6 Questions Answered About Kidney Disease in Dogs

 

answering questions about kidney disease in dogs

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.

Future posts will deal with other aspects of the disease.

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 anatomy of the kidneynephrons 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.

Chronic Kidney Disease in Senior DogsCKD means the kidneys are not able to efficiently filter the blood and rid the body of waste.

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.

Causes

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
  • Toxins
  • Heredity
  • Kidney stones
  • Chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys
  • Lymphoma
  • 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.

Signs

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
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drinking one sign of kidney disease in dogsDiarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Not eating as well, more selective in what he/she eats
  • General depression
  • Pale Gums
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Poor looking coat
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration

Prognosis

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.

Causes

  • Trauma
  • Medications
  • 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
  • Dehydration
  • Heatstroke
  • Bee stings
  • Snake bites
  • Leptospirosis
  • Acute Pancreatitis
  • Lyme Nephritis (a condition caused by Lyme Disease)

A definitive underlying cause, is often not found.

Signs

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.

They include:

  • Peeing a lot, very little or having difficulty
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • 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

Prognosis

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.

Prevention

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.

 

 

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Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

13 Comments

  1. Linda Fosse

    Hi.
    Great post you have here.
    As always!
    You really know A LOT about dogs. I have three dogs myself, but I can not claim that I know a fraction of all the knowledge you have about dogs.
    Awesome!
    Lucky me, my dogs are fit, so far 🙂

    Live, Laugh, Love
    Linda 🙂

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Linda, Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I appreciate your kind words. I adopt senior dogs, so I’m afraid they always come with some problem or other. I guess that’s why I’ve been so interested in learning so much about them. Plus I’m a dog trainer, so I love helping people with their dogs.

      Reply
  2. Donna

    Great Article! We had lost one of our pointer to acute kidney problems years ago. One day he just refused to eat, a dog that normally wolfed down food as though he never gets fed, so right away that set off an alarm. Then we noticed him drinking alot, other than that he seemed fine. Within a day that changed. It was scary how fast everything happened and I wish I knew more about it back then. Hopefully this helps someon e in the future!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Donna, Thank you for your comment, and so sad to hear what happened to your dog. That’s the thing about acute kidney failure. It happens so suddenly, it’s easy to miss the signs. I do hope readers find my content helpful.

      Reply
  3. Kristie

    I would hate to think my dog would get kidney disease. I had kidney failure early last year and it is miserable. If I could prevent my dog from experiencing that, I would. I love your site. It is very informative. At least now I am armed with information should I ever face this situation. Best wishes to you and Red!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Kristie, Thank you for your comment. So sorry to hear that, I hope you’re doing well and have recovered. I’m so glad you like the site, I do my best to bring as much helpful information as I can to people who share their lives with older dogs. Of course a lot of the information can help with dogs of any age. I do have two more articles on kidney disease scheduled to be published – how is it diagnosed on the 28th, and how is it treated on the 31st. Take care of yourself!

      Reply
  4. Brad

    Hi Hindy,

    I really enjoy reading your posts, it has helped me know what to watch out for as Oscar gets a bit older.
    When I was younger we had a golden labrador who eventually died from cancer. I always wondered if it was because of the procesed dog food that he was fed every day?

    Now I only feed Oscar foods that he would have had to hunt and forage for as if he were a wild dog (because that is what they are geneticaly supposed to eat, right). So he mostly gets fresh meat and bones. At 8 years old he has never been sick or needed to go to the vet once, and still has the energy he had when he was a puppy!

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Brad, I’m so glad you find my posts helpful. There is a whole school of thought who will tell you processed food is responsible for many illnesses in dogs. By the same token, there are those professionals, and just regular folk, who will disagree. I know a few people who switched to a raw diet for their dogs, and they notice a big difference. I always say pet nutrition is a minefield, and now with my dog Red and her kidney disease.. Huge differences of opinion, but in her case I’m following the vet’s recommendations because he’s brilliant in his field, and so far his treatment plans have been effective. Good luck with Oscar!!

      Reply
  5. Lynne

    Thanks Hindy for such a huge amount of info on kidney disease in dogs. Correct me if I am wrong here, but having pale gums is always a sign that there is something wrong with your dog?
    I have heard that kidney problems is more common in male animals and that it is often a result of choosing the incorrect food. Can you confirm this?

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Lynne, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Two more articles on kidney disease will be published in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!! Typically, a healthy dog has pink gums, while blue tinged, yellow or pale will indicate some kind of problem. I had never heard of kidney disease being more prevalent in male dogs, and haven’t come across that fact in any of my research, but I couldn’t say with any certainty that it isn’t the case. Any cat or dog of mine who suffered from kidney disease was female, so who knows!! As with so many things, there are differences of opinion as to the role of diet, and that would apply in this case as well. There are those who believe processed foods are responsible for many of the illnesses and problems experienced by our dogs, while others have been feeding it to their pets for years with no problems. Dental disease for instance, is just one cause of kidney disease. Others may include age (normal wear and tear), cancer, exposure to toxins… Hope this helps.

      Reply
  6. lydia

    i will try and make this short. my dogs brother died. then he would not eat treats sleep all the time and lethargic. took him to the vets did bloodwork and counts very high. was told has CKD. well he is just fine. no symptoms at all of this disease. He is eating his treats, staying awake more now and active. I truly believe he does not have CKD that he was depressed . the vet said no bloodwork doesn’t lie.
    don’t believe the VET. he is back to his normal. He was ready to die cause of his brother.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      How sad to hear this Lydia, but it makes sense your dog was feeling depressed after losing his brother. How strange about the test results though. I’m glad to hear he’s back to normal, but I would probably find another vet for a second opinion. Bloodwork may not lie but perhaps the test results were mixed up with another dog’s.

      Reply
  7. lydia

    i am going to enjoy my dog! Not going to worry about his bloodwork. he is like any normal dog now. Beginning to go outside now without not being scared without his brother! He eats and drinks like a normal dog. i see no symptoms one bid of CKD. thank you for your reply.

    Reply
    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Lydia, I’m so glad your dog is learning to be less afraid without his brother. It’s so sad to read this, but it’s not uncommon for dogs to shut down at such a loss. The fact he’s eating and drinking is a good sign, and I hope he’ll be feeling better and enjoying life soon.

      Reply

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