If your dog has been diagnosed with kidney disease, you have probably been told by vets and others that s/he needs to eat “low protein”. If so, please read on, because feeding a diet low in protein will not necessarily help a kidney compromised dog, and may even cause further harm depending on the specific foods that are fed.
THE ORIGINS OF THE PROTEIN MYTH
Vets are confused and under-trained on the topic of nutrition generally. Specifically, where protein is concerned, they labor under the same misconceptions that almost everyone does. In a roundabout way, this is partly due to experiments done on dogs in the late 19th century. These experiments were aimed at determining the protein needs of humans, but the vast and obvious physiological differences between canines and humans were not taken into account. The protein needs of dogs are far higher than those of humans, so naturally the dogs that were fed more protein actually did better than the low protein dogs. These experimenters, and others who later used rats as subjects, spuriously extrapolated their findings to the human condition. As a result, the medical profession has been recommending high protein diets ever since. It didn’t hurt that there was money to be made selling not only meat and other animal-based foods, but the drugs and services that were needed to treat the resulting disease. Add to that the stimulating, addictive nature of animal products, and you have a lie that’s never going to die.
Unlike dogs, humans are not biologically adapted to the consumption of animal-based proteins. The human body does not make the enzyme uricase, which allows dogs and other true omnivores and carnivores to safely metabolize the uric acid in meat. Our lack of uricase puts a major strain on our kidneys to do the job of eliminating uric acid. So, when people eat too much protein and chronically overburden their kidneys, even doctors can’t ignore the role that uric acid plays, and they tell kidney patients to keep their protein consumption low.
I strongly suspect that this is why vets erroneously offer this advice to owners of kidney dogs. There’s certainly no evidence anywhere to suggest that simple overconsumption of raw protein is a causal factor in canine kidney disease, nor any indication that feeding a commercially prepared “low protein” diet is sufficient to resolve it.
In fact, it is well-known in the raw feeding community that feeding dogs nothing BUT protein can reverse or greatly improve many cases of kidney disease, as long as said protein is raw. Most people who retain anything approaching objectivity on the topic of dog feeding wholeheartedly recommend some form of meat-based raw feeding for kidney compromised dogs.
In my opinion, however, it is not advisable to feed only protein foods to kidney-diseased dogs, as I will explain below.
But, first we must ask …
WHAT REALLY CAUSES KIDNEY DISEASE IN DOGS?
In short, the consumption of commercial dog foods. The proteins and every other ingredient in most commercial foods are cooked, re-cooked, extruded, preserved and otherwise denatured, all of which renders them extremely difficult for the body to break down. Dogs, like humans, don’t really need protein at all. They/we need amino acids. When meat is cooked, the amino acids become bound together which makes it very difficult for the body to separate and make use of them. That means not very much of the food is going to be utilized for fuel and repair, and more of it will have to be eliminated as waste. The kidneys bear part of this burden, since their function is to filter certain waste products from the blood.
WHY ISN’T AN ALL RAW MEAT DIET APPROPRIATE FOR KIDNEY DOGS?
Simply, because it’s not possible to feed an all raw meat diet without also feeding too much fat, due to the fatty nature of modern agricultural animal products. Fat overconsumption places a great burden on the entire body, and the toxins that are stored in the fat cells of agricultural animals can strain already compromised kidneys. This even applies to meats from grass-fed, free-range or “organic” animals, since pathological obesity is fostered in all agricultural animals. Raw meat diets can help some mild cases of kidney disease, but it is safer and more conservative to feed diets that include only moderate quantities of meat and bones in favor of other easily digestible, high-water foods.
When a dog is already compromised in some way due to the previous diet, we usually want as sharp a departure from those causes as is possible. And that means foods that closely match what we still observe dogs eating in the wild. No wild dog eats commercially produced chicken, turkey, duck, pork or beef every day. If they did, they’d be afflicted with the same health problems that plague domestic dogs. The products available to us on the commercial market are simply not the same as what wild dogs have eaten for millennia. Wild dogs eat extremely lean animals and they utilize a lot of energy to get their food. When they can’t obtain prey, the subsist on plant foods, primarily fruits. This is the model we must replicate if we hope to resolve disease that was caused by doing otherwise.
Going against that natural model is extremely risky, especially for dogs already suffering from disease. This is particularly true if the diet includes oils, supplements and other non-foods, which most commercially prepared raw dog foods do. If you’ve tried feeding your kidney dog an entirely raw meat diet and have seen minimal or no improvement in kidney function, this is very likely the problem, especially if you’re feeding commercially prepared raw foods.
KIDNEY DISEASE AND BLOOD PRESSURE
Kidney disease is said to be closely linked to blood pressure. The medical/veterinary profession claims that kidney disease can cause high blood pressure and vice versa. The truth is, if they are both present it’s not because either of them is truly a cause of the other. They are both EFFECTS of the same underlying causes, and those are all related to diet. When the kidneys are not able to filter the blood properly, too much waste is retained in the blood and the body’s response is to protect itself by sending more fluid into the bloodstream. As the old adage goes, “the solution to pollution is dilution”. The resulting higher pressure can be damaging to the tiny, fragile, complex filtering units in the kidneys called “nephrons”, and this can cause kidney malfunction. Since high blood pressure is a protective device that the body must employ in response to some other deleterious influence, however, it is at best a secondary cause. To get to the bottom of chronic kidney malfunction, we must instead look upstream, to PRIMARY causes. Astoundingly, the medical industry does just the opposite and presumes that the extra fluid in the bloodstream is a mistake that needs to be corrected. That’s why diuretics are often prescribed to both canine and human kidney patients.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to instead try and understand WHY the body is directing so much of its limited fluid reserves to the bloodstream? It’s really not that hard to figure out.
IS IT IMPORTANT TO RESTRICT FOODS HIGH IN PHOSPHORUS?
Owners of kidney dogs are also commonly told to keep phosphorus consumption low. Bones are high in phosphorus, so are regarded to be a “danger” food for kidney dogs, even by some who otherwise advocate raw feeding. The general recommendation originated from studies on dogs where one group was fed a high phosphorus commercial food and the other a low phosphorus commercial food. The low phosphorous group always had better kidney outcomes. Knowing what we know about the sick dog industry’s aversion to raw food, we have to assume the foods used in these experiments were cooked. Cooking renders phosphorus and all minerals toxic to the body, so naturally eating less of it means less strain on kidneys. Raw phosphorus like that in uncooked bones does not burden the kidneys.
In any event, does knowing that some commercial foods cause more damage than others get us any closer to a real solution? No. Once again, there’s an issue of conflicted interests. The veterinary industry’s “studies” are almost always either sponsored outright by a commercial dog food concern or are undermined by the pet food industry’s deep influence over the researchers conducting the studies. Unlike vets and veterinary researchers, dog owners who want their dogs to fully recover from kidney disease are not bound by misplaced loyalty toward any industry.
The vet industry has no motive to perform truly objective studies that compare a proper, nature-based diet to even their ideal commercial kidney-management diet. Who would pay for such a study? When we realize that it’s money, not compassion for dogs and cats, that drives the entire field of veterinary research, we’re rather left having to figure things out on our own.
The bottom line regarding bones is that there is absolutely no evidence to show there is benefit in withholding normal, moderate quantities of raw bone matter from a dog’s diet that also includes raw meat. Bones are essential to the canine diet and provide needed minerals to balance the lack of same in meat. Dogs that are fed meat without bones often experience very runny stools, as well, because bone matter gives substance and bulk to the feces.
WHY NOT GIVE THE BODY NOTHING TO PROTECT ITSELF FROM?
The common denominator in all the misguided recommendations we hear from vets and other sickness profiteers is the biases borne of their deep ties to industry. When we take the time to look closely at the information they base their recommendations on, we can always find some fundamental misunderstanding, such as that it doesn’t matter whether the food used in an experiment is cooked or raw or that when disease is present some microscopic boogeyman is always responsible.
Almost all disease in domestic dogs is caused by mis-feeding, and kidney disease is no exception. The trouble begins when the foods that are fed cause the body to sacrifice function in order to protect itself from further harm. Symptoms are the outward manifestations of these protective measures. Medical practitioners, allopathic and “holistic” alike, seek only to shut these bodily expressions down. It’s rather like tossing dirty dishes and laundry in a closet, instead of just cleaning house.
What those under the trance of medicine don’t understand is that if we stop burdening the body, it will then clean itself and begin functioning like it’s supposed to. People who are doing this for their kidney dogs are having great success reversing kidney disease with dietary optimization ALONE. Many dogs have completely recovered their full renal function after a period of proper feeding. Although the dietary precautions (such as feeding low protein) that are recommended for kidney dogs are largely based on misconception, there is anecdotal evidence that a diet high in plant foods, low in fat and relatively low in animal protein is effective in allowing malfunctioning kidneys to heal. That’s generally the case with all diseases that afflict domestic canines, because it greatly relieves the body from its previous burden of processing difficult, fatty or otherwise largely indigestible foods. The alkaline nature of plant foods, combined with their high water and low toxin content, makes them easy to process, so a good deal of the body’s energy can be directed toward healing. Plant foods and animal foods should always be fed separately, as fully explained in my book.