Diets for Special Health Needs

Categories:dog info

B-Naturals Newsletter – February 2009

Lew Olson, PhD Natural Health

Some health conditions may call for changes in the diet for your dog. While there are many commercial prescription diets for some health conditions, you can prepare fresh food diets at home.  A fresh food diet can provide a variety of foods that can be helpful in insuring the best nutrition and help keep the fussiest dog’s appetite up so he will continue eating.

Renal Problems

Kidney problems can cover a wide variety of issues. Most health professionals will tell you to reduce protein when renal values are elevated, but in reality, it is the level of phosphorus that needs to be reduced. This means familiarizing yourself with the phosphorus values of different foods. It can also mean increasing fat to add calories. But for the most part, we don’t start a special diet until the values of BUN reach 80, and the creatinine is over 2. And it is important to run tests to try to find out the source of the problem. This would include a blood titer for leptospirosis, blood test for tick borne diseases, a sterile urine culture (long term urinary tract infections can cause kidney problems) and ruling out Cushing’s disease or Addison’s disease. Occasionally I see websites offering herbal and other ‘cures’ for renal disease. Please disregard these.  Always get thorough testing done to find out what mode of treatment will be most successful.

For more information on kidney diets and renal information, check out Mary Straus’s excellent website at this link:

Recipes on homemade diets for renal problems can be found at this link:

A good list to join to learn more about kidney diets is on the K9Kidney Yahoo Group:

Liver Problems

Liver issues can run the gambit.  They can be caused from insult from poisons to congenital issues such as shunt disorders to the liver reacting to other physical issues. Often veterinarians will recommend protein reduction, but generally this is only needed in shunt disorders, or any other problem that causes ammonia leakage in the bloodstream. Ammonia leakage calls for diets with no red meat or organ meats, and in severe cases, even poultry will not be tolerated. But in other liver problems, proteins are fine and necessary for the liver to regenerate and function. The bigger issue is fat.  Part of the liver’s job is to process fats and when it is compromised, this can become difficult. This can cause nausea and discomfort for your dog. Reducing fat means avoiding the yolks of eggs, using low fat or non fat yogurt or cottage cheese and using lean meats and removing the skin from poultry. I do have recipes for dogs with liver problems, and these were developed for dogs with shunt issues. If your dog does not have ammonia leakage in the blood stream, you can add red meat. The recipes and more information are found here:


Fresh food diets can offer more nutrition than processed, commercial dog foods, and the ingredients can be combined for food choices your dog prefers. Often dogs with cancer may have nausea, so rotating food selections can help when their appetite is lacking. Research has shown high sugar foods (carbohydrates) such as grains, fruits and starchy vegetables (potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes, for example) give cancer cells energy. Homemade diets can be prepared that avoid these ingredients. Also important are high doses of omega 3 fatty acids (animal based sources such as fish, salmon, menhaden or herring oil capsules), along with antioxidants. For more information and recipes, read this article:


Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes angry and inflamed. When this happens, dogs have difficulty processing fats in the diet. The pancreas produces too many digestive juices which creates pain and nausea for the dog. Typical symptoms are refusing to eat, arched back and vomiting. Pancreatitis is more about a symptom and reaction to either a disease process in the body or to a drug. Several conditions can create pancreatitis, including diabetes, Cushing’s disease, Hypothyroidism and certain drugs such as steroids, seizure medications and even NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) use. As with kidney problems, it is always important to run tests and blood work to try and find the source of the problem. In the meantime, feeding low fat diets is important for recovery. For more information on pancreatitis and diets read this article:

Heart Problems

Heart issues cover a wide swath of problems. Dogs can be born with heart defects (murmurs, sub aortic stenosis, septal defects) or heart issues such as cardiomyopathy can develop later in life. For the most part, we don’t change diets for dogs with heart problems.  Both home cooked and raw diets are naturally low in sodium. Commercial pet foods do use sodium for preservatives, but even at that, generally salt isn’t an issue for dogs with heart disease unless they are on diuretics, such as lasix. Good quality, high bioavailable protein is important for heart health. Meat is important for this, as it contains two heart friendly amino acids, l-carnitine and l-taurine. For further information and recipes to support heart issues:

Urinary Crystals

Crystals are found in the urine and can form stones in the bladder. Stones are caused by several different types of crystals.  Each of them takes a different approach in treatment and diet. The most common are struvite, calcium oxalate and purine crystals.

Struvite crystals are most often caused by urinary tract infections. Bacteria create an alkaline environment which causes struvites to grow and flourish. Treating the urinary tract infection will cause the struvites to go away. The best way to treat them is to have your veterinarian do a sterile urine culture. This will be cultured at a laboratory, which will name the bacteria and also tell which antibiotic(s) will be the most effective. Using the correct antibiotic for at least a month and then retesting ten days off the antibiotic should take care of this problem. No diet change is needed nor will help.

Calcium oxalate crystals are often a genetic problem caused by a lack of an enzyme to process oxalates. Diet change is needed to help prevent these. Leslie Bean has developed a guideline for recipes and supplements here:

Purine crystals are another genetic problem. Again, a diet change is needed with recipes low in purines. This would mean a diet about 50% of vegetables, and avoiding red meat, wild game, organ meat and oily seafood (canned fish and shellfish). Safer animal proteins include chicken, eggs, pork, dairy (yogurt and cottage cheese), rabbit and duck. If purine crystal amounts remain high, protein may need to be reduced to a third of the diet. For technical information on uric acid and purines in dogs:

In each of these conditions, the dog needs to be fed a moist diet and have water available around the clock. Hydration helps to flush crystals. The dog needs to have plenty of opportunities to urinate. Holding urine only causes crystals to become more numerous. Never allow your dog to hold their urine during the day.

Conditions Requiring Low Sugar (Glycemic) Diets

Sugars are thought to contribute to arthritis pain and inflammation, feed cancer cells, and help yeast to grow and aggravate some alle
rgic reactions. Dogs with these conditions need to avoid grains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, green peas and carrots. These dogs would do well on a raw diet, or a home cooked diet of about 75% animal protein and 25% low glycemic vegetables.

Low Fat, Low Glycemic Diets

Some conditions require low sugar, but also benefit by reduced fat. These would include epilepsy (for dogs using prescription drugs to reduce seizure incidence), diabetes, Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. All of these are prone to pancreatitis, so a reduced fat diet will help prevent this. And low sugar diets will also help each of these conditions.

For more details on the low glycemic diets, and also low fat, low glycemic diets, with details on each of the health conditions above you can read this article:

I hope this article and the resource links will come in handy to check recipes and explanations of these health conditions and special diets. I continue to research new information and develop new diets.

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