Kidney disease and renal failure are general terms used to describe problems with the kidneys and their ability to function properly. Kidney disease is one of the most common problems we see in pets at Castle Vets in Reading.
The kidneys are responsible for maintaining the normal composition of the blood by filtering waste products from the body such as urea, ammonia, drugs and toxic substances. They also keep the volume of water in the body constant, help regulate blood pressure, maintain calcium levels and produce a hormone that encourages red blood cell production. The kidneys filter waste through thousands of tubes known as nephrons; if these become damaged it makes it more difficult for the kidneys to filter out the toxins from the blood stream which will make the pet feel very unwell and cause symptoms such as
- Increased thirst
- Changes to urination – increased, decreased or toileting in the house
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Hunched position (pain)
- Poor coat
If your pet is showing any of these signs then you should have him or her checked by a vet as soon as possible; it is also a great help if you can get a fresh urine sample from your pet, as this simple and inexpensive test can give your vet information about how well the kidneys are working.
Common causes of kidney disease
One of the most common reasons for kidney disease and deterioration is the age of the animal, but kidney disease may also happen very suddenly (acute kidney failure), depending on what has caused it to happen.
Chronic kidney disease: A loss of kidney function that occurs over time, that may be caused by old age and general wear and tear, disease causing deterioration, or a previous problem of acute renal failure.
Acute kidney disease or failure: The function of the kidneys is affected very suddenly and may be caused by an infection, heatstroke, snake or insect bites and the ingestion of toxic substances such as raisins, lilies or antifreeze.
Hereditary/Congenital Problems: These are present at birth, but may not always be discovered until the animal is older. Examples of these problems include,
- Renal dysplasia – One or both kidneys are small in size and do not mature or function properly.
- Polycystic kidneys – The kidneys are bigger than normal and develop cysts inside them
Infections: Bacteria entering the blood streams via infections or from dental disease, can cause problems in many organs including the kidneys
Stress on the kidneys: This is usually as a result of other illnesses or problems such as hyperthyroidism, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, urinary tract problems, cancer and trauma such as a road traffic accident or kick.
How kidney disease is diagnosed
Examination: The vet will give the animal a thorough examination, taking into account any of the clinical signs and symptoms listed above.
Urinalysis: This relatively inexpensive test can give the vet an idea of how well the kidneys are functioning and indicate a problem, but is not sufficient in itself to diagnose kidney disease.
Blood Test: This can give the vet a really good idea of how well the kidneys are functioning. Blood tests are repeated frequently in animals with kidney problems so that the vet can monitor for decrease of function.
Ultrasound and/or X-ray: The vet will be able to look at the size and shape of the kidneys on both X-ray and ultrasound. Ultrasound may also be used to see the density of the kidney and to guide a needle for a biopsy of the kidney.
Fluid Therapy: An animal with kidney damage or failure can’t concentrate their urine, which means that too much fluid is passed out of the body. Initially the animal may need to stay at the practice to be given extra fluids via an intravenous (into the vein) drip over a couple of days, in order to rehydrate them and also so that the vet can monitor urination. Once the animal is more stable he or she may just require fluid boluses subcutaneously (under the skin) on a regular basis; at Castle Vets we like to teach pet owners how to do this, so that the animal is able to stay in the comfort of their own home when receiving treatment (If this is not possible then it can be done during a nurse consultation instead).
Veterinary Diet Foods: These are often recommended by the vet because they are specially designed to aid renal function. They are often lower in protein, phosphorus and salt than regular pet foods, which reduces the stress on the kidneys and they contain extra fatty acids to help combat the increased body acidity that may occur with kidney problems.
Medications: Your vet will recommend specific medications to help with kidney function and to treat underlying infections and side effects such as nausea and vomiting; they may also prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements to replace what is being lost by the body. It is vitally important that you discuss any ‘over the counter’ supplements that you want to give your pet with your vet as some may not be suitable at all and may even cause more damage.
Regular Monitoring: your vet will ask to see your pet on a fairly regular basis in order to monitor your pet’s condition and make adjustments as necessary to fluid therapy, diet and medications. Blood tests and blood pressure monitoring and weight checks will be necessary to ensure that your pet is doing well on the prescribed treatments.
Other possible treatments for kidney disease may include
Stem Cell Therapy – This is a fairly new therapy to the UK, although it has been available in other countries for a few years. The idea is that the adult stem cells help body organs to regenerate and repair. The procedure involves giving a general anaesthetic to the patient in order for the vet to harvest fat from the abdomen; this fat is then sent to the laboratory where the stem cells are isolated, concentrated and then returned to the veterinary practice. The stem cell therapy is then administered to the patient intravenously. Most veterinary practices could, in theory, provide stem cell therapy to feline patients, however, it is not a commonly used treatment due to the invasive procedure and the very high cost of the treatment.
Dialysis – This is process that cleanses the blood of toxins and is commonly used in human patients. The dialysis machine filters the blood and rids the body of harmful waste, extra salt, and water. Dialysis is an intensive and expensive procedure that is not widely available in the UK at the moment, although some veterinary hospitals may be able to provide treatment.
Kidney transplants – This is a very expensive procedure that has been shown to be more successful in cats than dogs. Although it may extend the life of the animal for up to 3 years, little more than half of the cats that have the transplant survive for 6 months after surgery. There is also a big question about whether it is and ethically acceptable procedure because the donor and recipient animals are unable to give consent. Kidney transplant treatment is not currently available in the UK.
The outlook for a pet with renal disease
Advances in veterinary medicine and treatments mean that there is now a lot that vets can do to help a pet with kidney disease to feel better and means that many pets with chronic kidney disease go on to live for several more years after their initial diagnosis, of course this may also depend on the cause and severity of the kidney damage before diagnosis. With early and intensive treatment, some forms of acute renal failure may even be reversible.
If you would like to book your pet in for a health check or have any concerns about his or her health, please contact us on 01189 574488 or visit our website