Kidney disease in your pet – what you should know

Just like people, your pet’s kidneys serve many vital roles in their body, including filtering and removing waste in the form of urine. They maintain proper hydration by balancing water and electrolytes, create the hormones responsible for red blood cell production, and help regulate blood pressure. In addition, the kidneys help modify vitamin D so it can be used by the body.

Our pets have two kidneys, one on each side of the abdomen. Unfortunately, as in people, kidney failure can occur when these organs become too damaged to work properly. Kidney failure usually develops over time because of chronic kidney disease, but kidney failure can also happen suddenly from exposure to toxins or other traumas.

Kidney failure is a life-threatening situation. At Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital, our board-certified veterinary specialists are trained to diagnose and treat issues like kidney disease and failure, and our 24/7 emergency department is equipped to handle even the most life-threatening disease process or trauma. If you think your pet is experiencing the signs and symptoms of kidney failure, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

What are the types of kidney failure?

There are two types of kidney failure in pets. Each has different causes, treatments, and outlooks.

  • Chronic Kidney (Renal) Failure – Chronic kidney failure is characterized by the gradual loss of kidney function over a period of weeks, months, or years. Chronic kidney failure is typically caused by degeneration of the kidneys associated with aging. Although most pets are unable to fully recover from chronic kidney failure, this condition can often be successfully managed, allowing pets to enjoy a good quality of life for a number of months or years.
  • Acute Kidney (Renal) Failure – Acute kidney failure is characterized by a suddenly decrease in kidney function over a period of hours or days. This form of kidney failure is typically caused by exposure to toxins or an infection. If diagnosed and treated early, acute kidney failure can often be cured.

What are the signs and symptoms of kidney failure?

If your pet is suffering from kidney failure you may notice one or more of the following signs:

  • Weight loss
  • Nausea, Diarrhea (may contain blood), and/or vomiting (may contain blood)
  • Pale gums
  • Loss of balance, or stumbling
  • Chemical (bad) smell to breath
  • Significant loss of appetite
  • Notable increase (thirsty) or decrease (dehydration) in water consumption
  • Increase or decrease in volume of urine
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Blood in urine
  • Lethargy, depression
  • Seizures

Animals suffering from acute kidney failure may exhibit an arched back or stiff-legged gait, symptoms that their kidneys are causing pain.

What are the causes of kidney disease?

Acute kidney failure develops suddenly, over a matter of days or weeks. It happens in animals of all ages and is usually the result of:

  • Poisons, which are the most common cause of acute renal failure. Antifreeze, toxic plants like lilies, pesticides, cleaning fluids, snake bites, and certain human medications are highly poisonous to your pet’s kidneys. Even a single tablet of ibuprofen can lead to their kidneys shutting down.
  • Trauma, especially involving a broken pelvis or burst bladder.
  • Shock from losing a lot of blood quickly or rapid dehydration; overheating in hot weather, a significant rise in activity, vomiting, and diarrhea can all cause a big dip in fluids.
  • Infection in the kidneys like Leptospirosis (a bacterial infection).
  • Blockages that change the flow of blood into the kidney and the flow of urine out of it (such as in a male cat that can’t pee because of a urethral blockage).
  • Heart failure with low blood pressure, which reduces blood flow to the kidneys.

If diagnosed in time, acute renal failure can often be reversed.

Chronic kidney problems can be harder to treat. Found mostly in middle-aged and older animals, they develop over months and even years. Early symptoms of chronic kidney disease are easily overlooked or dismissed because they are mild in nature.

While the exact causes of chronic kidney disease aren’t always clear, they include:

  • Kidney infections and blockages, which may not result in acute renal failure, but wear down kidney function at a low level for months or years.
  • Other conditions, from high blood pressure to thyroid problems and cancer.
  • Dental disease is a leading cause of chronic kidney failure in older dogs. Bacteria build up on your dog’s teeth and enter the digestive system when eating and drinking. While your dog’s kidneys are designed to filter waste, bacteria can lessen kidney function over time.

How is kidney disease treated?

While damage from acute kidney problems is more easily treated, damage to your pet’s organs from chronic kidney disease is irreversible unless caught early.

Since some damage is irreversible, preventative measures are essential for your pet – see the following section for a discussion on kidney disease prevention.

If kidney disease or kidney failure is diagnosed in your pet, treatment will depend on the severity of the condition. Your veterinarian will begin by addressing issues related to underlying conditions like chemical poisoning, dehydration, or infection.

Your pet’s treatment plan may also include:

    • Medicines that encourage production of urine
    • Fluid therapy via an IV
    • Addition of electrolytes to balance out blood levels
    • Medicine to reduce vomiting
    • Medication to ease gastrointestinal problems
    • Dialysis
    • Recommendations for changes in diet
    • Medicine for anemia
    • Management of blood pressure

How do I prevent kidney disease in my pet?

Many acute cases of the condition can be prevented by keeping pets away from toxic substances like antifreeze and rat poisons, as well as certain foods including raisins, grapes, and some plants. The infectious disease, leptospirosis, can cause kidney disease so it’s important to keep vaccinations up to date.

A balanced, species-appropriate diet will also supply your pet with the fundamental nutrients needed for their body, which will give your pet the best chance of staying healthy. Perform regular health checks on your pet at home and contact your vet promptly if your pet seems unwell, is drinking more or losing weight. Always take them to your vet for an annual health check to ensure any signs of disease can be spotted as soon as possible.

Chronic kidney failure is generally age-related and predetermined by genetics, making it much more difficult to prevent. As kidney disease can be inherited, responsible breeding can play a role in preventing the chronic form of the disease. That said, regular wellness exams twice yearly will help to increase the chances of detecting symptoms early so that treatment can begin before the condition becomes more severe.



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