Recently, I was looking up the most common reasons for dogs to go to the vet. I was shocked: turns out chronic kidney disease is one of the top 10 reasons. Unlike acute kidney failure (which is usually the result of one particular cause, such as a urinary obstruction or ingesting a toxic or poisonous substance), chronic kidney failure can take months or even years to show up. In fact, most dogs don’t even show symptoms of chronic kidney failure until 70-75% of kidney function has been lost! If you’re wondering if your dog has chronic kidney failure, there are some common symptoms to look out for:
- Acute blindness
- Bloody urine
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination (both in frequency and amount)
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
If you see these symptoms, you should take your dog to the vet so they can do a blood test and urinalysis. If your dog is diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, there are some things you can do to support their body so they can live as healthy and optimal life as possible (unfortunately, there’s no known cure for chronic kidney disease).
Understanding the kidneys
To better understand your options in managing chronic kidney disease, it’s helpful to understand a little bit about the kidneys themselves. You may remember the kidneys are part of the body’s filtration system. They help filter the blood by getting rid of waste products (such as glucose, salts, urea, and uric acid) and extra water. The waste products and extra water become urine, which eventually gets eliminated when your dog goes to the bathroom.
The kidneys are capable of sifting out a huge amount of waste, but unfortunately, if there are too many toxins in the body, they might not be able to filter all the toxins and other waste products out quickly enough. When this happens, the kidneys can get clogged. Eventually, if this keeps happening, the kidneys can become compromised and damaged as a result of being overworked. Usually, this results in chronic kidney failure. On the flip side, when the kidneys are supported, and when the body isn’t flooded with more toxins than the kidneys can filter out, they’re much less likely to be clogged and/or damaged.
Addressing kidney failure
So, what do you do if your dog has chronic kidney failure? First and foremost, it’s vital to reduce the toxins the kidneys have to deal with. To do this, make sure your dog doesn’t encounter toxic substances (for example, over-the-counter flea and tick medications, conventional heartworm medications, pesticides, herbicides, and so on). It’s also important to ensure your pet gets clean, pure water, and that they eat a species-appropriate raw food diet.
While most treatments for chronic kidney disease include dietary changes, conventional advice is to feed dogs with chronic kidney failure a low-protein diet. However, this advice seems to come from research that was done on rats with kidney disease, not dogs. Unlike rats, which are omnivores, dogs are carnivores. Rats aren’t designed to handle high protein amounts, but dogs are. The key is to provide them raw, high-quality protein. By feeding them a high-quality, species-appropriate raw diet (including raw meat, bones, organs, and even glands), you ensure their bodies can easily absorb the nutrients in their food, and that they aren’t subjected to the toxins commonly found in kibble. Some researchers are starting to find that restricting protein intake in dogs with chronic kidney disease doesn’t help renal function; based on these studies, even some conventional vets are beginning to believe restricting protein isn’t useful.
Another benefit to feeding a species-appropriate raw food diet is that it’s naturally low in sodium. This means your pet’s kidneys won’t be taxed trying to filter out excess sodium they were never designed to handle. Unfortunately, many processed-food diets are high in sodium, which can be detrimental to a dog with chronic kidney disease.
If your dog has chronic kidney failure, it’s worth watching how much phosphorous they’re fed. Feeding a species-appropriate raw food diet will help ensure your dog gets the right amount of phosphorous, especially if you feed a prey model raw or whole prey raw diet. If the disease has progressed, it might be a good idea to offer meatier bones (think poultry breasts and/or thighs) and avoid bones with less meat (for example, poultry backs and/or wings). You can feed eggshells instead of bone, and you might want to avoid beef or pork ribs. It’s important, though, not to cut bone or eggshell out completely—while they’re high in phosphorous, they also have calcium and other nutrients that are critical for proper body function. Calcium is especially important because it binds to phosphorous and therefore helps to remove excessive amounts of phosphorous from your dog’s body. Fattier meats can also help reduce phosphorous levels, but make sure they’re fed raw, not cooked.
Providing magnesium can help dogs with kidney failure if they’re showing signs of depression, dizziness, and muscle weakness. Magnesium is present in lots of whole food sources, including chicken, rabbit, pork, turkey, goat, bison, beef, sardines, eggs, and more.
Omega-3s help support the kidneys (among other things), which makes them especially important if your dog has chronic kidney disease. Fish (such as whole raw sardines) and fish oil are great sources of omega-3s for your dog; flax seed oil, while high in omega-3s, is also really difficult for your dog to break down and assimilate. Stick to the species-appropriate food sources to avoid overtaxing your dog’s digestive system and putting more strain on the kidneys.
Probiotics and digestive enzymes can be very beneficial to dogs with chronic kidney disease. Raw green tripe is packed with both digestive enzymes and probiotics, and the fact that it’s in whole food form makes it a great choice. If you want to give your dog a probiotic/enzyme supplement, find one that’s specifically formulated for dogs.
In addition to dietary considerations, it’s important to make sure your dog is getting appropriate exercise to help keep their systems functioning as normally as possible. If your dog is very weak, try a short, slow, gentle walk. If they’re too weak to go for a walk, you can try holding them in your arms while very gently bouncing on a trampoline. The gentle movement can help flush out the circulatory system.
As I mentioned earlier, giving your dog clean, pure water is especially important if they have chronic kidney disease. Most tap water in America is, unfortunately, loaded with toxins (including chlorine, fluoride, aluminum, nitrates, insecticides, herbicides, prescription medications, and more). Giving filtered water helps ensure your dog isn’t adding to their toxin load every time they take a drink.
Some researchers have found evidence that a milligram of of CoQ10 per pound of body weight daily can help reduce creatinine levels. In a dog whose kidneys are functioning normally, creatinine (which is the waste product of creatine) is normally filtered out of the blood by the kidneys. However, when the kidneys are damaged, they can no longer sift out the creatinine effectively. Some small studies have shown that CoQ10 may help with that.
While it’s true that, in general, damage done to the kidneys can’t be reversed, there are lots of things you can do to support your dog and your dog’s kidneys if they have chronic kidney disease. Of course, in addition to what’s mentioned here, it’s a good idea to see a holistic veterinarian or a certified animal naturopath if your dog is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure.