The kidneys are complex organs that serve many important purposes, including maintaining blood pH and electrolytes, releasing enzymes that assist bodily functions, and filtering waste from the blood in the form of urine. Like humans, animals can survive with one – but not no – functioning kidney.
When the kidneys are not functioning correctly, it can lead to flow-on effects around the body.
What is kidney disease?
Sometimes referred to as kidney failure, renal failure or renal insufficiency, kidney disease is a broad term for stages of disfunction in the renal system.
Gradual degeneration of kidney function over a period of months or years is called chronic kidney disease or chronic kidney failure and is more common in older animals, although it can present in younger animals as a congenital issue.
Unfortunately there is no cure for chronic kidney failure, but lifestyle or medical changes can manage the disease, giving your cat or dog the best quality of life.
When the condition and functionality of the kidneys fails suddenly in an otherwise healthy animal, this is known as acute renal failure. This can happen over a period of days or weeks and is commonly the result of serious infection (such as an untreated urinary treat infection); decreased blood flow to the kidneys (through conditions like dehydration, heatstroke or injury); or exposure to toxins the body cannot break down (such as antifreeze, human medications or rat poison).
Acute renal failure is often fatal. However, if a diagnosis is made early and treated aggressively, the pet may recover.
What are the symptoms of kidney disease?
- Signs between chronic and acute kidney disease are similar; the main difference is the timespan in which they appear:
- Frequent drinking and urination
- Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
As the condition progresses, these signs will become more severe and may escalate:
- Dehydration and decreased urination
- Blood present in urine
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Trouble regulating body temperature
- Gastric ulcers
Some factors can mean your pet is predisposed to or has a higher chance of developing kidney disease, such as urinary tract infections (UTI’s), urinary blockages, or kidney or bladder stones.
How can kidney disease be prevented?
These symptoms typically do not show until the disease has progressed some way. This means it is very important to get routine vet checks for your furry friend regularly, and especially if they develop such symptoms.
Your vet may ask about your pet’s lifestyle, how much exercise they get, what they eat and how long you have noticed anything out of the ordinary. As well as a physical exam, your vet may run a complete blood count (CBC) to check how well the kidneys are filtering waste products from the blood. They may also try to get a urine sample to check the concentration and for the presence of blood and other signs of infection.
How is kidney disease treated?
Once a diagnosis is made through blood, urine or other tests, immediate treatment may involve intravenous fluid therapy (IVFT) to flush the body of toxins, and medications as deemed appropriate by your vet. Supportive medications such as antiemetics (anti-nausea) may be prescribed to keep your pet comfortable and improve their appetite.
Diet also forms an important part of the treatment regime for kidney-affected animals. We can ease the workload on the kidneys with hydration and offering foods that are lower in nutrients such as protein, calcium, sodium and phosphorus.
Tests used to diagnose kidney disease in the first place will need to be repeated to track your pet’s progress and recovery. In the case of acute kidney failure, we will also do our best to identify the cause to minimise the chances of episodes recurring.
What’s next for my pet if they have kidney disease?
In some cases, it is impossible to know what causes kidney disease in an individual. However, depending on the stage of the disease and your pet’s individual needs, your vet will customise a treatment plan best suited to your pet’s situation.