Why low protein diets for kidney disease makes no sense
It can take years working as a veterinarian to gain enough guts and confidence to go against the status quo sometimes.
Over my 27 years in practice, I have observed and treated many aging dogs diagnosed with kidney disease or are on the cusp of it. The conventional recommendation is to put such dogs on a special low-protein diet.
When I was a young vet, I too followed this standard practice. I saw dogs with kidney disease rarely live for more than a couple of years. They would wither away, becoming thin and weak.
I was taught that this was a typical progression of kidney disease and that a low-protein diet was necessary to reduce the levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, the by-products of protein metabolism.
The more protein that is consumed, the higher the levels of BUN and creatinine in the blood, which are the prime indicators of kidney disease in dogs.
In the mid 90’s I started seeing some of my clients feeding raw and cooked natural food to their dogs. To me, this diet made much more sense than a bag of kibble made of questionable ingredients that often sat on warehouse shelves for months and maybe years before it is eaten.
Around this time, a few research studies were released showing that low-protein diets were contraindicated for cats with kidney disease. This is one of the most common conditions treated in feline veterinary medicine.
It made complete sense to me because depriving cats, who are true carnivores, of protein and giving them grain-based diet was no different than feeding donkeys meat!
My own cat, Mina, was diagnosed with kidney disease at the age of 15 and she did incredibly well on a raw, high-quality protein diet for six more years. She was 21 years old when we finally had to say goodbye. She never got to the point of being thin and muscle wasted.
Thanks to Mina and other cats, I dared to introduce a raw and cooked meat diet with bones and vegetables to dogs against the recommendation of diet companies that continue suggesting low-protein kibble.
More than 15 years later I have seen and treated many patients with kidney disease. I can now say with confidence that dogs on a high-protein raw or cooked diet do much better than dogs on low-protein kibble.
Some of you may ask, where is the research? Where are the facts? I am a busy vet and, unfortunately, do not have time to spend on studies, especially when the results are clinically evident. My findings may not be enough for some people with dogs suffering from kidney disease to switch to a raw or cooked diet, but others may trust their common sense.
When you think about it, one of the most important parts of treating and preventing kidney disease is maintaining proper hydration. Kibble is dehydrated, hence, it is much harder on the kidneys.
In the hierarchy of importance, providing the body with the essential building blocks to function, such as protein is much more vital than reducing the protein levels.
Starving a dog off protein leads to general weakness and faster disease progression.
In fact, dogs with early to moderate kidney disease appear to stabilize when they are fed a raw diet and are provided with wholesome, all-natural supplements.
Weakened kidneys lose vitamins and minerals more readily and supplementing all-natural minerals and whole food based vitamins appears to make a clear difference.
I also suggest that you give your dog non-dairy hypoallergenic probiotics.
The only merit of reducing the level of protein in kidney disease is when it is in the very late stages when a patient is just a few weeks away from the end of life.
Other than that I suggest you stay away from low-protein diets. Your dog will have much greater chance of living a happy and full-length life.
For more information on treatment of kidney disease, click here.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM