When a cat stops using the litter box, many cat owners assume it is a behavioral issue. In reality, however, it could be a sign of a health problem. Kidney disease, for example, causes increased urination and may lead your cat to start urinating outside the litter box. Before you write off your cat’s change in behavior as an annoyance, ask yourself whether it might be a symptom instead.
In this article, we’ll explore the subject of kidney problems in cats to learn the basics about the two primary types and their symptoms. We’ll take a look at how kidney problems are diagnosed and treated, and how changing your cat’s diet may improve management of the disease. You’ll also see our top picks for the best non-prescription commercial cat food for kidney disease.
10 Best Non-Prescription Cat Foods For Kidney Disease
Most veterinarians recommend a low phosphorus cat food for kidney disease, but that doesn’t have to come from an expensive prescription diet. The more digestible your cat’s food is, the better. When your cat is able to break down the food and absorb the nutrients better, there are fewer waste products to be filtered out of the blood which means a reduced workload for your cat’s kidneys. Though you should follow your veterinarian’s advice if he prescribes a certain diet, choosing a high-quality cat food can be just as beneficial for your cat.
The key to changing your cat’s diet for kidney disease is to make the transition slowly. The goal is to put less stress on your cat’s kidneys, so making sudden changes could have the opposite of the desired effect. Mix small portions of your cat’s new food with his current diet, increasing the amount of the new food every day or two until he’s completely switched over.
Here are our top picks for the best non-prescription cat food for kidney disease:
Most Popular Cat Food for Kidney Disease: Choosing a brand of cat food can be difficult, especially since there are so many options to choose from. If you’re not sure where to start, you can always go with a popular brand like Taste of the Wild. This brand is known for using premium animal proteins that are loaded with natural flavor in recipes that are complete and balanced. This Rocky Mountain recipe is a canned food which means higher moisture content and improved palatability for your cat. It contains real animal proteins like salmon, chicken, and roasted venison with high-quality natural ingredients like peas, tomatoes, and blueberries. This recipe contains a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well for healthy skin and coat as well as anti-inflammatory benefits. Overall, it is rich in nutrition, natural flavor, and moisture.
- Pros: Real animal proteins, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality natural ingredients, complete and balanced, rich in moisture and natural flavor, chelated mineral supplements
- Cons: May be too high in fiber or starch for some cats
Most Affordable Cat Food for Kidney Disease: When it comes to cat food, price is often equated with quality – if you want a better product, you’ll have to pay the price. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t find a good cat food at an affordable price. American Journey is a very affordable brand and you can trust the quality of their products. This particular recipe features fresh chicken as the main ingredient with chicken and turkey broths as rich sources of moisture and natural flavor. This highly palatable recipe contains very limited carbohydrate content but is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It contains fresh fruits and vegetables to provide antioxidant-rich sources of natural vitamins and minerals but still contains vitamin and chelated mineral supplements to ensure complete and balanced nutrition for your cat.
- Pros: Affordable price for decent quality, real chicken first ingredient, rich in animal flavor and moisture, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, supplemented for complete and balanced nutrition
- Cons: Main source of fat is plant-based (flaxseed and sunflower oil)
Best Cat Food for Kidney Disease and Sensitive Stomach: Kidney problems are a serious health concern in cats. If your cat has kidney trouble, the quality of the ingredients in his food matters greatly – even more if he has a sensitive stomach. The best option may be a limited ingredient diet made with a single source of novel animal protein like this Instinct by Nature’s Variety LID Real Rabbit canned food. It features fresh rabbit as the main ingredient, a rich source of novel animal protein. This grain-free recipe contains peas as the only carbohydrate ingredient and is supplemented with vitamins and chelated minerals to ensure complete and balanced digestion. If your cat doesn’t like rabbit, there are other protein options to choose from.
- Pros: Single source novel animal protein, rich in real protein and flavor, complete and nutritionally balanced, chelated mineral supplements
- Cons: Contains plant protein (pea protein), somewhat expensive compared to average
If your veterinarian recommends a low-phosphorus diet for your cat but you don’t trust veterinary diets, consider this Dave’s Pet Food Restricted Diet Phosphorus Chicken Formula. This formula contains real chicken and chicken broth as the primary ingredients, making it rich in digestible animal proteins and moisture. It contains controlled levels of phosphorus to reduce the strain on your cat’s kidneys with lower levels of sodium as well. This recipe is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids from salmon oil and is complete and balanced with help from vitamin and chelated mineral supplements.
For a nutritious and delicious canned food your cat will love, try this Wellness Complete Health Pate Chicken Entrée. This formula features real, whole-food ingredients starting with fresh chicken as a premium source of animal protein. It also contains chicken liver and turkey with chicken broth for moisture and natural flavor. This recipe contains limited carbohydrate content from wholesome veggies like carrots, with cranberries for antioxidants and urinary health. It contains all of the vitamin and chelated mineral supplements your cat needs for complete and balanced nutrition and it is a very affordable recipe as well. What more could you ask for?
Indoor cats tend to be less active than outdoor cats and require a limited calorie content to prevent weight gain. Cats with kidney disease can benefit from a similar diet as long as it is made with real animal proteins, plenty of moisture, and whole-food sources of vitamins and minerals. This Halo Turkey & Duck Recipe Pate Grain-Free Indoor Cat Food is a good option because it contains wholesome natural ingredients like spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, and cranberries which are rich in antioxidants and loaded with healthy nutrients. This recipe is free from artificial additives and delivers complete and balanced nutrition in a healthy and digestible way.
One of the few cat food recipes that lists phosphorus content is this Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Chicken Frick’A Zee Recipe Au Jus Canned Food. This formula features fresh chicken as a digestible source of real animal protein with chicken broth for moisture and natural flavor. It contains a rich blend of omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat, including plenty of omega-3s for their antioxidant benefits. This recipe is complete and balanced with the help of nutritional supplements and is highly palatable for cats
If your cat simply won’t eat canned food, you can try this Instinct by Nature’s Variety Raw Boost Indoor Recipe with Real Rabbit dry food. It consists of high-protein kibble mixed with freeze-dried bites of raw meat, so you know it is full of nutrition and natural meat flavor. Real rabbit is the main ingredient with supplemental proteins from turkey, salmon, and fish. This formula is complete and balanced with vitamins and chelated minerals, not to mention fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key nutrients. It also contains probiotics to help your cat digest and absorb as much nutrition as possible.
The key to quality nutrition is to keep things simple. This Ziwi Peak Rabbit & Lamb Recipe Canned Food contains a limited list of whole-food ingredients and real proteins for maximum digestibility and nutritional value. Fresh rabbit is the main ingredient, supplemented with lamb and lamb organs as rich natural sources of vitamins and minerals. There’s no doubt this recipe is full of meat flavor and the high moisture content will be good for your cat’s kidneys.
Understanding Kidney Problems in Cats
Your cat’s kidneys perform many important roles in the body. Not only do they help regulate blood pressure, produce hormones, and support immune activity but they also help filter wastes and toxins out of the blood. Unfortunately, many cats develop kidney problems as they age and, left untreated, kidney disease can lead to serious health complications. With prompt diagnosis, proper treatment, and a healthy diet, however, you can improve your cat’s health and boost his longevity.
There are two primary types of kidney failure in cats: acute renal failure and chronic kidney disease. Acute renal failure develops quickly over a matter of days and weeks. It can affect cats of any age and is typically the result of poison, trauma, infection, blockages, heart failure, or shock from rapid blood or fluid loss. Acute kidney problems can often be reversed if diagnosed and treated in time.
Chronic kidney disease is most common in cats middle-aged and older and it can be more difficult to treat. The exact cause of chronic kidney problems is not always easy to identify but may include kidney infections and blockages as well as other conditions like advanced periodontal disease, thyroid problems, cancer, and hypertension.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of kidney problems in cats:
- Frequent urination
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Excessive thirst
- Weight loss or decreased appetite
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Bad breath
- Dry coat, poor condition
- Weakness and lethargy
Your cat’s kidneys are responsible for filtering out waste products so they can be excreted from the body in urine. When the kidneys start to fail, those waste products accumulate in the blood stream which results in a number of issues. Many people mistakenly assume that kidney problems prevent the cat from producing urine but that isn’t the case. Most cats actually produce large amounts of urine, but it isn’t as effective as it should be in eliminating wastes. Frequent urination and urinating outside the litter box are two of the most common signs of kidney problems in cats, though many people make the mistake of thinking these are behavioral issues rather than health issues.
Now that you have a better understanding of kidney problems in cats, let’s take a closer look at how the condition is diagnosed and treated. We’ll also explore the ways changing your cat’s diet could help.
Diagnosing and Treating Kidney Disease in Cats
If you notice your cat urinating more frequently or urinating outside the litter box, it isn’t something you should ignore. Additional symptoms like losing weight, decreased appetite, and weakness or lethargy mean that you should take your cat to the vet. Diagnosing kidney problems typically begins with a physical exam and review of symptoms but then moves on to blood and urine tests. Diagnosis of kidney failure can be confirmed by identifying high levels of two waste products in the blood: blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine. A urinalysis might also be necessary to test kidney function.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for chronic kidney disease in cats. With treatment, however, you can improve and prolong your cat’s life. Treatment is usually geared toward minimizing the accumulation of waste products in the blood stream, maintaining proper hydration, and addressing problems with nutrition and electrolyte concentration. Various therapies may also help control blood pressure and slow the progression of the disease.
Dietary modification is a very important aspect of treating chronic kidney problems in cats. Some studies suggest a veterinary or prescription diet with restricted protein, phosphorus, and sodium content that is high in water-soluble vitamin, fiber, and antioxidants. Due to the poor quality of many prescription diets, however, many cats are unable to tolerate them. It may be more beneficial to find a nutritionally balanced diet that is easy for your cat to digest and appealing enough to stimulate his diet. Higher moisture content helps as well.
What to Look for in a Good Cat Food for Kidney Disease
If your cat suffers from kidney disease, your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet. Low phosphorus cat food for kidney disease is usually prescription-only, but prescription diets aren’t always the best option. Many are made with grains like corn and wheat as well as by-products, plant-proteins, and fillers. If your cat is already suffering from a chronic disease, feeding him a diet made with low-quality ingredients isn’t going to help him regain his health. We recommend a high-quality cat food made with all-natural ingredients including real animal proteins, omega fatty acids, and nutritional supplements to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.
Here are some general things to look for in a non-prescription cat food for kidney disease:
- Real animal protein. Many veterinarians recommend a protein-restricted diet for kidney problems, but you want to void reducing your cat’s protein intake too much. Aim for something in the 28% to 35% range and stick to real animal proteins so they are highly digestible.
- Rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and certain plant oils can reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation triggers oxidative stress that can further damage the already disease kidney tissue, so an anti-inflammatory diet may slow the progression of kidney disease.
- Limited sodium and phosphorus. Many commercial cat foods don’t list sodium or phosphorus content, but it never hurts to check. The ideal phosphorus content is 0.3% to 0.6%. You are unlikely to find the sodium content on a cat food label, but you should still check to make sure the food doesn’t contain added salt.
- Complete and nutritionally balanced. Balanced nutrition is the key to keeping your cat healthy and reducing the strain on his body. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are rich sources of natural nutrients, but most cat foods require the addition of vitamins and minerals to ensure nutritional balance.
- No artificial additives. Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives have no place in your cat’s food. Not only can they trigger a negative reaction, but they may add to the accumulation of wastes in your cat’s blood. Look for an all-natural recipe made with real ingredients, not fillers, by-products, or artificial additives.
If your cat has advanced kidney disease or kidney failure, double-check with your veterinarian before changing his diet. In some cases, a prescription diet is the best option if your cat’s condition requires specific nutrient concentrations. If your veterinarian recommends a prescription diet for renal support, the only one we can heartily recommend is Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet K+M Kidney + Mobility Support Grain-Free dry or canned food.
How Do We Make Our Recommendations?
Your cat has unique nutritional needs different from a dog or another animal’s. Cats are obligate carnivores which means that they have a biological requirement for a high-protein diet. In the wild, cats only consume plant matter in the stomach contents of their prey. Based on the natural diet of cats, we only recommend cat foods that contain real animal proteins and healthy fats with limited carbohydrate content. We look for a high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient and never recommend products that are too carbohydrate-heavy. Complete and balanced nutrition is essential as well, so we also look for recipes fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.
Here are some of the requirements for a cat food to receive our recommendation:
- A source of high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient
- At least 30% crude protein for kittens and at least 26% for adults
- A minimum of 9% crude fat for kittens and adults
- A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from animal sources
- A rich blend of nutrients from natural sources and supplements, as needed
- Limited carbohydrate content from digestible sources (like whole grains and veggies)
- No low-quality fillers, by-products, or artificial additives (preservatives, dyes, or flavors)
All of our cat food recommendations are made based, first and foremost, on AAFCO food nutrient profiles. These profiles simply outline the minimum nutritional needs of cats in various life stages (kitten or adult). In order to determine whether a cat food meets these requirements, just look for an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy on the package. It should look something like this: [X Product] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages. After you have successfully determined that the formula is complete and balanced, you can go on to evaluating its quality.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What can I feed my cat with kidney disease? The best diet for a cat with kidney disease is one that is nutritionally balanced and easy to digest. It should have moderate protein content that comes from real sources of animal protein, ideally low-phosphorus options like rabbit and poultry. High-quality protein is essential because many of the toxins that accumulate in the blood result from protein breakdown. You should also make sure the other ingredients in your cat’s food are highly digestible, so look for nutritious carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits with beneficial supplements to ensure nutritional balance.
- How long can a cat live with kidney disease? The prognosis for kidney disease in cats is highly variable depending on the severity of the disease and the form of treatment. Research suggests that switching your cat to a diet that reduces the kidneys’ workload can double his life expectancy after diagnosis. Your veterinarian is the best person to give you an estimate, but many cats live with kidney disease for up to four years.
- Can stress cause kidney failure in cats? Stress is not directly linked to kidney failure in cats, but chronic stress and uncontrolled stress reactions can contribute to kidney damage which may progress over time. Chronic stress can affect your cat’s blood pressure and heart health, leading to extra strain on the blood vessels which could compromise blood flow to the kidneys. Uncontrolled diabetes can also be damaging to the blood vessels and kidneys, however, so it is hard to tell what’s really to blame.
- How can I get my cat to drink more water? Cats prefer to drink fresh water, so you can encourage your cat to drink more water by cleaning and refilling his water bowl at least once a day. Many cat owners have started to use cat fountains which use a motor to keep the water moving. Another option is to add moisture to your cat’s diet by adding water or broth. You can also switch your cat to wet food or add a wet food topper.
- Should I consider a raw food diet for cats with kidney failure? Many veterinarians believe that dry food puts an increased burden on the kidneys, particularly if the cat doesn’t drink enough water. They also often recommend low-protein diets because protein is high in phosphorus. More important, however, is the quality of the food, including the protein. Real animal proteins are the most digestible and nutritious for cats, so you might be considering a raw food diet. A raw food diet could be a good option for cats with serious kidney problems but only if you follow a vet-approved recipe to ensure that it contains all of the nutrients your cat needs.
Kidney problems in cats can be severe, so do not ignore the signs. If your cat starts urinating outside the litter box or urinates more frequently than usual, don’t blame it on poor training. Any change in behavior, especially litter box behavior, is cause for concern and should be addressed with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose your cat’s problem, prescribe a treatment, and help you change your cat’s diet.
If you’re not sure what to feed your cat for kidney problems, try one of the high-quality brands we’ve recommended above!