Dealing with Kidney Failure in Cats and Dogs

by Dr. Larry Siegler

Kidney Failure

Kidney Disease, known as Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) in cats and Canine Kidney Failure (CIN) in dogs, is a diagnosis that no one wants to hear for their beloved companion.  It is, however, one of the more common problems seen in aging pets.  While chronic renal failure is more common in cats, it is certainly a problem we see in dogs as well.  Acute kidney failure is generally the result of poisoning or external toxins of some type.  Chronic kidney failure is usually a slowly progressive disease that often goes unnoticed for quite some time.

The kidneys function is to filter out and excrete toxins from the body through the urine.  One of the first signs of kidney failure is an increase in thirst and urination.  This is why: A healthy kidney can concentrate toxins into a smaller amount of liquid to be urinated away.  When the kidneys are damaged and become less able to concentrate the urine, more fluid is used by the body.  As the kidneys become less efficient and the disease progresses, other signs of CRF begin to emerge such as weight loss, nausea, constipation, low energy / fatigue, and poor appetite.


Most animals do not show signs of kidney failure until about 70% – 75% of kidney function has been lost.  In order to diagnose CRF/CIN and determine the extent of the disease, a blood test and urinalysis is needed.  Detailed information about the factors considered in the testing is outlined in this article on the web site:  Kidney Failure (Chronic Renal Failure)

Conventional Treatment

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Additional information is provided in the article quoted above regarding conventional medical treatments and medications.  The one treatment that is common to most cats with chronic CRF is subcutaneous fluids.  The treating veterinarian’s office will generally train the animal’s guardian to do this at home.  This is generally not very painful to the cat, and will most definitely extend their quality of life.


A low-protein, low-phosphorus and low-sodium diet may be recommended for a cat or dog with kidney disease.  Some studies suggest that feeding a diet low in phosphorus may help slow the progression of kidney failure by reducing mineral deposits in the kidneys.  Low-protein diets are a bit more controversial.  Low-protein diets generate fewer nitrogenous wastes – high levels of which can cause nausea and vomiting.  However, the diet for each cat or dog with kidney disease should be tailored to their own specific needs as indicated by the stage of the disease and the blood and urinalysis test results.

For many animals, a diet with HIGH QUALITY protein will be better than a low-protein diet.  Typically I recommend a home-made diet for my patients with CRF/CIN that addresses their individual needs.  Low-protein diets, if not carefully managed, can lead to malnutrition.  If a low-protein diet is necessary, a canned formula designed for senior animals may be an option (click for cats or for dogs).  If you are not sure of what is best for your companion, a consultation with a holistically trained veterinarian would be advised.

Dry food is not a good option for animals with kidney problems, especially cats.  Hydration is extremely important for animals with kidney disease.  Cats, especially, tend to become chronically dehydrated on a diet of dry kibble.  Inappropriate diet is thought to be one of the contributing factors to chronic renal failure.

Nutritional Supplements


Omega 3 fatty acidRaw dog Food2s from marine fish oil have been shown to slow the progression of kidney disease in a clinical trial with dogs.  The anti-inflammatory action of the Omega 3’s may reduce kidney inflammation.  Vitamin E is often recommended along with the Omega 3 oils as they act synergistically.  The dosage for Omega 3 fatty acids can generally be increased up to twice that recommended on the product label, but reduce the dosage if loose stools result.  (Click for Essential Fatty Acids for cats or for dogs.)

I also recommend B-complex and vitamin C to help replenish the vitamins lost due to the inability of the kidneys to recycle and retain these nutrients in the body properly.  Some dogs and cats appear to have a better appetite and feel better when given B vitamins or an appropriate vitamin-mineral complex:

Multi Vitamin Nutritional Supplements – for cats or for dogs
Small Animal Antioxidant by Thorne Research

Additionally, potassium supplementation may be necessary for some animals.

Herbs & Nutriceuticals

Both Chinese and Western herbs can be useful in the beginning stages of kidney disease.  As the disease progresses, consultation with a holistically trained veterinarian is recommended for proper use of appropriate herbal remedies.

Renagen by Thorne Research
A Chinese herbal formula based on a classic combination of herbs used to strengthen kidney function.

Renal Essentials for Dogs or for Cats
Contains herbs, amino acids and vitamins and minerals to help maintain optimal kidney function, balance urine pH and mineral levels, normalize circulation, and strengthen the immune response to foreign material in the urinary tract and kidneys.

Only Natural Pet Kidney / Urinary Support Herbal Remedy
An herbal complex that soothes and protects the entire urinary tract and stimulates the kidneys to eliminate passive congestion.

Additional supplements, such as Renafood by Standard Process, can be helpful for chronic renal failure, but require a consultation with a veterinarian for prescription.  Always consult with your veterinarian before starting your dog or cat on any new herb or supplement when dealing with kidney disease.

Additional Recommendations

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It is helpful to take steps to reduce stress for any animal with kidney disease.  Quality of life is an important consideration when deciding how aggressively to treat any disease.  Flower Essences can be helpful in supporting your companion emotionally and aiding in stress reduction and are completely safe to use along with any conventional or alternative treatment for kidney disease.

Acupuncture can be very helpful for animals with kidney disease.  Regular acupuncture can help slow the progression of the disease, stimulate the kidneys and boost the overall vitality of a dog or cat.  I typically include vitamin B12 injections with the acupuncture or possibly homeopathic treatment.

Some animals can live for many months or even years after a diagnosis of kidney disease.  Cats seem to fair better than dogs in this way.  While you are ultimately the decision maker in the treatment of your companion, it is important to utilize your veterinarian as a crucial part of the team, ideally along with a holistic practitioner that can offer alternative treatments to compliment any conventional medications or treatments.

Helpful Resources and Links:

Feline CRF Information Center


Canine Renal Disease: – has many helpful links

Recipes for home-prepared kidney diets:
Book by Dr. Donald R. Strombeck

Natural Healing Program for Dogs with Kidney Disease – click here

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