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Kidney Disease in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

In today's post, our Berkeley vets share a little about the causes and treatment of kidney disease in dogs, as well as the signs that could indicate that your dog's kidneys aren't working as well as they should.

What is kidney disease in dogs?

Kidney disease, which can also be referred to as kidney failure or renal failure, can be caused by a number of conditions that impact the kidneys and related organs.

When your dog's kidneys are working properly they continually eliminate toxins from your pet's body as well as regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance and release the hormones required to produce red blood cells. When your dog experiences kidney failure the kidneys are no longer performing their function as they should. 

Are there different types of kidney issues seen in dogs?

Dogs can suffer from acute or chronic kidney disease:

  • Acute kidney disease (or kidney failure) is characterized by a sudden decrease in kidney function (within hours or days). This form of kidney disease is often caused by an infection or exposure to toxins or poisons. 
  • Chronic kidney disease on the other hand is characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over a period of weeks, months or years. Chronic kidney failure is typically caused by degeneration associated with old age.

Another key difference between acute and chronic kidney disease in dogs is that while acute kidney disease is likely reversible if diagnosed early and treated intensively, chronic kidney failure can only be managed, not cured.

What causes kidney disease in dogs?

Your dog may develop kidney disease for a number of reasons:

  • Congenital disease - This category can include underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions - everything from being born without one or both kidneys, to cysts.
  • Bacterial infections - If your dog swims in or drinks contaminated water, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can attack their system, causing the kidneys to become inflamed and renal cells to die off, leading to kidney failure.
  • Toxicosis - If the kidneys are poisoned, this can lead to cell damage within the kidneys. Toxicosis can occur if your dog consumes drugs, toxins or poisons such as foods or substances that are harmful to pets.
  • Periodontal disease - If bacteria is left to build up on the teeth and gums it can lead to advanced dental disease. The bacteria can then enter the blood stream and attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the kidneys as well as other organs including the heart and liver.
  • Geriatric degeneration - Gradually, as your dog gets older the renal cells can begin to break down and die eventually leading to chronic kidney failure.

What are the signs of kidney disease in dogs?

Dogs experiencing kidney disease will typically display one or more of the following symptoms:
  • Pale gums
  • Significant weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Uncoordinated movement, or stumbling
  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Increase/decrease in thirst
  • Increase/decrease in volume of urine
  • Intestinal seizures
  • Blood in urine
  • Lethargy

If your dog is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above it is essential to have them examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to helping dogs recover from acute kidney disease. Delays may be fatal. Early diagnosis of chronic kidney disease can help to prevent further complications and allow your veterinarian to prescribe treatments to help manage your dog's symptoms.

How is kidney disease in dogs treated?

Treatment for your dog's kidney disease will be determined by your pet’s overall health and the underlying cause of their kidney problems.

If your pet is experiencing acute kidney failure, immediate and intensive treatment is required. Typically treatment for acute kidney disease will require a stay in the intensive care at your animal hospital. However, if acute kidney disease is caught early, milder cases may be treated with fluids, antibiotics and medications on an outpatient basis. Dialysis, although costly, can also be a very effective treatment for acute kidney failure.

When it comes to dogs suffering from chronic kidney disease, treatment will primarily focus on slowing down the progression of the disease and looking at ways to improve your pet's quality of life. Symptoms of the disease such as nausea, fluid imbalances, and blood pressure fluctuations will be treated with medications and changes to your dog's diet.

Many dogs being treated for chronic kidney disease go on to enjoy a good quality of life for a number of years (some indications are up to four years). In order to help manage your dog's condition your vet may recommend specific nutrients, nutritional supplements or a therapeutic prescription diet.

Can I prevent my dog from developing kidney disease?

Acute kidney failure is often caused when dogs accidentally consume toxins, tainted foods or foods they shouldn’t ingest, such as grapes or chocolate. To help prevent your dog from developing acute kidney disease, remove potential toxins such as antifreeze, medications and potentially harmful foods well out of your dog's reach.

Because chronic kidney disease is typically age-related and predetermined by genetics it is much more difficult to try and prevent. Although, regular wellness exams twice yearly at your vet's office may help your veterinarian to detect symptoms early so that treatment can begin before the condition becomes more advanced.

What are the benefits of regular wellness exams?

If your pet is genetically predisposed to a condition such as kidney disease, regular wellness exams allow your veterinarian to monitor your pet's health and spot the earliest signs of illness. Early diagnosis and treatment often lead to good treatment outcomes for pets with serious health conditions.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you think that your dog may have kidney disease? Contact our Berkeley vets to book an urgent examination for your canine companion.

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