If you’ve had the blessing of caring for a cat or dog for their entire life, you’re likely familiar with some common conditions that come with old age. As your furry pal’s body begins to show lifelong wear and tear, they may develop organ dysfunction. The most notable of these conditions is kidney failure, or chronic kidney disease (CKD). Kidney failure can refer to an acute injury, such as toxin exposure, and may be reversible. CKD, on the other hand, is a progressive condition that can only be managed. No matter your pet’s type of kidney disease, some aspects are similar. Let’s take a look.

What is the function of my pet’s kidneys?

Like any organ in your pet’s body, the kidneys perform many vital tasks. They not only help manage your pet’s blood pressure, but also stimulate the bone marrow to make more red blood cells, manufacture hormones, and filter waste from the blood. Pets with improperly functioning kidneys are often anemic and nauseous, because the kidneys cannot stimulate red blood cell production, or remove toxins and metabolic wastes from the bloodstream.

What are kidney failure signs in pets?

If your pet experiences a traumatic injury, toxin exposure, or infection, they may suffer from acute kidney failure and show immediate signs. With CKD, kidney function can decline over months to years without any obvious signs.

In general, kidneys are working at less than 25% of their usual capacity before a pet will begin displaying signs, which may include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Inappetence
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Mouth sores
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Although signs may not appear until later-stage CKD, annual or biannual blood work can help monitor your pet’s kidney function and provide support before signs develop.

How are pets diagnosed with kidney failure?

While most pet owners do not realize their pet’s problem until much of their kidney function is lost, routine screening can identify disease much sooner. At your pet’s annual or biannual wellness visit, we may recommend the following screening diagnostic tests:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) — A CBC can let us determine if your pet is anemic (i.e., lacking in red blood cells), which is a common indicator of poorly functioning kidneys. 
  • Chemistry panel — A comprehensive chemistry panel will evaluate your pet’s organ function, along with their electrolyte levels. Two waste products, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CRE), that the kidneys excrete, typically elevate when kidney function decreases. However, these values usually stay in an acceptable range until 75% of kidney function is lost.
  • SDMA — An SDMA test, which is a more sensitive blood test than a chemistry panel, can detect worsening kidney function much sooner.
  • Urinalysis — As the kidneys fail to filter out toxins and concentrate urine, a urinalysis will provide the results, and let us know if your pet has an infection or urinary crystals.
  • Blood pressure — Pets with kidney disease may also have high blood pressure, which can cause further kidney damage, and also injure the eyes, brain, heart, and blood vessels. 

If your pet’s initial screening tests show kidney disease signs, we may also recommend X-rays and an abdominal ultrasound to further evaluate the kidneys. 

Can I successfully manage my pet’s kidney failure?

With proper treatment, cats with as little as 5% of normal kidney function can survive for a long time. The recommended treatment depends on the disease stage, along with treatment of any complications, such as high blood pressure or urinary tract infections. If your pet develops CKD, appropriate management can help preserve kidney function and keep your furry pal comfortable.

  • Provide water — Encourage adequate water intake by installing a pet fountain or routinely refreshing your pet’s water dish.
  • Change diet — Switch to a canned prescription diet formulated to assist kidney function.
  • Feed less, more often — If your pet is nauseous, feed smaller, more frequent meals, or request a medication that can help reduce nausea.
  • Add supplements — Supplements can help the kidneys filter waste from the blood, reducing nausea and vomiting. 
  • Exercise — Regular exercise helps your pet maintain muscle mass and strength.
  • Hydrate — Subcutaneous fluids administered in our hospital or at home will help your pet stay hydrated. 
  • Manage hypertension — If your cat is diagnosed with hypertension, we will use medications to regulate their blood pressure, which will also help their kidney disease. 

If your pet has been diagnosed with CKD, our University Veterinary Hospital veterinarians like to closely monitor the disease progress and your pet’s comfort level, and will recommend more frequent physical exams to assess body weight, hydration, and nausea. We’ll also measure your pet’s blood pressure and perform blood and urine tests. By staying in close contact with our team, and scheduling regular follow-up exams, we can keep your four-legged friend happy and comfortable for as long as possible. 

If your pet has been drinking and urinating more frequently than normal, they likely have a medical condition that requires veterinary attention. Although they may not have kidney disease—diabetes or a urinary tract infection also are possible—a thorough evaluation is necessary to treat your furry pal. Contact our University Veterinary Hospital team to schedule an appointment.