What is kidney failure?
Kidney failure, also known as renal failure, results from the inability of the kidneys to function properly. When they are healthy, kidneys perform several functions, including removing the waste products of metabolism from your pet’s blood, regulating the volume and composition of body fluids, producing hormones that stimulate production of red blood cells, and controlling blood pressure. Once the kidneys do their job, the by-products produced as a result of the metabolic process are excreted in the form of urine.
There are two kinds of kidney failure. The first is known as chronic kidney failure, which occurs when the kidneys can no longer perform the crucial functions of excreting waste products, producing hormones, and regulating the chemical composition of body fluids. In this case, kidney function decreases slowly over a long period of time, which means the physical signs may appear gradually.
The second type is known as acute kidney failure. It is characterized by an abrupt decline in kidney function that leads to changes in body chemistry, including alterations in fluid and mineral balances. These changes negatively affect almost every system in the body. The physical signs are more dramatic with acute kidney failure because kidney function declines quickly.
What are the causes of kidney failure?
There are many possible causes of kidney failure, but the most common is that the kidneys simply “wear out” due to age. Kidney failure can also be caused by ingestion of toxic substances, such as antifreeze, some anti-inflammatory drugs, and certain types of antibiotics. In addition, some types of infections may cause kidney function to decline.
What are the physical signs my pet might experience?
Any of the following may be indicators of kidney failure:
- Excessive drinking of water
- Increased urination
- Bad breath
- Not eating for a day or more
- Lack of coordination when walking
- Weight loss or wasting of muscle tissue
How can I prevent kidney failure in my pet?
Most commonly, pets develop kidney failure as they age, because their kidneys “wear out”. In this case, it is not possible to prevent the failure, although it is possible to treat it. Outdoor cats and dogs are at greater risk of kidney failure because they are more frequently exposed to anti-freeze. Ingestion of even a small amount of antifreeze can be fatal.
Although there are not any specific recommendations for prevention of kidney failure, general guidelines include:
- Allowing frequent attempts to urinate
- Providing access to fresh water at all times
- Avoiding exposure to antifreeze by minimizing your pet’s time spent outdoors unsupervised
What type of pet is the most susceptible to kidney failure?
The prevalence of kidney failure increases with age. Cats and small dogs show early signs at about ten to fourteen years of age, while large dogs may experience kidney failure much earlier.
Kidney failure is seen more frequently in cats than in dogs, and certain breeds are more prone to developing kidney problems. However, all breeds of dogs and cats can be affected, and at any age. Your veterinarian may recommend blood work, even at an early age, to establish baseline values that can be used for comparison later in your pet’s life if kidney failure or another disease is suspected.
How is kidney failure treated?
Tests are necessary to diagnose acute and chronic kidney failure and to rule out other diseases. Blood and urine samples are used to test for values related to various kidney functions and to make sure that infection is not the cause of the physical signs of the disease.
Acute kidney failure is potentially reversible, whereas chronic kidney failure is not. Pets experiencing chronic kidney failure may not respond to treatment at all or may live another few months or even years. An acute kidney problem can become a chronic problem. Your veterinarian can differentiate between acute and chronic failure based on history, physical examinations, and laboratory testing. A kidney biopsy may be required to give an accurate prognosis for your pet’s life span.
Both chronic and acute kidney failure can be life-threatening conditions requiring hospitalization.
Treatment may include:
- Intravenous fluids
- A special diet to decrease protein and salt intake
- Medication for high blood pressure
- Hospitalization and supportive care
- Control of vomiting and gastrointestinal problems with diet and drug therapy
- Medications for anaemia (decreased red blood cell production)
- Potassium supplementation
After your pet leaves the hospital, have blood tests and urinalysis repeated as recommended by your veterinarian. Be sure to administer any prescribed medications and to feed your pet as directed. Some owners can administer subcutaneous fluid to their pets at home. Your veterinarian can provide instructions if this become necessary. Following care instructions and working closely with your veterinarian will give your pet a better quality of life during treatment and may help prolong your pet’s life.