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C2011-06

Dear Christopher Cat

When Buffy, my 10-year-old male cat, was diagnosed with kidney failure, his veterinarian recommended a low-protein diet. Unfortunately, Buffy did not live long after the diagnosis.

Why do male cats develop kidney problems? Does protein in the food cause kidney failure? Does cat food contain more protein than dog food?

Christopher Responds

I am very sorry for your loss. Sadly, both male and female cats develop kidney failure, also called renal failure.

By the time most cats are diagnosed, the precise cause cannot be identified. The many factors that contribute to renal failure include:

  • a genetic predisposition;
  • kidney infection, which may result from infection in the gums or elsewhere;
  • inflammatory disease, such as FIP, feline infectious peritonitis;
  • kidney stones;
  • cancer, such as lymphosarcoma;
  • toxins, from lilies to antifreeze;
  • a side effect of some drugs;
  • dehydration or shock that decreases the supply of blood and oxygen to the kidneys;
  • and even old age, because organs simply wear out.

You’ll note the list does not include dietary protein, because protein does not cause kidney failure. Cats require more protein than dogs, so their foods contain higher levels of the nutrient.

Cats diagnosed with renal failure are fed a low-protein diet so their kidneys, which process protein, don’t have to work as hard. Moreover, a low-protein diet minimizes the excretion of protein in the urine, a condition that can worsen kidney disease.

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