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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

My cat is 18 years old. I recently found out that she has kidney disease. She was in the hospital for 3 days a month ago. The vet gave me an antibiotic and a supplement; she finished the course of treatment and now she’s eating quite well.  I’m feeding her a blend of the prescription diet wet food and beef broth and cooked chicken liver, and she loves it. Can you suggest what would be the best food to give her?

~Blessu

Siouxsie: According to veterinarians, many cats develop some level of kidney disease as they get older. Cats won’t show clinical signs of chronic renal failure (CRF) until they’ve only got about 20 percent of their kidney function left.

Thomas: It sounds like you’re doing exactly what vets recommend for cats with CRF: You’re feeding her canned food and adding broth to make sure she gets as much fluid as possible. This is crucial for cats with kidney disease, because they need that extra liquid to help rid the body of waste.

Dahlia: The prescription food you’re feeding your cat contains less protein than regular cat foods. Protein causes buildup of phosphorous and nitrogen, and these chemicals need to be excreted by the kidneys. Feeding less protein, therefore, puts less strain on the kidneys.

Siouxsie: But cats need protein to live, so make sure that even if your cat is getting less protein, the protein she’s getting is as high in quality and as usable as possible. That means it should come from meats, not meat by-products, meat digest, meat meal, or grains. Even healthy cats can’t fully utilize proteins from highly processed meat by-products and grains.

Thomas: Unfortunately, a lot of cat foods — including the special prescription formulas sold by vets — contain more by-products and digests than actual meat. They also tend to contain a lot of chemical additives and preservatives, which can tax the kidneys. This list of canned foods and the percentages of protein, fat, phosphorous, calcium, sodium was compiled by a member of an online CRF support group and may help you and your vet determine which foods will work best for your cat.

Dahlia: Because of the chemicals and low-quality meats in many canned foods, some people with CRF cats turn to homemade diets. If you choose to go this route, you need to work closely with your vet and be very careful to ensure that your cat gets all the nutrition she needs.

Siouxsie: Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, co-author of Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, recommends this home-cooked diet for cats with kidney disease: Mix 3/4 pound ground turkey or chicken, 4 cups cooked rice, 4 eggs, 2 tablespoons cold-pressed safflower, soy or corn oil, 3 teaspoons animal essentials calcium, 1/4 teaspoon iodized salt, 1 teaspoon parsley, 5,000 IU vitamin A, 2,000 milligrams vitamin C, 250 milligrams taurine and 10 milligrams of 500-milligram level B-complex. Serve raw or cook 20 minutes in oven and mix in vitamins once cooled. Occasionally, substitute 1 to 3 teaspoons of liver for part of the meat.

Thomas: In addition to providing the proper diet and nutrition, make sure your cat always has a good supply of fresh water. If you have hard water (water that is alkaline due to the presence of mineral salts) or you get your water from a municipal water supply, be sure to use a pitcher with a filter so that your cat doesn’t have to tax her kidneys by processing extra minerals or chemical additives.

Dahlia: Chronic renal failure is a progressive disease, but by feeding the right diet and making sure your cat gets the proper medical attention, you may be able to spend many more happy months (or maybe even years) together. At age 18, your cat is already quite ancient by cat standards; an 18-year-old cat is the equivalent of an 83-year-old person.

Siouxsie: There’s a great online resource for people whose cats have kidney disease. The Feline-CRF-Support group at Yahoo was launched in 1997, and ever since then it has been a resource for information and support for people whose cats have chronic kidney disease. We recommend that you join this group; they’ll probably have some excellent diet recommendations that they themselves have used.

Thomas: Good luck, Blessu, and enjoy your time with your wonderful cat.

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