To help you understand kidney disease in dogs, I have put together a list of 6 questions and answers I hope will give you some of the clarity you have been seeking.
Kidney disease in older dogs is very common, so it’s a good idea to learn as much as we can should we, or should I say our dog, ever be faced with it.
I am confident your vet will explain every step to you, but it might make you feel a little better to go in there with some insight into what’s happening to your dog.
In this first post we’ll gain an understanding of the terms you’ll be hearing, talk about the job the kidneys actually do, and the two types of kidney failure.
1)What is kidney disease?
Chronic kidney disease (CKD), Chronic renal disease (CRD), Chronic renal failure, and Chronic renal insufficiency are all the same condition
*The kidneys are damaged but working, just not as well as they should be
*The disease has been present for months, maybe even years
*The onset may be very slow, with no obvious signs, but your dog just isn’t feeling well
Kidney failure/Renal failure
*The most severe stage of CKD
Acute kidney injury (AKI), Acute kidney disease (AKD), Acute Kidney/Renal Failure (ARF)
*Kidney problems came on very quickly
The cause typically determines whether the disease is acute or chronic. More about that later.
2)Were you aware of what an important job the kidneys do? I wasn’t!
- The kidneys filter waste from the blood, the waste is removed with water and becomes urine.
- Waste is made up of broken food, old cells, toxins, poisons and drugs used for treatment of diseases.
- Some waste products like creatinine and urea nitrogen can be measured in the blood, but many can’t. Red has kidney disease, and I know my vet is always monitoring those numbers among other things.
- The kidneys regulate the amount of water in the blood by excreting the extra, or retaining some to prevent dehydration.
- They help control blood pressure by saving or eliminating sodium.
- They help regulate calcium and vitamin D.
- The kidneys manufacture a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells.
- Sustain phosphorous levels.
Because the kidneys have so many functions, when the kidneys are not working normally, there are many signs you will see in your dog.
3)What is the structure of the kidneys?
Each kidney contains thousands of nephrons. In a young dog, not all nephrons are working all the time – some are held in reserve. As your dog ages, or if the kidneys are damaged, some nephrons die and those in reserve take their place.
Eventually the reserve will be gone, so as the disease progresses, that’s when your dog will start showing signs.
Because of the reserved nephrons, the kidneys are able to “hide” the fact they were damaged for quite some time – basically until the damage is severe.
By the time you’re noticing signs, and tests are showing elevated creatinine in the blood, 75% of the nephrons in both kidneys have been lost.
4)How many types of kidney disease are there?
There are two types – chronic and acute
5)What are the causes, signs and prognosis of chronic kidney disease?
Chronic kidney failure (or renal failure), does not mean the kidneys have stopped working and are no longer producing urine. As a matter of fact, most dogs in kidney failure produce huge amounts of urine.
It is caused by the gradual failure of the kidneys, or long term consequences of severe acute renal failure.
This gradual process has been going on for months, or even years by the time your dog starts showing signs.
CKD is progressive and irreversible, but can be managed with diet and medication. Dogs can be comfortable, with a pretty good quality of life for months, even years.
It is usually caused by aging
A main cause is dental disease. Bacteria enter the blood stream, causing irreversible damage to the heart, liver and kidneys
Other causes include:
- Birth defect
- Kidney stones
- Chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys
- High blood pressure
- Diseases associated with the immune system
- Polycystic kidney disease
- High blood calcium
- Urinary blockage
- Antifreeze poisoning causes acute kidney disease, which can lead to CKD
Most cases are idiopathic, meaning there’s no specific cause.
Because the kidneys perform so many functions, signs can vary, but some of the common ones include:
- Drinking and peeing a lot, and a need to pee during the night
- Weight loss
- Not eating as well, more selective in what he/she eats
- General depression
- Pale Gums
- Mouth ulcers
- Poor looking coat
The prognosis depends on severity, but as we’ve already mentioned, this disease is irreversible and progressive.
It’s almost impossible to answer the question of “how long?” Your vet will monitor your dog’s progress on a regular basis, and it’s a case of playing it by ear.
My dog Red has this disease and thanks to the prescription kidney diet she’s been eating, she’s doing really well.
6)What are the causes, signs and prognosis of acute kidney disease?
Acute kidney failure is a sudden decline over a period of days. When kidney function is reduced over a long period of time, it can become chronic.
- Aspirin or ibuprofen
- Eating toxins like grapes, raisins or anti-freeze
- Bacterial infection in the kidneys due to blockage of the urinary tract due to stones/crystals
- Tainted foods
- Bee stings
- Snake bites
- Acute Pancreatitis
- Lyme Nephritis (a condition caused by Lyme Disease)
A definitive underlying cause, is often not found.
Dogs are usually diagnosed with acute kidney injury only once they are suffering acute renal failure, because it is then that signs are most obvious.
- Peeing a lot, very little or having difficulty
- Abdominal pain
- Drinking a lot, or drinking very little
- Stomach or intestinal ulcers which cause black stool or vomiting of digested blood
- Loss of appetite
Sadly the prognosis isn’t great, with more than half of dogs put to sleep because they didn’t respond to treatment.
Even those that do recover may be left with chronic kidney disease.
To prevent kidney problems due to poisoning, keep all dangerous, and potentially dangerous products out of your dog’s reach. If you’re not sure, lock it up.
Never give your dog any medication unless it has been approved by your vet.
Keep an eye on her when she’s playing outside – dogs can pick up all kinds of things in a split second.
6 questions answered about kidney disease in dogs – conclusion
I hope this hasn’t overwhelmed or scared you. Even if you find out your dog does have kidney disease, each case is different so don’t panic.
Your vet will explain everything to you, prepare a treatment plan, and closely monitor your dog, making adjustments as needed. Remember, many dogs can continue to live good lives for months, or even years.
You know your dog best, so I always encourage anyone who notices changes in their dog’s behaviour to speak to their vet. It may be nothing, or you may have just caught something in its’ early stages.
I hope these 6 questions asked, and answered, have helped you better understand kidney disease in dogs.