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Ask the Doctor February 2019 Issue

Dear Doctor: Special diet for failing kidneys can prolong life

Q. My veterinarian told me my 14-year-old tabby’s kidneys are beginning to fail but that a special prescription diet that’s more expensive than over-the-counter cat food could extend my cat’s life. Could that really be true? Or is she just just selling snake oil?

Juliet Patterson

Old Saybrook, Connecticut

Dear Ms. Patterson,

A. It’s true. There are therapeutic diets sold only by veterinarians that not only can prolong life but also the quality of life for cats with kidney failure — perhaps the biggest killer of older cats like yours. In one study conducted at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine, none of the cats with mid-stage kidney disease who were fed therapeutic diets developed any overt signs of kidney failure over a two-year period. But more than one in four cats fed regular diets died, and the majority of those were euthanized because of their worsening condition.

Another study conducted by veterinarians at the Netherland’s Utrecht University found that older cats with kidney failure fed therapeutic diets lived an average of nine months longer than those who were not. Cats fed a particular therapeutic diet containing an omega-3 fatty acid known as EPA lived an average of 16 months longer.

All of the special diets contain less phosphorus than cat foods you’ll find in the supermarket in addition to a moderate amount of high-quality protein, which is a good balance for vulnerable kidneys. The omega-3s, in addition, are believed to ratchet down the inflammation that comes with kidney failure.

It’s important to switch your cat to a therapeutic diet as soon as kidney disease is diagnosed. Even if your tabby doesn’t seem sick, you’ll want to ease her kidneys’ workload as soon as possible. Also, it’s easier to switch a cat’s diet when she’s feeling well. Once she feels sick — and perhaps nauseated — making the switch becomes more difficult.

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