Renal disease in dogs and cats

The silent killer

Under the cloak of darkness, it works with the stealth of a seasoned assassin. It attacks before you even know it is presence. What is it? Renal disease.

Diseases of the kidneys are fairly common in dogs and cats. Renal failure occurs when approximately 75% of the nephrons (the tubes in the kidneys that collect and transport fluid that eventually ends up in the bladder) are damaged. The list of causes of renal disease is long and diverse and some of these include snake venom and other toxins, bacterial infections, antibiotics, pain-killers, heavy metals, and anaesthetics.

Renal disease presents as either acute (sudden) or chronic (long term). Clinical signs of acute renal disease are often non-specific and include depression, tiredness, vomiting, diarrhoea, and dehydration. Sometimes owners complain of smelly breath that is caused by high levels of urea in the body. Onset of clinical signs can be rapid occurring within hours after exposure to a causative agent. A classical example is the rapid onset of renal failure in dogs and cats after being bitten by snakes. The good news with acute renal failure, if the animal receives early treatment, the kidney can often regenerate itself.

Chronic renal failure is more insidious and more difficult to notice by owners. It slowly develops over weeks and months or even years. The dog or cat may be drinking or urinating more, slowly losing weight, and developing a poorer body condition. Since the changes occur so slowly, it is often overlooked or explained away that the animal is ‘getting old’. Unfortunately, all too often, the animal receives veterinary care when the kidneys have become so diseased that there is little that can be done. Unlike acute renal disease, the kidney afflicted with chronic renal disease generally does not regenerate itself. Therefore, early detection is vital.

Like most things, prevention is the best approach in maintaining healthy kidneys. A good well balanced diet is the best approach to longevity in our pets. Buy the best pet food you can afford and variety is definitely important. Dogs are omnivores like us so a good helping of cooked pumpkin, carrot, beetroot, and other vegetables are good for them. Mix these with meat and dry food and do not forget the occasional raw bone for dental health. Also, remember to tell your veterinarian if you have noticed your pet drinking more water lately or has that ‘doggy’ breath. A simple, inexpensive test with the urine may reveal your pet has early renal disease. Animals can live quite a happy life with renal disease with some minor medications and proper diet.

Dr Ruby Petersen
Veterinarian