What is kidney disease?

Kidneys are very busy organs and work really hard to keep our pets healthy. Kidneys carry out many important tasks:

  • removing toxins from your pet's blood
  • getting rid of waste product from the body in your pet's wee
  • Keeping their blood pressure healthy
  • stopping your pet losing too much water.

Kidney disease (also called renal disease) can be caused by any condition that stops the kidneys working properly. The disease affects different pets in different ways, depending on how badly the kidneys have been damaged and how well they're working. for example, your pet's kidneys might be damaged but are still able to work to a certain level or the organs might stop working all together

Kidney diseases can either:

  • come on suddenly (acute kidney disease)
  • gradually get worse over time (chronic kidney disease)

If your pet's kidneys have stopped working they have a condition called 'renal failure.' This is very serious and need immediate veterinary treatment.


Acute kidney disease

Acute kidney disease means that your pet's kidneys have stopped working suddenly. This might have been caused by another illness or health problem, like eating or drinking something toxic, cancer or an infection.

Depending on how serious the kidney disease is, sometimes your pet can recover and get back some of their normal kidney function.


Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease is a long term condition and, sadly, the damage to your pet's kidneys can't be reversed. The kidneys are affected slowly over time. Problems can develop over a few months or several years.

Usually, this is triggered by something like a tumour or an infection. Getting treatment early on can make a huge difference so it's important to take your pet to see the vet as soon as you spot any symptoms. You and your vet can then make a plan to manage the condition and keep your pet healthy for as long as possible.


What causes kidney disease?

There are several reasons that your pet might suffer from kidney problems:

  • Some dog breeds are more prone to developing kidney problems such as English Cocker spaniels, bull terriers and German shepherds. However, any pet can suffer from kidney disease.
  • Older pets are more likely to have kidney problems.

Damage to the kidneys can also be caused other illnesses or health problems:

  • Poisoning, g. ethylene glycol (in anti-freeze), lilies, daffodils, chocolate and raisins.
  • Underlying health problems that your pet has had since birth, like heart problems.
  • Long-term urinary problems or urinary obstruction, presence of urinary ‘stones’


Signs of kidney disease

Symptoms of kidney disease or failure can vary, depending how badly the kidneys have been affected. Symptoms can appear really rapidly, or show slowly over time.

Your pet might:

  • Weeing more than usual and their wee is a very light colour. Damaged kidneys struggle to manage the levels of water in your pet’s body. This means they will wee more often and have more water in their wee, making it a light colour or almost clear.
  • Drink lots more water. Your pet will drink more to make up for how much they’re weeing.
  • Looking unwell and throwing up. Their kidneys are struggling to get rid of toxins from the body. As these build up, they can make your pet feel very unwell and might cause them to actually be sick.
  • Going off their food and losing weight.
  • Feeling tired and generally unhappy.

These symptoms sometimes can be caused by other problems, so it is important to take your pet to the vets as soon as possible for early diagnosis and treatment.


Diagnosis from your vet

Your vet will need to see your pet to diagnose a kidney problem. They may start by examining your pet and feeling their kidneys to see if they are larger than normal. They might also take your pet’s blood pressure.

Your vet may then take a urine sample. They can test this to see if there is protein in their wee, which is a sign of kidney trouble. It will help them rule out other conditions like a urinary infection.

Your pet might also need a blood test. These are a useful tool to test the kidneys and get a full health profile for your pet. This will help your vet to tell if any other organs have been affected, too.

Kidneys with problems are often much larger than healthy ones and may be an unusual shape. Your vet might perform an x-ray or ultrasound on your pet to see how their kidneys look.


Treatment for your pet

The treatment your pet will be offered depends on how severe the condition is and how it is impacting on your pet’s welfare. Your vet might recommend a combination of different treatments:


If the kidneys are damaged, then many other bodily functions will be affected and might need to be treated, too.

  • High blood pressure can be a sign of kidney disease, so your vet might prescribe medication to help control this.
  • In turn, high blood pressure can affect your pet’s vision and eye health. Medication can help to manage these problems and keep your pet happy and healthy.
  • If your pet is throwing up or not eating much, your vet might give them medication to help manage their symptoms.

Fluid Therapy

The kidneys play an important role in managing how much water is in your pet’s body. One of the main signs of kidney problems is that your pet starts weeing and drinking more as their kidneys struggle to work properly.

Your pet might need fluid therapy to help replace any lost fluids and help the kidneys to flush out toxins. Fluid therapy usually involves putting your pet on a drip. 

Renal Diets

Diet is often overlooked when it comes to managing health problems. With kidney disease, special prescription diets can help to slow the disease and reduce your pet’s symptoms.

Pets with kidney problems struggle to get rid of waste products from a high protein diet so renal diets have low levels of protein. Follow your vet’s advice because putting your pet on the wrong diet or making sudden changes could make their problem worse.

It’s important not to make any sudden changes to your pet’s diet, unless your vet tells you otherwise. Mix a small amount of the new food into the old food and gradually increasing the amount of new food you’re feeding your pet over a few days or weeks. You can speak to your vet about portion sizes and follow the guidelines on the packaging for measuring the correct amount.

Access to water

Making sure that your cat or dog has a constant supply of water to keep them hydrated is really important. You can try ‘cat fountains’ to promote your feline friend to drink more, or with dogs, make sure there are a few water bowls dotted around the house.


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