Q: I have a multicat household (eight) and one of our eldest, Bernadette, was just diagnosed with chronic renal failure (CRF), based on her blood and urine tests. She’s over 14 years old now, and we really do want to help her in any way we can.
Having eight cats, we don’t have set meal times and leave their bowls of kibble out for them to “graze” when they get hungry throughout the day (only one cat is overweight). Our vet recommended a diet low in protein and phosphorus for Bernie, and starting a potassium supplement. The supplement is easy enough and we have started that, but Bernie is a fussy eater and does not care for canned foods, not even water-packed tuna! Nor will she eat when put in a room by herself for a bit.
I know there are specialty dry cat foods out there low in protein and phosphates. Would it be harmful or lacking if we replaced all the cats’ current food with the specialty food? Bernie and Breanna are our oldest (14+), but the rest are no younger than 3 years old. All are rescues, so exact ages are vet estimates.
A: As a feline-only practitioner, I am faced with this tricky situation all the time. Chronic renal failure (CRF) is a common disorder in elderly cats. There isn’t much we can do to improve kidney function. Instead, our goal is to slow down the rate at which the disease progresses. Of all the interventions that we can do, the most effective is to change the diet to a reduced protein, restricted phosphorus, low-sodium diet.
Several companies (Hill’s, Iams, Royal Canin, Purina) manufacture prescription diets that are designed for cats with renal failure. Although this diet may not be the most appropriate diet for your other cats, it is not harmful. I feel that it’s OK for the other cats to eat the kidney diet so that their housemate can have a longer, healthier life.
Renal diets tend to have a lot of calories, though, so careful monitoring of the weight of the other cats in the household is necessary. Low potassium can accelerate the progression of the renal failure, so continue to supplement Bernie.