Diet is one of the major components kidney sufferers can utilize to better manage their kidney health and preserve as much function as possible. And, luckily, the same goes for cats with kidney disease as well! Commercial kidney cat food can be a convenient way to ensure your cat is getting nutrition that is simultaneously mindful of their kidneys and what the kidneys need in order to be best supported.
As wonderful and nutritious as it is to feed your cat a raw food, organic, homemade diet, the unfortunate fact is that many cat parents simply lack the time, money and access to make this a feasible, long-term option. Numerous reputable sources, when reporting on what the best food for a cat with CKD is waste no time in saying, ANY food the cat will eat. Starvation is a much worse possibility and accounts for many deaths among cats with kidney disease, so as long as they’re eating, even if it is a commercial kidney cat food, you’re on the right track.
That being said, however, not all commercial kidney cat foods are created equally. There are pros and cons to the numerous brands on the market, and some are only available from your veterinarian with a prescription. We’ll delve into each of the most popular options as well as some you may not have known about.
What To Look For In Commercial Kidney Cat Foods
When looking for a good commercial kidney cat food for your cat, you should make it a point to opt for moist canned foods. Moist canned foods offer more hydration than dry foods and tend to be easier to eat for cats dealing with lethargy or poor appetite.
In earlier stages of kidney disease, you can supplement some of the specialty commercial kidney cat food with regular cat food that your cat enjoys, to not only get them acclimated to the change in menu, but also to add extra nutritive quality, as the specialty commercial kidney cat foods have minimized values of certain nutrients.
And with good reason! As we know, when kidneys are no longer functioning well, the very same nutritive components which nourish the body, instead become toxic when they are not able to be absorbed properly and then safely excreted. So, you’ll notice that commercial kidney cat foods tend to have lower values of specific minerals.
Which are the most important ones to keep in mind?
Phosphorus, in cats with kidney disease, needs to be monitored very carefully and should be kept relatively low in the foods that they eat, as this will contribute to keeping the burden on the kidneys (due to damaged kidneys’ inability to excrete excess phosphorus levels) low as well. All of the commercial kidney cat foods feature low phosphorus levels, but some are lower than others so always be sure to look at the nutrition facts on the product label.
- Caloric Density
Commercial kidney cat foods will tend to have a higher than normal calorie count. This is useful because, as noted before, kidney disease often comes accompanied by lethargy and poor appetite. Ensuring their food is calorically dense also ensures they are getting as much nourishment as possible in each bite, even if they’re only eating small amounts.
Another hallmark of a good quality commercial kidney cat food is a relatively low protein content. Protein in many of these brands has been lowered by, on average, a third to a halfIt is true that these foods are relatively low in protein. Prolonging life and kidney function (2009) Chew DJ & DiBartola SP CVC in Kansas City Proceedings states that the protein in most of these diets is reduced by a third to a half of the amount typically found in commercial canned cat foods. That being said, since cats are obligate carnivores, they still need quite a bit of protein to really thrive. Many of these foods, although featuring reduced protein levels, these commercial kidney cat foods should contain at least between 28-35% protein.
- Essential Fatty Acids
An important ingredient that’s typically added in a lot of commercial kidney cat foods are essential fatty acids. These are the omega-3s which are abundantly found in fish and nuts and are beneficial for brain health. They do so much more than that, though and are a wonderful way to increase appetite, reduce joint inflammation, increase muscle protein synthesis to prevent muscle wasting, keep brain fog at bay and more.
Potassium, specifically potassium citrate is often added to commercial kidney cat foods as it can help with metabolic acidosis. Many foods specifically formulated for cats with kidney issues will include a great deal more potassium than those that are not. This is in contrast to human CKD diets, which are typically very restrictive of potassium levels.
The sodium levels in therapeutic kidney diets for cats with renal disease tend to be a lot lower than those in regular canned foods. This is primarily because excess sodium is unhealthy for the kidneys, the heart and causes fluid retention imbalance.
- B Vitamins
Commercial kidney cat foods contain higher levels of B vitamins to help prevent anemia.
Many of these foods also contain added fiber to facilitate good digestive health and prevent constipation
Many pet parents who want to help their pets insist that only a home-cooked, fresh, organic meal will do. As mentioned before, though, this isn’t always a feasible option for a variety of reasons and it doesn’t mean you’re a “bad pet parent” or love your little fur baby any less. It’s easy for caregivers to feel guilty about these things, or blame themselves for feeding their pets the “wrong things,” and mistakenly thinking they somehow contributed to the CKD. These thoughts aren’t actually helpful and, in fact, most of the solid studies we have about CKD and cats points to the real benefits provided by consistent use of a therapeutic diet. Some of the benefits include, slowing down progression of the disease, reducing crisis incidence and even extending life.
There are a plethora of therapeutic diet commercial kidney cat food brands available for purchase, many of which are available without a prescription and which come in dry and moist formulations (although, as mentioned above, it’s better to opt for moist). Here are the top kidney contenders:
- Hill’s Prescription Diet K/D
As the name suggests, you do need a prescription to purchase this food. It comes in a few different flavors (Chicken, Chicken & Vegetable Stew and Tuna & Vegetable) and features low sodium, controlled phosphorus levels, high levels of essential amino acids and plentiful supply of l-carnitine and omega-3 fatty acids. It also features Hill’s patented E.A.T. (Enhanced Appetite Trigger) technology, which is essentially a taste enhancer that can help stimulate appetite. Its levels of phosphorus and protein are comparable to those of the Royal Canin line, making it a balanced, solid choice for cats with kidney disease, especially when they seem to not be interested in eating.
- Purina Pro Plan NF Kidney Function
Boasting very low phosphorus and protein levels, Purina Pro Plan NF Kidney Function is another wonderful prescription-only commercial kidney cat food, which has plenty of B-complex vitamins thrown in the mix. It’s one of the foods with the lowest range of phosphorus and protein, so if those levels need serious balancing quickly, this may be the best option. As always, consult with your vet and make sure your kitty finds it appetizing before switching though.
- Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Renal Support
Royal Canin has been used by vets for a very long time, they have a wide range of specialty commercial canned foods for cats with a variety of unique health needs. This brand also features more options in the way of flavors and formulations. The Royal Canin foods are designed to work in conjunction with each other, containing a blend of antioxidants, fatty acids from fish oil, low phosphorus, and targeted protein levels. A majority of vets tend to recommend Royal Canin and with good reason, the flavors are beloved by cats and often will help even the most stubborn kitties get their appetites back.
- Farmina Vet Life Renal
This is another prescription-only cat food, but it boasts a a blend of vitamins A, C, E, D, B12, B6, B2, B1 and H along with the aforementioned hallmarks of kidney-conscious foods, controlled protein levels and low phosphorus.
- Blue Natural Veterinary Diet K&M (Kidney & Mobility)
This one is also prescription-only and comes from the popular Blue Buffalo brand of pet foods. It contains many of the same healthful ingredients along with the unusual addition of some fruits like blueberries and cranberries, which, although not necessary for a cat’s diet, do provide some kidney benefit. They also pride themselves on not containing any corn or wheat filler, so it may be worth trying out.
- Rayne Clinical Nutrition Adult Health RSS
This commercial kidney disease cat food is also prescription-only. It can apparently benefit struvite/oxalate crystals (i.e., kidney stones) and kidney disease, which is unusual as the two aren’t that closely related, but it does feature high palatability and is a multitasker that apparently is suitable for both urinary tract health (both struvite and calcium oxalate crystals) and early non-proteinuric kidney disease. This is unusual, because foods suitable for struvite crystals are not usually suitable for CKD cats.
- Darwin’s Intelligent Design Kidney Support
This prescription food contains lots of raw food ingredients which can make it an appealing option for raw food enthusiasts. However, although a raw food diet may be particularly beneficial for healthy cats, for cats with renal trouble, it may be a lot to process and generally isn’t as widely-recommended. There are also some ingredients that seem unnecessary like diuretics (parsley and dandelion), black pepper, tomato paste and cinnamon. The exact levels of phosphorus and protein are also not disclosed on their website, so that may give some pet parents pause for concern.
- Dave’s Pet Food Restricted Diet Phosphorus Chicken Liver & Chicken
This brand does not require a prescription and features regulated levels and numerous vitamins and antioxidants that could benefit your cat with CKD. They also offer free cans so you can ensure your cat likes it before ordering more. The only drawback is a relatively limited flavor selection, as the Chciken Liver/Chicken combo is currently all they seem to offer in their Restricted Diet line that is specifically for kidneys.
- My Perfect Pet Low Phosphorus Chicken Carnivore Grain-Free
This is a low phosphorus food-bar which is sold 10 individually wrapped bars per bag. It doesn’t require a prescription, but may make for a better snack than a true kidney health supplement meal. The ingredients are all cooked gently to retain their nutritive value and contain many added vitamins and antioxidants.
Non-prescription diet options may be suitable if veterinary bills are a concern and you’d like to bypass that extra expense, however, if your cat’s been diagnosed with CKD, chances are you already have an ongoing relationship with your veterinarian and they would be better equjipped to ensure the right food is paired with your cat, per the levels revealed in their lab work.
We must also thank Helen Fitzpatrick’s excellent website Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease, whose painstaking research has proven to be an invaluable resource to thousands of kidney disease suffering cats and their parents. We strongly encourage you to review her site or order one of her books. For more of the latest news on kidney health and cats, be sure to subscribe on YouTube for Robert’s daily videos.