Westbury Animal Hospital
713.723.3666 · 4917 S. Willow Dr. Houston, Texas 77035 

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Nutritional aspects of the urinary tract system

Dr. Jennifer Garb, DVM

Dr. Emily Gaugh, DVM, MPH

When examining the urinary tract specifically, there is a recurring theme of increasing water intake in animals to aid in management of clinical signs. In this article we are going to summarize the nutritional concerns dealing with chronic kidney disease, cystitis, feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), and urinary blockage. This is meant to be a beginning overview to help inform clients on the important role diets play in their pet’s lives. Let’s work our way down the urinary system starting with the kidneys.


Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is a common concern for older dogs and cats and is a progressive and irreversible condition. The goals for managing these patients are to improve the quality and quantity of life. Nutritional management plays a big part of improving both of these goals. In fact, there is some evidence that dietary changes can prolong survival time.

The kidneys are a vital organ and act as the filter for the body, excreting things no longer needed into urine and retaining vital elements needed for the body. Disease of the kidneys is a progressive decline in urine concentrating ability, and is often termed kidney failure or kidney insufficiency interchangeably. When the kidneys fail over a long time period, they lose their ability to concentrate urine and more water is required to excrete the same amount of toxin. The animal will begin to drink more and more to provide the failing kidneys with enough water. Ultimately, the animal cannot drink enough and toxin levels begin to rise. Weight loss, listlessness, nausea, constipation, and poor appetite become noticeable. It is common for animals, especially cats, to have a long history of excessive water consumption when they finally come to the vet. Dehydration can occur quickly and continuously despite increased drinking, and most patients are unable to replace their water loss without assistance.

As kidneys begin to become insufficient, they are unable to excrete waste products of breaking down proteins. So many clients fear giving protein to their kidney insufficiency pets. The truth of the matter is while protein needs to be limited, more importantly animals should be fed a high quality, easily metabolized protein. Patients who have end stage renal failure and have a severe toxin build-up in their bodies called urea are the ones who need a higher restriction of proteins. This being said, raw food diets are not appropriate for any animal with kidney malfunction. There is not a complete conclusion that restricting protein in early kidney insufficient patients is good or bad. It is encouraged to start limiting protein early on, but too much restriction can lead to poor body condition and muscle loss.

Kidneys are no longer able to maintain regulation over several nutrients, including phosphorus and potassium. In these patients, phosphorus is not well excreted from the body, and levels can become dangerously high. A canned food generally has less phosphorus and is another reason to use wet foods for this disorder. At some levels your veterinarian may add a phosphorus binding agent to your pet’s diet.  Potassium is quickly lost through excessive urination as well as occasional vomiting or anorexia leading to hind limb weakness especially in cats.  However, you should never attempt to supplement this electrolyte on your own.

Urinary Bladder

                There are many issues involving the bladder in dogs and cats ranging from urinary stones, chronic inflammation, cancerous processes, and infections. Usually a pet presents to a veterinarian with a complaint of urinating frequently, or potentially seeing blood in the urine. This is a symptom that warrants further diagnostics to determine the exact cause and treatment can vary greatly depending on the diagnosis.

What may not be known to many is that there is a large population of cats who suffer from chronic inflammation of the bladder. If there is no other secondary complication such as stones or an infection, we call this disorder sterile cystitis. This is also a condition in humans and can be extremely painful. It is believed that stress can play a large role or potentially lifestyle and diet. The most important factor in managing these cats is; you guessed it, increase water consumption!

               

Urethra

                Blockage of the urethra is a medical emergency. There are several different causes of blockages but the biggest ones include urinary stones trying to pass down the urethra or high volumes of sediment. The latter issue is due to build up of debris when pets, usually dogs are not flushing their urinary system frequently. If your pet has been diagnosed with this issue, be sure to walk your dog more frequently, and of course increase water to help decrease the concentration of the urine. Sometimes your veterinarian will need to change your pet’s food to a urinary specialized formula targeting specific stones or to change your pet’s urine pH.

You can lead a horse to water….

Have you heard the phrase you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink? This is not a myth. Animals usually need to be tricked into increasing their water consumption. Hiding water in their food is one alternative. Wet foods are high in moisture, and you can even add more water to canned foods. Don’t want to pay more for the canned foods? Why not let your dogs kibble sit in water for five minutes before offering them the bowl?

Cats will sometimes enjoy drinking from running water than just out of a bowl. Try getting them a fountain or turning on your faucet when you see your cat passing by.  I also suggest filling an ice cube tray with some tuna juice, clam juice, or beef broth and then placing one of the cubes in your pet’s water dish to make it tastier. My personal cat loves drinking water out of the dishes soaking in the sink. While I do not encourage pets to ingest people food, or for you not to finish cleaning your dishes: the point is to be creative.

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