What is Renal Disease?

The kidneys are important in the removal of metabolic wastes from the body. They also help the liver with detoxification. They regulate fluid, help to produce Vitamin D, and excrete uric acid. If any of these functions is disrupted, either by toxins, infectious agents, stones and crystals, or tumors, the delicate balance of the body can be compromised. Without these essential functions, your bird will become progressively sicker until the disease has caused irreparable damage to the kidneys or other areas, ultimately resulting in kidney failure.

When the kidneys become damaged, inflamed, or compromised, these conditions can progress to renal disease. Renal disease can affect birds of any age, but is most common in older birds. Symptoms relate to the urinary system, but can be rather non-specific, making this type of disease difficult to notice in its early stages. Progressed renal disease, however, can be fatal.

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Symptoms of Renal Disease in Birds

The signs of renal failure appear unspecific, and are often unnoticed or misdiagnosed by owners. Cases of chronic renal disease can progress over a long period of time, compounding this problem. Often, routine exams can detect changes in protein and uric acid levels which can indicate a kidney issue, but you should still be aware of any changes in your bird’s elimination, eating habits, and behavior. Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression 
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea, with or without blood
  • Flatulence
  • Constipation 
  • Lameness
  • Loss of body movement control
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Noticeable internal lump
  • Swollen and painful joints 
  • Swollen, puffy abdomen
  • Muscle weakness
  • Does not fly
  • Trembling
  • Disorientation
  • Neurological signs
  • Kidney failure
  • Death 

Types

  • Acute renal disease – Occurs suddenly and can progress rapidly with severe symptoms, often from a toxicity
  • Chronic renal disease – Progresses over a long period of time, with symptoms appearing slowly; this is the case with cancer and nutritional deficiencies that can cause metabolic changes and uroliths

Causes of Renal Disease in Birds

There are numerous conditions which can affect the kidneys and cause damage or failure. These include:

  • Bacterial infections, such as chronic bacterial nephritis
  • Viral infections
  • Fungal infections, such as mycotoxic nephropathy
  • Parasitic infections, such as renal coccidiosis, sarcocystosis, microsporidiosis, or renal flukes
  • Cancerous masses or tumors 
  • Nutritional excesses, such as an overabundance of protein, Vitamins A or D, calcium, or cholesterol in the diet
  • Metabolic disorders, such as gout
  • Glomerulonephropathies 
  • Intestinal and colon inflammation
  • Urolithiasis, or kidney stones
  • Fatty liver or kidney syndromes
  • Congenital and hereditary defects
  • Lead poisoning
  • Toxic plant ingestion

Diagnosis of Renal Disease in Birds

Diagnosis of your bird begins with a physical exam and a history of symptoms. Your veterinarian may feel for any masses in your bird. Multiple tests can be run to confirm the presence and type of renal disease. Blood samples are taken for a CBC, biochemical assays, and serum and plasma analyses. Along with a urinalysis, these tests can detect unusual levels of proteins, enzymes, uric acid, and electrolytes, and reveal the presence of bacteria and other infectious agents. They can also confirm conditions of dehydration and anemia, and detect various toxins present. Not only can this information lead your veterinarian to a possible cause of the condition, but it can also help to evaluate the condition of the kidneys. 

Imaging techniques are often employed next, including X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and renal scintigraphy. These tests can reveal masses or tumors, can show crystals or mineralization, and can assess the size and function of the kidneys.

For a definitive diagnosis, laparoscopic or endoscopic evaluation of the kidneys is performed, often with biopsied tissue taken for further testing. The results of this can determine the type and cause of renal disease affecting your bird.

Treatment of Renal Disease in Birds

There are a range of treatments for renal disease, which will ultimately depend on the diagnosis. Therapies treat the specific problem, but in some cases, the condition may be incurable and can only be managed with supportive care.

In many cases of renal disease, supportive care is employed in the form of fluid and electrolyte therapy. The diet is often altered to either support the immune function of your bird, or to fix nutritional imbalances, such as supplementing Vitamin A, calcium or protein. 

Medications are given, again specific to the diagnosis. This can be antiviral, antifungal, or antiparasitic medications. More often, antibiotics are given, along with diuretics. Drugs to aid in lowering uric acid levels are sometimes prescribed, such as allopurinol.

Various metabolic support in the form of natural products can be beneficial to a damaged kidney. Omega fatty acids are often prescribed to manage renal disease by preserving kidney function and delaying the progression of conditions like nephrosis or glomerulopathies.

In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove tumors or large kidney stones, but can be difficult due to the location of the kidneys themselves. In cases of cancerous masses, other treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy may be used.

Recovery of Renal Disease in Birds

There are some types of renal disease that can be managed and resolved, so long as treatment is timely and the damage is not too severe. More often, though, diseases of the kidneys are often diagnosed after the condition is quite progressed, and carry a poor prognosis. Your veterinarian will discuss your bird’s particular case with you, and what can be done to either help him recover, or make him more comfortable. You may need to alter your bird’s diet, administer medications, and retest your bird after periods of treatments to ensure his recovery.