar with the new experience at his own pace. The puppy should have a rewarding experience with many different stimuli.

-- When Muncie, Indiana, police officers learned that Muncie Animal Care and Services Shelter was running low on cat food and litter, they came up with a creative solution: People with minor parking tickets could pay their fines by donating an equivalent amount of cat food or litter to the shelter. The four-day promotion last month brought in supplies to care for more than 350 cats and kittens. Even people without parking tickets got in on the action. Maybe the publicity will drive other municipalities to offer similar deals to people with fines to pay? -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.