One of the most common diseases in cats, especially seniors, is feline kidney disease. Medically known as chronic renal failure (CRF), there is no cure for cats suffering from this disease. However, cats can survive for several years if the disease is caught and treated early.
This week, our senior cat was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure. Since she is 16 years old, I had already researched common diseases in elderly cats and was watching her behaviour for any sign of a problem. Cats often don’t show symptoms of diseases until they’re very ill, so I was thankful that I knew her subtle increase in drinking & urination could be a symptom of several diseases common in senior cats. It can indicate hyperthyroidism, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, all common in older cats. Our veterinarian confirmed early-stage kidney disease, which gives us a chance to control the progression and keep her healthy as long as possible.
I’m also thankful that I have an extensive library of natural pet care books, along with university access to all major scientific journals and studies. Combined with my current knowledge of natural cat care, I’ve been able to quickly develop a natural treatment plan that supports and enhances her veterinary care. It can be difficult to find this information so we wanted to share our knowledge with you here. It’s important to note, however, that cats suffering from Chronic Renal Failure require proper veterinary care and allopathic medicine. The natural options for this disease are supportive, not curative, and they are not a replacement for allopathic medication.
Natural Support for Feline Chronic Kidney Disease / Renal Failure
Dietary Control for Cats with Chronic Kidney Disease
The first course of action in the care of any cat suffering from chronic renal failure, is dietary changes. Most veterinarians still follow the treatment plan used for dogs and humans that have kidney disease, but this is somewhat controversial for cats. The traditional approach is to limit and control the amount of phosphorus and toxins in the blood with low phosphorus food. Since meat protein is also relatively high in phosphorus, that means restricting meat in the diet.
While I agree that phosphorus control is critical, I don’t believe severe restriction of protein is healthy for cats until the final stages of the disease. Cats are obligate carnivores, as opposed to dogs that are scientifically classed as omni-carnivorous. They require protein to ensure optimum function of all bodily processes and functions, especially as they age. Severely restricting protein in a cat’s diet may reduce waste toxins and phosphorus in the blood, but it will also compromise her health in a myriad of other ways. Secondary issues associated with Chronic Renal Failure can also be effected by a low protein diet, including muscle wasting and anemia.
The other problem with restricting protein with prescription diets commonly prescribed for kidney disease, is cats often reject them. They either refuse to eat them or eat considerably less of them. The last thing an ailing cat needs is weight loss and dietary deficiencies.
We’ve decided on a happy medium. I found a wonderful chart that calculates the dry weight of phosphorus, protein and sodium in renal failure prescription diets, as well as a long list of shelf pet food brands. We’re trying a few of the brands that are higher in protein than prescription diets, yet comparably low in phosphorus. Using a quality canned food, we can increase the amount of moisture she gets, which is extremely important with Chronic Renal Failure in cats. Close attention is being paid to labels, avoiding artificial preservatives, color-enhancers, and any other additives that may tax her kidney and liver function. We’re also focusing on the quality of the protein she eats, which means she’ll be eating a lot of home-prepared meals with lean, organic chicken, beef, etc.
Other dietary focus should be on antioxidants, omega 3, B-complex vitamins, a constant supply of fresh water, and avoiding salt. Omega 3 comes with another complication because most seafood high in omega 3, such as sardines, are also high in phosphorus and should be avoided. Higher food chain fish are also more contaminated with heavy metals that are hard on the kidneys. Omega 3 from terrestrial plant sources are more difficult for a cat to digest, so we don’t suggest them as an alternative. Therefore, we are focusing on krill and seaweed as an omega 3 source, both of which also offer a host of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Krill will be the primary source of the omega complex as it’s highly digestible for cats and it isn’t contaminated with heavy metals.
Natural Supplements and Herbs for Cats with Chronic Kidney Disease
There are many natural supplements recommended for pets suffering from Chronic Renal Disease. Cats are more sensitive to some natural supplements than other pets, so we suggest you use caution when applying recommendations for other species to your ill cat. Some herbs that are recommended for renal / kidney failure are controversial due to their harshness, such as Uva Ursi and Juniper, so we’ve decided to not use them. It’s important to let your veterinarian know if you are using supplements or herbal treatments to avoid drug interactions, etc.
We use very small amounts of supplements mixed in with food and administered throughout the day. You can combine herbs into a herbal tea to increase moisture content and make it easier to administer several herbs at once. To reduce chemical impact on the cat’s kidneys, organic herbs are recommended if they’re available.
If you have a problem finding the below supplements, we get most of ours from Starwest Botanicals.
Astragalus root – Scientific studies have shown Astragalus assists in normal kidney function. It also offers free radical protection and anti-bacterial properties.
Dandelion Leaf – Promotes a healthy appetite, and has mild diuretic properties. Dandelion leaf contains tons of vitamins and minerals that help cats with Chronic Renal Failure, such as Vitamin A, D, C, B vitamins, iron, potassium, and magnesium. The diuretic effect is much more powerful in dandelion ROOT, which shouldn’t be used at all in cats with CKD. Dandelion leaves can be used very sparingly.
Slippery Elm Bark Powder: Controls excessive stomach acid, which reduces nausea and vomiting. It also treats both constipation and diarrhea. We recommend that Slippery Elm Bark not be given within two hours of medication.
Burdock Root – Purifies the blood, maintains fluid levels in the body, and assists in normal kidney function.
Hawthorne Berries – Vasodilator and hypotensive actions can improve blood circulation in the renal arteries and kidney blood vessels. Reduces high blood pressure, a common problem in cats suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease.
Ginkgo Biloba – Opens and strengthens small blood vessels for improved renal circulation. Ginko is thought to positively effect smooth muscle tissues of the bladder through the brain and may also increase energy levels.
Goldenseal Root – Potent anti-bacterial properties with the added benefit of soothing mucus membranes.
Oregon Grape – Anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory to keep the kidneys, bladder and urinary tract free from infection and irritation.
Parsley Root Powder – Provides stimulation to kidney tissue and is a natural diuretic.
Marshmallow Root – Soothes mucous membranes ravaged by Feline Kidney Disease in the urinary tract and reduces inflammation.
Cleavers – Supports all urinary system functions, cleanses the lymphatic system and purifies the blood.
Mixed Seaweed Powder – Improves kidney function and urinary flow. Promotes osmotic health of the kidneys, cleanses, reduces uric acid, helps to purify the blood, balances electrolytes, increases alkalinity, and offers anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Supplies Omega 3 plus a high amount of vitamins and minerals, including potassium, which can become seriously depleted in cats with chronic renal disease. Seaweed does contain some phosphorus but we decided the benefits more than offset it and medication control further balances the equation.
Pumpkin (unseasoned) – Packed with vitamins and helpful for both the constipation and diarrhea that often accompanies Chronic Kidney Disease / Renal Failure. We’ve started mixing a little pumpkin into canned food at breakfast when she’s the most hungry to ensure she eats it.
Krill – One of the most impressive sources of antioxidants and digestible Omega 3 on the planet. Whole, freeze-dried krill is an acclaimed source of omega-packed krill oil and astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant. It also offers roughage in a form cats can use to prevent constipation, as opposed to grain fiber sources. Krill is also an attractant and it increases palatability, so the cat eats more. It’s a great additive for prescription diets that cats often reject.
Cranberry Extract: We’ll be using a bit of cranberry extract to fight bacteria in the urinary tract. The powder form is easily mixed into food to ensure cats will eat it, but it is acidic and should be used sparingly. It can be purchased alone or in combination with other natural antibacterial ingredients, such as the popular NaturVet Cranberry Relief.
Probiotics – Many holistic vets recommend Azodyl, which is specifically formulated to support kidney function by providing natural enteric dialysis. Additionally, it slows down uremic toxin buildup in the blood to help prevent further kidney damage.
Calcium Montmorillonite Clay – I credit our therapeutic use of Calcium Montmorillonite Clay for slowing the progression of this disease in our cat, especially since it’s rare for the disease to show up so late in life. If it’s going to get them, it usually shows up by the age of 14 at the latest. Calcium Montmorillonite Clay is recommended by both human and pet doctors as a preventative and complimentary treatment of kidney disease.
- It is one of the precious few supplements able to work at both the digestive and cellular level to absorb and extract toxins.
- Calcium Montmorillonite Clay also offsets the problems associated with high level blood urea nitrogen (BUN), such gastrointestinal irritation often treated with Carafate, resulting in a reduction of symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea.
- Controls excessive acid production in the digestive system, which helps reduce vomiting.
- The anti-microbial properties in Calcium Montmorillonite Clay prevent and treat kidney infections associated with Chronic Kidney / Renal Disease, while also neutralizing toxins left by the infection that may further damage the kidneys.
- Scientists at X’an Jiaotong University of Medicine concluded that Calcium Montmorillonite reduces elevated serum urea.
- Adds alkalinity to balance the effect of increased acidity from toxins (metabolic acidosis). Improves and regulates pH.
- This clay is used in patients suffering from Chronic Renal Disease for its chelated calcium content, which prevents bone loss from the high levels of phosphorus in the blood. Dr. Al Plechner states, “Scientists and researchers have found that the use of calcium Montmorillonite will allow for normal bone density to remain, while also correcting a state of diminished bone density.” It also provides important chelated minerals and trace elements to pets, while balancing ratios.
Important notes: Calcium Montmorillonite Clay’s ions cannot distinguish between a good positive charge and a bad positive charge. Therefore, it should not be given within two hours of medication. For cats suffering from Chronic Renal Failure, we suggest hydrating a bit of clay before adding it to food, or add a dash or two to drinking water if it doesn’t reduce water consumption. Most animals actively seek out clay in the wild when they’re ill, so they should accept it without a problem. It is imperative that you purchase certified pure, human edible grade Calcium Montmorillonite Clay from a reliable source to avoid impurities that could assault the kidneys instead of helping them.
Prepared natural supplements are also available and may include some of the above natural ingredients combined for easier use. A common recommendation of holistic veterinarians is Kidney Support.
Beyond the above tips, natural care of a cat with Chronic Kidney Disease involves providing a stress-free environment and frequent litter changes. If your cat usually goes outside, we suggest litter-training so you can monitor urination and feces and collect urine samples (you can use aquarium gravel in the litter box and strain into collection bottle). Most cats will need a litter box as their condition deteriorates and it will be difficult to train them when they’re so ill.
It’s not an inexpensive disease to manage, but we’re prepared to do whatever we can to keep our little SPCA diva healthy and with us as long as humanely possible. This is the first time in 16 years that she’s ever been ill, so we certainly can’t complain. A special thanks to the amazing staff at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital for their support and guidance.
Have you ever had a cat with Chronic Kidney / Renal Disease or Failure? We’d love to hear any tips you may have in the comments below.
Messonnier, Shawn DVM. Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats: Your A-Z Guide to Over 200 Conditions, Herbs, Vitamins, and Supplements. 2001.
Tilford, Gregory. Wulff, Mary. Herbs for Pets: The Natural Way to Enhance Your Pet’s Life. 2009.
Pitcairn, Richard H. Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. 2012.
Cooksley, Valerie Gennari, RN. Seaweed: Nature’s Secret to Balancing Your Metabolism, Fighting Disease, and Revitalizing Body and Soul. 2007.
Schechter, Steven R. Fighting Radiation and Chemical Pollutants With Foods, Herbs and Vitamins: Documented Natural Remedies That Boost Your Immunity and Detoxify. 1990.
Brownlee, Iain. The Potential Health Benefits Of Seaweed And Seaweed Extract. 2012.
Robertson, R.H.S. Fuller’s Earth: a History of Calcium Montmorillonite. Ventura Press. 1986. (Available used through Alibris)
Sherwood, Patricia. The Healing Art of Clay Therapy. Acer Press. 2004.
Knishinsky, Ran. The Clay Cure : Natural Healing from the Earth Healing Arts Press. 1998.
Engel, Cindy. Wild Health: Lessons in Natural Wellness from the Animal Kingdom. Houghton Mifflin. 2003.
✔ You may also be interested in reading:
Natural Treatment and Prevention of Chronic Bladder Infections in Pets
Natural Pet Protection from Aflatoxin (and other Toxins) with Montmorillonite Clay
Double the Power of Seaweed by Mixing Species (Infographic)
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