Have you ever watched your pet eat its meal and thought, “Wow, did they even taste it?” Though some pets require more energy than others, it is important to know your pet’s normal eating and drinking habits so you are more likely to detect any dietary abnormalities. Being familiar with your pet’s standard schedule of urination and defecation is also important, as any continuous irregular activity could be a sign of an illness.
One of the most common ailments in dogs and cats is kidney (renal) disease, a broad term that applies to any disease process that leaves the kidneys unable to effectively filter toxins out of the blood and maintain water balance in the body. In acute kidney disease, signs can occur quickly and can be very severe, while chronic renal issues include non-specific signs and the disease develops slowly.
Dr. Johanna Heseltine, clinical assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains how being familiar with your pet’s normal diet can come in handy. “In the early stages of kidney disease there are often no clinical signs. The earliest clinical signs of kidney disease are non-specific and often include increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite, and decreased energy levels,” she said. “As the kidneys begin to fail and toxins build up in the bloodstream, other signs can develop, such as vomiting and loss of appetite.”
So what exactly causes kidney disease? According to Heseltine, there are many sources of renal issues. “Causes of acute (sudden onset) kidney injury include toxins (like lilies in cats and grapes in dogs), certain infections (such as bacterial urinary tract infections that spread to the kidneys or leptospirosis), and underlying health problems (like high blood calcium levels or shock),” Heseltine said. “In many patients with chronic (long-standing) kidney disease, the underlying cause cannot be determined.”
Although older pets are especially affected by kidney disease, dogs and cats at any age are susceptible to renal issues. Blood and urine tests are used by veterinarians to determine if there is a kidney infection present and what the primary cause might be. “When possible, we treat the underlying cause,” explained Heseltine. “For example, if there is a kidney infection, an appropriate antibiotic is administered. It is important that patients with kidney disease stay well-hydrated, so some patients require IV fluids. If needed, we give medications to control nausea and vomiting,” she continued. “Some patients with chronic kidney disease benefit from being fed a prescription diet designed for pets with kidney disease. Other therapies are tailored to the individual patient’s needs.”
So without treatment for kidney disease, can a dog or cat suffer from complete kidney failure? According to Heseltine, the answer is yes. Kidney failure can occur in both acute and chronic kidney disease, depending on the severity of the case. Heseltine emphasizes the importance of the kidneys in the body and explains that a lack of filtration can lead to deadly consequences. “The kidneys have many important roles, including filtering toxins from the body. When the kidneys cannot filter adequately, the toxins build up in the bloodstream and make the pet sick,” she said. “We assess this by measuring urea and creatinine concentrations in their blood. These increased lab values do not occur until approximately 75 percent of kidney function has been lost. Patient outcome depends on how high the lab values are, how sick the pet is, whether the underlying kidney disease can be treated, and how quickly the kidney damage is progressing,” she continued. “Some patients with chronic kidney disease live for many years, while for other patients, decisions about quality of life have to be made.”
Though kidney disease is fairly common in dogs and cats, there are ways pet owners can help prevent renal issues. Since many acute kidney disease cases are caused by toxic substances, be sure to keep poisons and pesticides away from your furry friends, as well as any specific foods or plants that can cause harm. Feeding a balanced diet is always important, but consider looking into specialized pet food that aids in preventing kidney disease. Lastly, remember to take note of your pet’s normal behavior so you are more likely to notice even the slightest change in diet, urination or defecation. Make an appointment with your local veterinarian if you notice a change in behavior that lasts several days.
Although pets of all ages are susceptible to kidney disease, older pets are at an even higher risk. By monitoring your pet’s behavior and attending regular veterinary check-ups, you can help prevent kidney disease and preserve your pet’s quality of life.