Some thoughts on a homemade over a manufactured diet for dogs with kidney problems

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Our last Bull Terrier eventually died of kidney failure at the age of 14. This is something, some people connect to aging and count as inevitable. I am not so sure. However, we will never know, if it was a birth defect or the consequence of all the medication she had been taking over the years for her various issues.
Her kidneys had not been monitored for a long time, only during the last one or two years or so.
That was when we also learned about limited ingredient diets.

Limited ingredient diets for Kidney Problems

Basically, they all have the same goal – your vet has probably explained that to you. The attempt is to limit the protein intake in order to limit the products of the protein metabolism, because those are hard for a impaired kidneys to deal with.
The true value of the “limited protein” strategy however in a kidney therapy is highly discussed among experts. So are the amounts of protein that should be fed to dogs with impaired kidney function.


A bottom line practically all experts agree on is the fact that both, the healthy and the sick dog should be fed HIGH QUALITY protein.

That is not a cure for the kidneys of sick dogs, but it comes with benefits for the impaired kidneys because it causes them fewer stress.
Also the special diets usually are low in/ contain no sodium, which originally should be the case in every dog diet, but it’s just not always the case in regular dog food.
With kidney problems it’s vital to keep the sodium low in order to keep blood pressure low and again relief the kidneys by well regulated (and not elevated) blood circulation.

The problem with kibble and other pre-mixed formulas

Human as well as furry kidney patients often suffer from lack of appetite.
And some kibble mix of something other than meats in a convenient bag is often not really helpful with that.

Also a problem with pre-mixed formulas – especially in a dog with impairments, such as kidney problems, allergies, intolerances etc. – there is not way to control ingredients, which is why in general I am not a huge fan of manufactured foods for dogs with health problems.
One very popular kidney formula kibble, for example, also contains some ingredients, which I don’t understand (did not look at the canned version). Things like Corn Gluten Meal and Grains. But I think the gluten is mainly because somehow they have to get this stuff to stick together in a pellet.

In my experience, while it is probably correct that a dog’s digestive system is able to process grains, they are not as easily digestible for dogs as often stated.
This is why especially in a dog with impaired inner health my approach would be to try to also relief the digestive system as much as possible, meaning I would feed low or no grains. And if feeding grains at least try to choose some of the less questionable types (not all grains are the same, when it comes to their digestive impact, allergies etc.).
Because any other possible problem putting additional stress on the entire system is probably not helpful with the original issue, either. But that’s just me. I am not a dietitian.
This is just my personal opinion and experience, and the grain issue is a highly controversial  topic with hardly any solid scientific backup on either one or the other side.

There are different kidney problems which require different strategies due to protein intake. But all of them aim towards HIGH QUALITY protein, which is also often supplemented with eggs, for example.
Very important with kidney problems are high quality sources of protein, in order to optimize the metabolism as much as possible and limit by-products.

Other ingredients

Many limited ingredient diets are ok regarding the goal worded in their name.
But besides adding grains, for example, I also don’t see, why some of them are adding salt.
Another point is that it is usually recommended to not feed any kibble at all to dogs with kidney problems, because it can be hard on the entire system, if the dog has a low intake of water and puts additional stress on the kidneys.
Looking at that recommendation I really don’t understand why kibble varieties are offered for kidney patients in the first place.
I think a sick dog should not be a matter of convenience, when it comes to preparation.

The formulas are not poison or something, don’t get me wrong or scared or anything.

I am just picking a few examples to make clear, why – with all I know today – I would always choose to feed a special raw, self-made kidney diet for dogs over feeding any kibble, if my dog were a kidney patient.

This diet should ideally be assembled together with the attending vet and if possible the help of a dietician with experience in kidney problems. It should include high quality sources of protein, such as chicken, lamb or certain types of fish.

Calcium-PhosphORUS – Ratios and other aspects

Feeding bone to a dog with kidney issues is not recommended in high amounts, because it is a major source of phosphorus, which should be kept low in a kidney diet for dogs for the reasons explained above. But that does not mean that the dog does not need any phosphorus at all. Only the amount of bone should be limited compared to da dog with no kidney problems. Many supplement with calcium carbonate for the calcium part of bone. In order to determine the optimum phosphorus and calcium intake for a dog with impaired kidney function it’s a very good idea to discuss the amounts needed with a vet, who knows about the needs of the dog and it’s overall health situation.

What else?

Adding Vitamin E is also often highly recommended for dogs with kidney problems. Salmon oil is a possible option (Grizzly Salmon oil, for example).


Because in a kidney diet the meats usually don’t come with a lot of fat – which is one reason why those diets are often not so tasty for the dogs – it is also recommended to supplement with high quality natural oils, such as virgin linseed oil or safflower oil, for example. They add energy AS WELL AS flavor.

The digestion of connective tissues is also considered hard work for the kidneys. Therefore feeding ingredients with low amounts of connective tissue is often recommended for dogs with kidney issues. An experienced dietician should be able to steer you in the right direction when choosing meats.
White meats, such as poultry and fish are considered the easier digestible varieties of meat and are therefore also often recommended.

Dogs with kidney problems should not eat table scraps because of the fat content and the uncontrollable amounts of different ingredients.

Dogs with kidney problems should always have access to drinking water.

Canine patients eating a special kidney diet for dogs should be monitored regularly by a vet.


Here is some very interesting info on protein and other factors relevant in a kidney diet

Please note that I am no expert dietician or health expert. This article only represents my own opinion and experience and not medical or nutritional advice. Please, consult a professional if you have a dog with kidney issues.

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