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You’ve seen the commercials and print ads: It seems like every pet food maker is touting meat as a top ingredient. Some even go so far as to eliminate grain completely, advertising super-high levels of protein for dogs or cats. But when it comes to pet food and protein, can there be too much of a good thing? According to the experts: yes.
“There’s no arguing that quality meat is important in dog and cat foods, but too much of commonly-used protein-rich ingredients for long periods of time can have devastating consequences for pets with subclinical kidney disease,” says Dr. Daniel Aja, DVM and director of U.S. professional and veterinary affairs for Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “Just like our diet must be balanced, this is especially important for our pets which rely on us for 100 percent of their nutritional needs.”
Dr. Aja explains that every dog and cat needs the amino acids that are present in proteins. While those amino acids may come from meat, many can also come from vegetables and grains in the diet. Protein is important and necessary to build muscles, organs, vital hormones and enzymes, but excessive levels derived from the animal protein ingredients commonly used in pet foods can lead to elevated phosphorus levels.
“Research shows that excess phosphorous beyond the nutritional requirements of your pet can place unnecessary and harmful stress on your pet’s kidneys,” says Dr. Aja. “Over time, this can accelerate the progression of chronic kidney disease.”
Pet owners feeding their cats and dogs too much phosphorous from common animal protein ingredients may unknowingly contribute to the progression of chronic kidney disease. Considering kidney disease is the No. 1 killer of cats and the No. 2 killer of dogs, it’s an important message for all pet parents.
“The importance of controlled phosphorus levels for pets parallels the importance in human health care and disease prevention,” explains Dr. Aja. “Health care professionals apply the same reasoning to human diets in regard to foods high in cholesterol, fat and sodium.”
Research shows that controlling and moderating levels of dietary phosphorus is important in slowing the progression of chronic kidney disease in dogs and cats. To maintain healthy phosphorus levels, Hill’s – maker of Science Diet, Ideal Balance and Prescription Diet brand pet foods – uses multiple protein sources, both animal and plant-based, in their foods.
“Since signs of kidney disease are often not evident until the disease is very progressed, keeping dietary protein and phosphorus levels in check is a good preventive step every pet owner should take,” advises Dr. Aja.
Since seemingly normal pets can have undetected kidney disease, it’s important to discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian. Dr. Aja says if you see these warning signs of kidney disease, call your veterinarian right away:
1. Increased thirst and urine production
2. Decreased appetite
3. Weight loss
4. Bad breath
5. Vomiting and diarrhea
6. Sore mouth
7. Muscle weakness
8. Lack of energy
9. Decreased grooming habits in cats
When it comes to the pet food you give your pet, a balanced approach is best. Always purchase food from companies with certified veterinary nutritionists on staff. You can call the 1-800 number on a bag of pet food to confirm this information and to ensure your pet food maker is controlling the level of dietary phosphorus in its products.
“Balancing protein and controlling the level of phosphorus in the diet throughout an animal’s adult life is key to optimal nutrition and will benefit pets that have undiagnosed kidney disease,” Dr. Aja says. “Ask your veterinarian for a dietary recommendation based on your pet’s needs. Proper, balanced nutrition is the best form of preventative medicine for your pet.”