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By Leslie Kuczynski, VMD, DACVIM

Does my pet really need this special food?

An important part of medical management of many diseases can be dietary therapy; however, special prescription diets are higher in cost and can be less convenient to obtain that over the counter pet foods. Because of that, the question of how necessary is this special diet, often comes up. Depending on the medical condition of the pet in question, special diets are prescribed for different reasons.

Kidney-friendly, prescription renal diets

Chronic kidney disease is a common ailment of many older (and in some cases, younger) pets. An early intervention management strategy is to try a “kidney-friendly” or renal diet. These special diets are restricted in protein and phosphorus levels, both of which have been shown to help slow progression of this condition. Renal diets are also often supplemented with omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants that provide additional benefits to the pet. In an ideal world, all pets with underlying or ongoing kidney problems would eat this type of diet. It is always worth trying the diet to see if the pet will eat it readily. However, more importantly, your pet needs to eat adequate calories to support its body. Because you cannot reason with a dog or cat that may not be feeling well due to its disease process, there are many pets with kidney disease that will turn their noses up at these special diets. If that is the case, you can ask your veterinarian about medications that can help reduce nausea, reduce acid production, or stimulate the appetite. If your pet will still not readily eat the special diet, other things to try include senior-specific dog and cat foods. Senior pet foods tend to be somewhat protein and salt restricted when compared to regular adult diets and may have some benefit. Any dog food is better than no food at all, and if your pets’ condition is worsening, bland people foods such as boiled lean chicken or beef are going to be better than not eating anything at all. Phosphorus binders are medications that can be added to a pet’s medication routine to help bind phosphorus in the diet and help lower blood phosphorus levels.

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