Chronic Kidney Disease in Pets

Lots of cat owners know that kidney disease is a big problem for their feline friends, but it might surprise you to know that it is a problem in dogs too. Around 1 in 40 cats will be diagnosed with kidney problems, whilst in dogs, the number is much lower at around 1 in 100. This makes it one of the most common diseases we see in practice, so we thought we’d take the time to tell you a little more about it.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is also known as kidney failure or renal failure- the end result of kidney damage over time. It is known as chronic because the damage is usually sustained over a long period of time, unlike Acute Kidney Injury which occurs very quickly. There is no way to prevent kidney disease specifically, although early diagnosis certainly helps. A yearly urine test in elderly pets can help to diagnose problems before symptoms start to appear- just ask our reception team for a urine collection pot.

Could my pet have CKD?

Animals with CKD often don’t show many symptoms at first, and pets can be in quite advanced stage of the disease by the time they are diagnosed. Older pets are more prone to CKD, and cats get it more commonly than dogs. Pets with heart disease, high blood pressure or severe dental disease are more prone to getting kidney problems. There is also an increased risk if your pet has had previous problems with their kidneys. The most common symptoms are an increase in drinking and urination, smelly breath, weight loss, and inappetence. However, other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting and poor coat condition may raise suspicion of a problem.

If you think your pet is showing any of these symptoms, it’s highly recommended that you book an appointment with one of our vets.

How is CKD diagnosed?

We’ll definitely want to check your pet over to rule out other causes and confirm your suspicions. Clinical dehydration and kidneys that feel smaller or ‘knobbly’ are both evidence of a problem, but it’s also important to listen to your pet’s heart as heart disease and renal problems sometimes go hand in hand. As most of the symptoms of CKD are also symptoms of many other diseases, we’ll probably suggest a blood test to get more information. We can then check that the liver and other organs are normal. If the kidneys are struggling, we will see a rise in two chemicals in the blood- urea and creatinine. Combined, increases in these two chemicals suggest renal disease, especially if there’s other evidence. We may also see upsets in some enzymes and anaemia associated with renal failure. We also like to check a urine sample. Pets with CKD have very dilute urine because the kidneys are no longer concentrating the urine correctly. We can measure the concentration of urine, and if it is very dilute this lends further evidence to a diagnosis of renal failure. We might also send the urine to a lab for further investigation and check your pet’s blood pressure.

How is CKD treated?

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for CKD, but there are ways it can be managed. At first diagnosis your pet may be quite sick, so we often advise that we hospitalise them and put them on intravenous fluids (a drip). By doing this, we are trying to correct any dehydration and flush the toxins that have built up out of the system. This usually takes 24-48 hours.

If a pet is not too ill, or after they have been discharged from hospital, they are put on a home-management plan. The most important thing is to support the kidneys by providing a kidney-friendly diet. These diets are low in phosphorus and contain a moderate amount of high-quality protein. We will advise you on diet at discharge from hospital. Your pet may also be put on medication to lower blood pressure or stop too much protein being lost by the kidneys.

What is the prognosis for animals with CKD?

The prognosis is dependent on how ill your pet is, and how well they respond to treatment. There is no doubt that chronic kidney disease is life-limiting, but many pets can live for months or even years with the condition. The important thing to do is to monitor their quality of life and keep checking in with us to make sure they aren’t getting worse or there isn’t more we can do to help.

It’s also worth considering that some medications shouldn’t be given to animals with renal problems. Many medications pass through the kidneys and can damage them further if the kidneys are struggling to process them correctly. If your pet is on any medication that we don’t know about, such as store-bought flea treatments or supplements from an online pharmacy, it is best to check with us that they are still safe to give.

Where can I get more information?

If you want to know any more or have questions about your pet’s care, ask to speak to one of our vets. We’re always here to help you, help your pet.