The kidneys play a vital role by filtering blood and removing waste products from the body’s circulation. They also regulate certain hormones, blood volume and water composition, blood sugar, and blood pressure. When kidney function is impaired, waste products start to accumulate in the body and cause illness.

Kidney failure can result from a slow deterioration of kidney function and consequently the symptoms may not be obvious until it’s too late to treat effectively. Kidneys will often compensate losses of functionality over an extended period, but the disease can be fatal.

Causes of the disease

The two types of kidney disease are chronic and acute, with the latter sometimes being caused by a change that affects the ability of an animal’s body to supply blood to the kidneys. Infections, viruses, and toxins can also cause acute kidney disease. This could occur, for example, when an animal consumes a toxic substance such as a dangerously large quantity of chocolate.

When acute kidney disease causes kidney damage, chronic kidney disease can be a consequence. Chronic kidney disease can also be caused by high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases. Kidney failure can be caused by urinary blockage, lymphoma and some prescription medications.

Dogs and cats of any age can suffer from chronic kidney disease, however it is more commonly found in older animals. In dogs the average age of diagnosis is seven years, and in cats it is nine years.  It is advisable not to breed animals that have developed chronic kidney disease.

Breed can also be relevant, with some having an increased risk of developing kidney disease at a younger age. Dog breeds prone to kidney disease include Samoyed, Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, and English Cocker Spaniel. Cat breeds include Persian, Himalayan and exotic long and short hair.

What are the symptoms?

The first sign that an animal has kidney disease is usually an increased need to urinate and an increased thirst, which may be obvious with acute kidney disease but not so obvious with chronic disease due to it occurring more slowly. It may lead to your pet being “caught short” and soiling in the home. There may also be blood in their urine.

Your pet may look unwell due to the accumulation of waste products in their body and this can also contribute to bad breath. Mouth ulcers and drooling also commonly occur.

Other signs can include weight loss, depression and listlessness. Reduced appetite is a symptom of both acute and chronic kidney disease, and chronic disease can lead to a reduction in weight.

Diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting and blindness can also be signs that animals are suffering with the disease and in the advanced stages seizures and coma can occur. Remember that symptoms can vary and not all will necessarily be observed in very animal.

Early diagnosis is important in treating the disease

Mild kidney failure can sometimes be treated with dietary changes and medications at home. Reducing workload on the kidneys is important, and a diet with lower levels of protein, phosphorous and sodium may be prescribed. Diets with higher levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids) and potassium, have been shown to be beneficial to the kidneys. It is important that anything prescribed by your vet is followed precisely.

If your pet has high blood pressure, anti-hypertensives may be prescribed by your vet. Medications to stimulate the production of red blood cells to increase oxygen in the tissues, may also be recommended. Sometimes medications to treat clinical signs such as nausea may also be recommended.

Hospitalisation will be required for more serious cases. Your vet would order a complete blood profile, including a chemical profile, blood count, and a urinalysis, and take the appropriate steps to stabilise your pet. This would involve medication, fluids intravenously and nutritional support.

It is important that owners take prompt action if they think their pet has kidney disease because the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. If your pet has been diagnosed with chronic kidney failure it will require more frequent check-ups and monitoring due to the progressive nature of the disease. Ongoing adjustments to medications or diet may be necessary.

Can it be prevented?

There is no known way to reverse or cure kidney failure however its progress can be slowed by treating and managing the symptoms and the contributory factors. Taking a sensible approach to your pet’s health can help to reduce the chances of kidney failure and diet is an important component.

It’s essential that your pet always has access to fresh, cool water. A balanced and good quality diet is also required. There are scientifically prepared diets designed to reduce kidney disease and these are particularly important for seniors. We can provide advice on an appropriately formulated diet for your pet.

Be careful to prevent your pet from being exposed to toxins, such as insect repellents, baits, fertilisers, and weed killers. Also, some plants such as oleander, lilies and daffodils are poisonous. If your pet appears unwell, don’t delay in seeking veterinary treatment. Failure to get help immediately could be deadly.

Seek veterinary assistance immediately if you suspect something’s wrong

If you have any concerns about your pet’s health, or you suspect that it could be suffering from kidney disease, don’t hesitate to contact us. After a thorough assessment we will discuss treatment options and your pet’s prognosis. This will depend largely on the stage of the disease’s progress and its severity. The best way to manage this disease is to carefully follow the treatment your veterinarian prescribes.