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Kidney Disease in Dogs

Kidney disease can be quite serious in dogs.

The kidneys are organs that sit in the front part of a dog's abdomen. They perform many crucial functions for the dog, including:

  • Conserving water and protein in the body
  • Balancing electrolytes
  • Removing waste into the urine
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Producing the hormone that stimulates red blood cell production

These complex procedures are all handled by nephrons, which are tiny processing units within the kidneys. As nephrons are destroyed, the kidneys have less ability to perform their essential functions properly.

Types of Canine Kidney Disease

Kidney disease, also called renal disease, in dogs may be either acute or chronic. In acute cases, damage to the nephrons has been done quickly and in chronic kidney disease (CKD), the damage has been done more slowly, over time. It can be tricky to differentiate between the two forms when a dog is being evaluated.

Causes of Kidney Disease in Dogs

Kidney disease in dogs can be caused by many things, including:

Some dog breeds are more prone to developing kidney disease than others, due to genetic issues causing problems with kidney function. These breeds include:

  • Cocker spaniels
  • Bull terriers
  • German shepherds

Signs of Kidney Disease in Dogs

A dog that is suffering from kidney disease may show some or all of the following signs, and these signs may occur suddenly or come on gradually and worsen over time:

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sudden blindness
  • Blood in the urine
  • Dehydration

These signs can be caused by other disease processes, also, so some testing will be required to diagnose kidney disease. Additionally, signs of kidney disease often do not develop until 75% or more of the kidney function is gone, so the disease is often quite advanced before it is diagnosed.

Diagnosis of Kidney Disease in Dogs

Diagnosis of kidney problems includes a full physical exam during which your veterinarian will ask you questions about your dog's history. During the physical exam, the doctor may be able to feel enlarged or sore kidneys.

If kidney disease is suspected, the doctor will probably recommend a urinalysis, CBC, and some blood chemistries to screen for kidney function. Other tests that might be done to either rule out other illnesses or look for a cause for the kidney disease include:

  • Urine culture and sensitivity
  • Urine protein: creatinine ratio
  • Tests for infectious diseases
  • X-rays
  • Blood pressure

Treatment of Canine Kidney Disease

The treatment of kidney disease in dogs is mainly supportive. Sometimes acute cases can be aggressively treated and reversed. However, most of the time, kidney disease is progressive.

If the dog presents initially with severe signs of illness, major dehydration, anorexia, and vomiting, hospitalization to stabilize him might be necessary. IV fluids, anti-emetics, electrolyte stabilization, and parenteral nutrition may all be required.

Once the dog is more stable, outpatient therapies for dogs with kidney disease may include:

  • Appetite stimulant medication
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Special low-protein, low-salt diet
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Phosphorus binder medication
  • Potassium supplements
  • Subcutaneous fluids

Individual circumstances determine which treatments the dog will need, and needs can change as the illness progresses. Routine monitoring of blood and urine tests are required to adjust therapy as needed. While kidney transplants may be available at some major veterinary referral centers, they are not done routinely in dogs.

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