The kidneys are the unsung heroes of major organs. While the brain, heart, and even lungs garner most of the attention, the kidneys soldier away in the background, performing their life-sustaining role.
The kidneys remove waste from the bloodstream and regulate a range of essential nutrients —to borrow a phrase from Ron Burgundy, they're kind of a big deal — so hearing that your furry friend has been diagnosed with kidney disease is devastating news for any dog owner. However, it's not necessarily a death sentence.
The prognosis for dogs with kidney disease varies depending on a range of factors, so let's take a closer look at what they are and find out what kidney problems mean for your dog.
Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Dogs
Kidney disease is a serious problem and can cause some worrying health complications for your dog. However, despite this fact, the symptoms aren't always that easy to recognize. Early detection and treatment are both important and can greatly improve your pet's chances of maintaining a decent quality of life, so it's worth familiarizing yourself with the symptoms and warning signs that could indicate kidney trouble.
One of the first signs many owners notice is their dog's increased thirst alongside increasingly frequent urination. For example, you may notice your pet drinking all the time, needing to go outside to use the bathroom multiple times during the night, or potentially having messy "accidents" in the house. There are many other conditions that can produce similar symptoms, but kidney disease is one of the most serious.
There are also several other signs that could indicate the presence of kidney disease, such as decreased appetite and weight loss, bad breath, a sore mouth, itchy skin, and depression or listless behavior. Vomiting, diarrhea and a poor coat appearance are other telltale symptoms, while general weakness and a lack of energy should be cause for concern.
Please note that your dog won't necessarily show all of these signs, so make sure to get your pooch checked out by a vet if you suspect any kidney-related problems.
The Science of Kidney Disease in Dogs
Your dog's two healthy kidneys perform several important roles including:
- Filtering the blood
- Removing waste products from the bloodstream
- Maintaining normal levels of salt and water in the body
- Regulating the levels of other essential nutrients
But if their capacity to perform any of these functions is compromised or reduced, kidney disease occurs. Also known as renal disease, kidney disease is actually quite a common problem among the canine population, particularly in aging dogs. There are also several conditions that can damage the kidneys, including everything from injury and infection to cancer or even ingesting a toxic food or poison.
With this in mind, there are a few specific factors that can increase the likelihood that a dog will suffer from kidney disease. These include:
- Age. The chance of developing kidney problems rises once a dog reaches seven years of age. However, large dogs tend to be affected earlier than small breeds, which may not show the early signs of kidney disease until 10 years of age or older.
- Breed. English Cocker Spaniels, Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, and some other breeds are more prone to developing certain types of kidney disease.
- Diet. Foods that are high in phosphorous or have excessive protein levels can increase the progression of kidney disease.
- Environment. Antifreeze, some human medications, and certain other chemicals can cause damage to the kidneys.
It's also important to point out that there are two types of kidney disease in dogs. Chronic kidney disease develops at a slow rate and most commonly occurs as a result of aging. Acute kidney failure develops quickly, for example, as a result of blood loss, trauma or poison.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Kidney Disease
If your vet suspects kidney disease, they can rely on two tests to provide an accurate diagnosis:
- A complete urinalysis to assess kidney function
- A blood biochemistry analysis to assess the levels of two waste products in the blood: blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatinine
If a diagnosis of kidney disease is made, your vet will then work with you to develop the best possible treatment plan for your dog. Treatment will vary depending on the severity of the disease and whether it is acute or chronic. Your pet's treatment plan may include:
- Medications to encourage urine production
- Fluid therapy
- Supplements to restore blood electrolyte levels
- Measuring urinary output
- Dietary management to reduce the amount of work the kidneys are required to do
- Drugs to control vomiting and diarrhea
Unfortunately, as we touched on above, most dogs won't show any symptoms in the early stages of the disease, and signs usually don't appear until 75 per cent of kidney function has been lost.
The damage caused by kidney disease is irreversible, and if the disease has progressed significantly, the prognosis for the affected animal can be quite poor. However, if the condition is detected early enough and can be effectively managed, dogs with kidney disease can live for years and maintain a good quality of life.
With this in mind, it's essential to keep your eyes peeled for any of the telltale signs of kidney disease. Acting quickly to get the problem diagnosed and treated is the best thing you can do to give your pet the chance of a bright future.
Written by a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/15/2018, edited: 04/06/2020