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Your Pets and Kidney Disease

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Kidneys are Crucial to Your Pet’s Overall Health

Kidney disease is a term we’d rather not hear regarding our pets. However, that specific phrase is often used as an umbrella term for a variety of kidney issues. In most cases kidney failure or kidney disease means that your pet’s kidneys are unable to function at one hundred percent, and that there are several issues at stake affecting your cat or dog’s health.

You may hear terminology such as “insufficient kidneys” or “renal insufficiency,” among many others to describe the situation, even though some kidney issues are treatable. Your Austin vet can maintain your pet’s condition, and inform you of their progress, with the goal of keeping your pet healthy while attempting to slow down the progression of the disease. For many pets, an early diagnosis and early intervention can be beneficial, and can help add months and years to your cat or dog’s life.

What Kidneys Actually Do

Kidneys are comprised of little functional units known as nephrons, that help remove waste products, and water, from the blood.

Healthy kidneys also help control pH levels as well as blood pressure, serum electrolytes, calcium and phosphorous levels, and water balance. They also produce some hormones which are valuable for red cell production and calcium balance.

Water Conservation and Dehydration

Water is essential to keeping your pets hydrated. If your pet is dehydrated, their kidneys will be used to conserve water, which means that while other toxins need to be removed, the kidney will do so by using the least amount of water possible.

For example, if your pets are drinking too much water, their kidneys have to work to remove it in order to prevent any dilution of their bloodstream. If there is insufficient kidney function, concentrated urine is unable to be produced and they’ll need to drink more water to process their waste chemicals. Such excessive water consumption is a clear warning sign of potential kidney issues.

Toxin Removal

Kidneys are crucial for removing metabolic wastes. However, if there is insufficient circulation within the kidneys or if there is a lack of functioning nephrons to maintain the waste load, then toxins will start to appear and build up in the kidneys. This toxin buildup is also known as azotemia. Should there be a build up of toxins and if your pet starts feeling ill, then uremia might be the issue.

The main culprit in uremia is known as creatinine, which is a by-product of muscle break-down. The kidneys remove creatinine on a regular basis; there are always small traces of it present in the bloodstream. But, problems may arise and creatinine levels may increase if a kidney function problem exists. A kidney test can help determine your pet’s creatinine blood levels as well as their blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels. The BUN levels are influenced by dietary protein as well as kidney function. Sometimes a dietary change may be required to help manage these levels.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be present in your cat or dog from a period of months or even years.

This is a very progressive disease, and once your pet starts to show signs, it may be too late as the disease may have progressed rapidly. The age of your pet may not even be an issue, as some cats and dogs can be diagnosed as early as three years old. The following signs should alert you to the likelihood of kidney disease in your pets:

  • excessive drinking (aka polydipsia) and producing large volumes of urine (polyuria)
  • incontinence, primarily at night
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • no appetite and increased weight loss
  • depression and/or discomfort connected to the elevation of waste products in their blood
  • pale gums and weakness due to a low blood count (anemia)
  • weakness from low blood potassium

Less Common Signs of Kidney Disease may include:

  • weakened bones, which can result in bone fractures
  • sudden blindness from high blood pressure
  • itchy skin (due to calcium and phosphorous deposits)
  • bleeding into the stomach or bruised skin

Possible Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease in Pets

Unfortunately, the origins of kidney disease are many, and simply cannot be narrowed down to one specific cause. In many cases, the actual cause is just not known and once the disease develops, the cause may not be all that apparent. However, there are some potential warning signs that may be actual causes of CKD:

  • birth defects, such as congenital malformation of the kidneys
  • chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys (pyelonephritis) that may or may not include kidney stones
  • high blood pressure
  • Various diseases connected to the immune system, such as glomerulonephritis and systemic lupus
  • acute kidney disease, which can be caused by a number of agents, such as a pet accidentally ingesting a toxin, like anti-freeze.

Possible Signs of Kidney Disease

Calcium and Phosphorus Balance

It’s important to manage the balance of calcium and phosphorus in your pet’s blood. If one outweighs the other, then there is a chance of crystals developing in body tissue as well as the bones. Should kidney balance become out of control, then phosphorous levels can greatly increase. These levels will require monitoring and the addition of a special diet as well as medication to keep the phosphorous at a moderate level.

Sodium/Potassium Balance

The kidneys also help to control your pet’s electrolyte balance, especially in conserving potassium. Weakness can occur if the kidneys fail to conserve potassium, causing these particular levels to drop. Should this happen, potassium supplements can be implemented by your Austin vet to help treat the kidneys.

Blood Pressure Regulation

Blood pressure sensors in the kidney are crucial in managing blood pressure in the body. Once these sensors experience damage, hypertension (high blood pressure) can occur and can cause greater problems to the kidneys. Your Austin vet can do a blood pressure test to determine if any damage has occurred.

Conserving Protein

There are a variety of proteins in the bloodstream, so it’s important to ensure that they aren’t lost in your pets urine. As mentioned above, nephrons provide a filtration system that retains protein while removing negative wastes. If there is damage, such as glomerular disease, then it’s very likely a more severe form of kidney failure may occur. Exploring this potential damage is a key element of staging kidney failure. A urine protein/creatinine ratio test is often included in the testing profile to determine if this condition exists.

Red Blood Cells

Kidneys produces a hormone known as erythropoietin, which instructs the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. Without this hormone, a non-responsive anemia can occur and in some cases a transfusion may be required.

Diagnosing Chronic Kidney Disease

It’s not unusual for chronic kidney disease to be intermingled with many other diseases, so if you suspect that your pet has a kidney related issue, your Austin vet can provide blood and urine tests in order to make a thorough diagnosis.

In addition to blood and urine tests, others such as radiographs, ultrasounds, kidney biopsies, and cultures are also options to help find a cause and determine what stage of kidney disease is underway. Staging is used to help determine the severity of kidney disease on a scale of 1 through 4, with one being the lowest.

Treating Chronic Kidney Disease in Pets

Sadly, no cure exists for chronic kidney disease. It is usually fatal as it develops over time, but there are a variety of medicines and treatments available to help curb it over a time, ranging from months to several years. The overall severity of the disease will greatly determine what type of treatments to use, which are created to limit the amount of work the kidneys need to not only perform, but also to replace certain substances that may be at very low levels, and to help alleviate any accumulating wastes.

If your cat or dog is showing severe signs of kidney disease, they may need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous drugs and fluids to help reduce the levels of waste products. However, depending on how ill they are, they may not be fully responsive to the treatment; in some cases dialysis and kidney transplants are seen as alternative options.

Testing for Chronic Kidney Disease

The good news is that testing is available to help diagnose kidney disease, which include: a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemical profile, and a urinalysis.

CBC Test

The CBC test will evaluate your pet’s red blood cells, white blood cells and the platelet components from a single blood sample. A hematology (blood) analyzer will provide your veterinarian with the total numbers of these cells, and evaluation of a blood smear will five insight into the cell’s physical characteristics.

Serum Biochemistry Profile

The serum biochemistry profile will require a separate blood sample from which the serum (the liquid portion of blood) is separated from the cellular portion of the blood. This serum contains many substances including enzymes, proteins, lipids (fats), glucose (sugar) and metabolic waste products.

What’s very important in the diagnosis of kidney disease are the levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine. The volume in BUN and creatinine helps determine the degree of kidney disease. However, the serum concentration of BUN and creatinine is unable to increase significantly until around 75% of kidney function is gone.


The urinalysis is important to help interpretation the urea and creatinine values in the serum biochemistry profile. This particular test can provide important information regarding the possible underlying cause of kidney disease.

Contact Us

If you suspect that your pet may have kidney issues, and is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, contact ATX Animal Clinic. We offer a full-service in-house laboratory and will break down each element of the results, and work with you in regards to treatment to help your cat or dog extend their lives.