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When To Feed Your Cat A Low Protein Diet
You probably already know that cats usually need more protein in their diet, and not less.
So, why would we be discussing low protein cat foods? Actually, there are some situations when, for health reasons, a cat might benefit from eating a lower protein diet.
Sometimes a veterinarian might prescribe a low protein cat food if the cat is suffering from kidney or liver disease, or another ailment.
If you need to switch your cat to a low protein cat food, it is important monitor their food intake so you know that they are still getting a healthy and balanced meal.
We have chosen some great low protein cat foods below to help you decide which one might be best to discuss with your vet.
What is the Best Low Protein Cat Food?
Chronic Renal Failure
If your cat has chronic renal failure then your veterinarian might recommend a diet that makes it easier for his kidneys to filter out the waste materials that go through his system. This kind of diet might be based on a low protein/low phosphorus/low salt diet. Electrolyte imbalances can be common with cats who have chronic renal failure so less phosphorus and less salt can help control the imbalances. It is believed that this kind of diet can help slow the progression of chronic renal failure – though there is no cure for it.
Cats in chronic renal failure can have difficulty eating anything because they may be dealing with secretions of stomach acids. Some of the prescription low protein/low phosphorus/low salt foods can be less appealing to cats than commercial foods, too, which makes it even more difficult to get these cats to eat, so you will need to be very patient and keep trying to get your cat to eat the diet that has been prescribed.
A cat with chronic renal failure may or may not eat some of the prescription diets. The prescription diets are important but it’s even more important for your cat to eat something, even if it’s not the prescribed diet. Cats are cats. If your cat doesn’t want to eat the food, he won’t. The most important thing is for your cat to keep eating something and maintain some body weight. Some people will give their cats some human baby food (as long as it doesn’t contain onion or something else that might be harmful to cats). Keep your cat eating.
When you are introducing a new low protein diet, it’s important to do so gradually. Start by adding the new food slowly in small amounts to the old food. If you do this gradually, it can take a week or even a month, depending on how picky your cat is. If you are trying a dry food and your cat doesn’t like it, try the canned version, or the other way around. But do what you need to do to keep your cat eating something. At some point your cat may need an appetite stimulant, so talk to your veterinarian.
There are studies that show feeding cats the low protein/low phosphorus/low salt diet seems to help cats with chronic renal failure and the diet appears to extend the lives of these cats.
It is generally agreed that feeding renal failure diets to dogs and cats with kidney disease improves their quality of live [sic] and may minimize the progression of the disease resulting in a longer life span. Studies that evaluate the effect of dietary changes on quality and quantity of life typically use commercial diets that differ in their composition of protein, phosphorus, sodium and lipids compared to maintenance diets so that positive effects are not attributable to a single component of the diet but rather to a “diet effect”…
The results of a study of cats with naturally occurring stable chronic renal failure fed a diet restricted in phosphorus and protein compared to cats with CKD fed a maintenance diet reported a median survival of 633 days for 29 cats fed the renal diet compared to 264 days for 21 cats fed a regular diet. The groups were not randomly determined but based on cat & owners willingness to change to the renal diet.
Note that not every veterinary expert is convinced that low protein diets benefit cats with chronic renal failure. There is some belief that cats with chronic renal failure actually benefit more from these diets because they are low in phosphorus and not because they are low in protein. Some experts believe that a low protein diet might cause a cat – even a cat with chronic renal failure – to experience some muscle wasting and weakness, which can be symptoms found in cats with chronic renal failure. According to this point of view, it is possible that feeding a cat a very high quality protein that produces little waste for the kidneys to eliminate might be more beneficial than simply lowering the amount of protein you feed your cat. This topic is currently being debated by veterinary nutritionists.
- Dietary Management of Chronic Renal Failure in Cats – World Small Animal Veterinary Association, World Congress, Vancouver, 2001
- Effects of dietary protein and calorie restriction in clinically normal cats and in cats with surgically induced chronic renal failure – Abstract, Adams LG, Polzin DJ, Osborne CA, O’Brien TD, PubMed
- Kidney Disease in Older Cats – by Jean Hofve, DVM, Little Big Cat Note: Scroll to Diet: The Protein Controversy
- Protein and calorie effects on progression of induced chronic renal failure in cats – Abstract, Finco DR, Brown SA, Brown CA, Crowell WA, Sunvold G, Cooper TL, PubMed
If you are working with your veterinarian to manage your cat’s chronic renal failure, you can talk to him or her about which approach might be better for your cat.
Common early signs of chronic renal failure include:
- Increased thirst and water consumption
- Increased urination
- Weight loss
- Decrease in appetite
- Occasional vomiting in some cats
As you can see, these are general symptoms that might fit many illnesses. It is important to have your cat seen by a veterinarian so a more precise diagnosis can be made.
Chronic renal disease mainly affects middle aged and older cats. It cannot be cured but it can be slowed and managed so your cat can have a good quality of life. Many cats today live three years or longer after they are diagnosed. Note that this refers to chronic renal failure. Acute renal failure, which may occur if a cat is poisoned or from some other fast-acting cause, can often be reversed, and a cat can make a full recovery if the cat is diagnosed quickly and treated immediately.
Best Commercial Low Protein Cat Food
Most low protein diets for cats require a veterinary prescription for purchase. However, Evanger’s does offer a targeted product that gets good customer reviews and doesn’t require a visit to the vet.
Their Low-Fat Vegetarian Canned Dinner Cat Food offers benefits that make it great for kittens, adults and senior cats alike. In it you’ll find excellent sources of fiber. Given the lack of meat this food lends well to consumers looking for minimal amounts of protein. In addition, this food is great for elimination diets with few ingredients as it is also devoid of corn, wheat and soy.
Best Prescription Low Protein/Low Phosphorus/Low Salt Cat Foods
Some of the cat foods often prescribed by veterinarians for cats with chronic renal failure and other health conditions include:
- Hill’s Prescription Diet Feline k/d for the Nutritional Management of Cats with Kidney Disease (dry)
- Hill’s Prescription Diet Feline k/d with Chicken for the Nutritional Management of Cats with Kidney Disease (canned)
- Purina NF Kidney Function Brand™ FORMULA (canned and dry)
- Hi-Tor Canned Neo-Diet Feline Canned Kidney Diet (Restricted protein level to reduce the strain on the kidneys, Calories are derived from high quality fats and carbohydrates, Reduced levels of sodium and phosphorus, Highly palatable in order to ensure adequate consumption and caloric intake)
There are a few other diets and some supplements for cats with kidney disease, so talk to your vet.
Note that these formulas are low protein diets. If you and your vet decide to try a high quality protein diet for your cat based on newer research, you may have to talk to a veterinary nutritionist or search a little more to come up with the right diet for your cat.
Protein and Kidney Disease
It is probably worth repeating here that protein does not cause kidney disease in cats or other animals. Diets high in protein are usually quite healthy for cats and dogs unless there is some health issue that would make it difficult for the kidneys to handle the extra protein. Even in pets with some mild kidney issues, there is usually no need to lower the amount of protein in the diet very much. What is important to keep in mind is that it is easier for a cat’s kidneys to remove waste from high quality animal protein than from lower quality sources of protein and from plant sources of protein. The better the protein sources, the less waste there is for the kidneys to remove, so the less work they have to do.
Kidney disease and renal failure is a complicated disease and one which experts do not always agree on with regard to diet. The low protein/low phosphorus/low salt diet can be effective and helps many cats live longer after they have been diagnosed with chronic renal failure. However, these diets tend to be unappetizing and many cats don’t want to eat these prescription foods – a problem which can lead to weight loss and decline. You may want to talk to your veterinarian about a different approach to feeding your cat with chronic renal failure, based on recent research, using a high quality protein diet that produces less waste for the kidneys to eliminate from the body.