Animal Referral Hospital Brisbane

Kidney disease – the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Approximately 1% of dogs and 3% of cats are diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. This increases to more than 10% of dogs and 30% of cats over the age of 15 years. While it is generally a condition we see in older patients, young animals can also be affected.

The causes

Kidney disease can be congenital (in which the patients are born with the condition), or it can be acquired through infections, cancers, stones, toxins or inflammation of the kidney that leads to permanent damage.

Black dog Taffy sitting with two female vets next to herThe symptoms

An increase in thirst or urination is one of the early signs of kidney disease.

In cats, owners might notice a large volume of urine in the litter tray, or having to change litter more frequently. In dogs, owners may notice their pet asking to be let outside more frequently or having to fill up the water bowl more often.

Animals with later stages of kidney disease can show signs of vomiting, reduced appetite and weight loss which are often related to the severity of the kidney damage.

The diagnosis

If your vet suspects your pet has a problem with their kidneys, they will likely start with blood and urine testing and then often recommend an x-ray or ultrasound of the kidneys. In some animals we might find abnormalities, such as stones or growths, in which there may be specific treatments available. Sometimes these tests identify a specific cause for the kidney problems and rule out other diseases which assist with treatment. In many older patients a specific cause of the kidney disease is not identified.

The treatment

High blood pressure – Animals with kidney disease are prone to high blood pressure which requires monitoring. Medications are used to control this as high blood pressure can not only make their kidney disease worse it can also affect other organs including the heart, brain and eyes.

Special dietRenal or kidney diets are often recommended to reduce phosphorus intake (as this is a compound that elevates in the blood when kidney function reduces). They are supplemented with fatty acids and anti-oxidants that help promote kidney blood flow and reduce oxidative stress. They are also calorie dense, to promote a good nutritional balance and prevent weight loss. We try and make this transition over a few weeks to not cause too much stress and promote acceptance of the prescription diet.

Medications – Some animals with kidney disease need to go on specific medications. These can include:

  • Phosphate binders (to reduce absorption of the chemical phosphate)
  • Potassium supplements (as some animals lose too much potassium in their urine)
  • Anti-nausea medications and appetite stimulant to treat vomiting or nausea
  • Medications to reduce protein loss in the urine
  • Blood pressure medications

Treatment recommendations are specific to each pet’s stage of kidney disease and are based on changes detected in blood and urine tests, physical examination findings and blood pressure measurement.

Taffy’s story

Most dogs diagnosed with kidney disease are older, but Taffy’s owners’ were delivered the news when she was only one year of age.

Young black Labrador in car with two boys She was diagnosed by her referring vet and then referred to ARH Internal Medicine Specialist, Dr Emily Cook, for assessment of her disease.

Further testing suggested she was born with abnormal kidneys, a condition called renal dysplasia. In this instance, puppies can appear normal at birth but develop kidney failure at a young age. Taffy had an ultrasound of her kidneys to aid this diagnosis.

Taffy’s vet had started her on a kidney diet and Dr Emily added other medications to help support her kidneys and hopefully delay the progression of her disease. Taffy also had a secondary infection in her kidneys that has been successfully treated.

Taffy sees Dr Emily for regular rechecks to assess how her kidneys are coping and to address complications that can arise in patients with kidney disease.

Unfortunately, Taffy’s lifespan will be reduced by this condition but at the moment she is very bright, happy and taking her medications and prescription diet well.

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