Chronic kidney disease in dogs and cats:  What is it, how do I treat it, can I prevent it?

Chronic kidney disease is one of the most common problems that dogs and cats develop as they age. To help our pets we need to know a little about what the kidneys do and why they are important for health.

The kidneys have two main functions: First is to conserve water and the second is to filter the blood keeping in “good stuff” like protein, sugar and certain electrolytes and getting rid of “bad stuff” like toxins, wastes, and excess electrolytes.

As the kidneys start to decline, they first lose the ability to conserve water resulting in excessive urination. Increased thirst driven by increased urination is the hallmark of the disease. At this stage, your pet will still typically feel pretty good, but is predisposed to dehydration.

As the kidneys continue to decline, they start to lose the ability to excrete toxins which can result in poor appetite, vomiting and weight loss most commonly.

Your veterinarian can diagnose kidney disease on an exam and evaluation of blood work and a urine sample. It is therefore important that you keep a close eye on your pet for the above symptoms, especially increased thirst, and urination.

We cannot “cure” chronic kidney disease, so our goals are to slow down progression of the disease and maintain a good quality of life for your pet so he or she feels well at home. To achieve our goals, we try to address the following primary complications involving chronic kidney disease:  Dehydration, special nutritional needs, and nausea and/or decreased appetite. 

We try to encourage more water in the diet by increasing access to fresh water sources, adding canned food to the diet and sometimes by supplementing the dietary intake by giving fluids subcutaneously or “under the skin.”  Additionally, there are prescription diets available that are formulated to have calculated restrictions in proteins and certain electrolytes that are hard for your pet’s kidneys to process. Finally, veterinarians have medications available for both cats and dogs that can help improve your pet’s appetite and diminish any signs of nausea they may feel from toxin build up in the b. d.

To help your pet stay healthy longer, make sure they are on a high-quality diet and always have access to fresh water. Be especially aware of pets that spend a lot of time outside where dehydration is a higher risk. For cats, it is important to add canned food to their diet at a young age as they are notoriously poor drinkers. 

Regular physical examinations and screening blood and urine panels will help detect kidney changes early on so therapy to delay progression of disease can be implemented right away. Twenty percent of dogs have abnormalities in their blood work and urine samples by 4 years of age and 40% by 9 years of age. Those percentages are almost double for cats!

So, although kidney disease sounds scary there are things that can be done to help protect the kidneys and keep them healthy as well as keep our pets living longer and happier with this disease. 

Note: The advice provided in this article is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition, please make an appointment with your veterinarian.

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