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Holistic Approaches to Chronic Kidney Disease

How pet owners can support their companions struggling with this common but devastating disease

Environmental toxins. Processed food. Vaccinations. Longer lifespan.


Veterinarians have many theories about why so many cats and dogs today suffer from chronic kidney disease and renal failure. Some implicate life in the modern world with its commercial foods, vaccinations, pollution, and sedentary lifestyle, while others attribute advances in nutritional science and vaccinations to longer life spans in pets, and say diseases like kidney failure and cancer happen naturally in older animals.


The truth is, no validated research proves that any environmental factors cause kidney disease, but many holistic veterinarians feel strongly—based on what they see in their practices–that pets develop kidney disease when they stray too far from the life they were designed to live. In other words, a holistic perspective suggests that a pet’s lifestyle could contribute to kidney disease, and lifestyle alterations, even in the advanced stages of renal failure, might help pets feel better, live longer, and enjoy a higher quality of life.


Of course, chronic disease is a problem for a veterinarian to address. Pet owners and retailers must take their lead from a qualified veterinarian’s guidance. “When you are dealing with a serious illness like chronic renal failure, you need to be working with a veterinarian,” said Dr. Jeff Feinman, VMD, CVH, a certified veterinary homeopath, president of the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (www.theavh.org), and practicing holistic veterinarian in Weston, Connecticut, who also offers consultations through his HomeVet website (www.homevet.com/). “A homeopathic vet can provide remedies to individual cases. But pet owners can support this work with supplements, diet, and lifestyle changes.”


Pet stores can also support these efforts by providing healthy food choices, the right supplements, lifestyle advice, and books on holistic health care that can help give pet owners direction when they face health issues in their pets. Here’s what you should know.


All About the Food

One of the first things any veterinarian—conventional or holistic—will advise for pets with kidney disease is a change in diet. Some vets recommend prescription diets, while others recommend home-cooked or raw diets, but a holistic approach involves stepping back and looking at how a pet eats and lives.


“Pets need exercise, fresh air, sunshine, and food they are genetically adapted to eat,” said V. Smitha, DVM, Ph.D., Research Scientist for Wysong Corporation in Midland, Michigan. “When people and animals live lives and eat foods for which they are not genetically adapted, it is a bane to health. For example, pets may do fine on heat-processed foods for a time, but when the animal’s adaptive reserves are exhausted, degenerative conditions such as chronic renal disease can set in.”

While some pets do well on a prescription food (and some holistically oriented pet food companies also make prescription foods), not every pet will eat the prescription food the vet recommends.


“The prescription diet for pets willing to eat them are just fine, but many times, the pets refuse to eat them after a couple of days and the owner starts giving them anything at all, no matter how high-fat and unhealthy, just to get them to eat,” said pet nutritionist Susan Davis, CCN, of Dana Point, California, who works with a holistic vet to design nutritionally sound diets for pets and advises people about managing chronic renal failure and other diseases holistically through her website Ask Ariel (www.askariel.com).


Dr. Feinman suggests pet owners include fresh, human-quality foods for pets like chicken, beef, and fish. “Raw food is great because of the natural enzymes but it isn’t as palatable as lightly cooked meat, which might appeal more to a very ill pet,” said Dr. Feinman. Books on feeding pets home-cooked diets can help pet owners formulate the right combination of nutrients. Pet owners might also try commercial frozen raw diets, which are pre-formulated to be complete and balanced. “There are many levels of quality in food for pets, from starvation all the way up to fresh hunted prey. If you can move your pet’s diet quality up on the scale, you will be helping your pet to handle the disease better,” said Dr. Feinman.


Dr. Smitha believes that chronic renal failure is largely a result of feeding pets as we would never feed ourselves. “A total revision in pet feeding is in order for dealing with chronic renal disease and like conditions, or they will continue or increase,” said Dr. Smitha. “The manufacturer can help educate the retailer about how to feed pets in the best way.”


Supplemental Support

While pet owners should consult a homeopathic or other qualified holistic veterinarian if they are interested in individually formulated homeopathic or herbal remedies, a few companies make kidney-care and urinary-support herbal, nutraceutical, or homeopathic formulas pet owners can give to their pets at home. These formulas can help when pets show early signs of kidney problems such as frequent urinary tract problems, and may also support the body in later stages of kidney disease.


Dr. Smitha recommends enzyme supplements, probiotics, and essential fatty acids, as well as taurine, which the kidneys contain and which plays an important role in kidney health. Herbal formulas may help maximize kidney function, including those containing diuretics like carrot, dandelion, and sesame seed; antioxidants like blueberries and lactoferrin; anti-inflammatories like rosemary and sage extracts, wheat grass, and barley grass; anti-microbials like garlic and uva ursi to help prevent secondary bacterial complications; desiccated sea plankton with electrolytes to help kidneys function better; and chlorella which could speed healing of damaged kidney tissue.


“The solution, however, is not include or exclude a specific ingredient or product,” emphasized Dr. Smitha. “Buzzwords and nutritional lore pervade the pet food and supplement industry. For any product you offer, examine each company’s credentials and educate yourselves about what the food or supplement contains. The pet store owner is in the perfect position to cut through the hype,” said Dr. Smitha. “With knowledge, you can help restore sanity to the market, and genuine health to pets.”


Preventive Strategies

“As a holistic vet, I always have to emphasize that the very best way to treat kidney disease is to prevent it,” said Dr. Feinman. While pet owners can’t always tell the future or prevent diseases to which pets are genetically predisposed, certain basic practices and healthy habits might help ward of kidney problems in the future.


“Kidney problems are a sign of a serious, chronic imbalance and typically this has been a low-grade imbalance in the pet for years before the pet owner notices something is really wrong,” said Dr. Feinman. “There is good evidence that pets with lower urinary tract infections and other urinary problems might be predisposed to this kind of imbalance, and pet owners can take steps to correct the imbalance before it ever develops into full-blown kidney disease.”


Cats and dogs with any sign of kidney issues may benefit from a better food, targeted supplements, moderate exercise, and a low-stress lifestyle before kidney disease ever develops. Dr. Smitha urges retailers to educate themselves about the foods, supplements, and lifestyle issues that can really make a difference both in preventing and in managing chronic renal disease. “Education is the key,” said Dr. Smitha. “People don’t always know what is best for their pets, and store owners have a responsibility when people come to them for guidance. We believe ‘business as usual’ caused this disease in the first place, but the retailer with the right knowledge and information for customers can help turn that around by providing an array of scientifically-based natural foods, well-researched supplements, resources, and understanding.”


“We used to think kidney disease was a cause for euthanasia, but now we know that pets with kidney disease can live happily, feeling good, sometimes for years with the right management,” said Davis. When pet stores can contribute to that management by providing helpful products, services, and information, clients will feel supported in a meaningful way.