Your pet’s kidneys remove wastes from their blood that are produced by the breakdown of food, worn-out cells, toxins, poisons, and many drugs administered to treat medical issues. Your pet’s kidneys also produce a substance that plays a role in new red blood cell creation, and help regulate your pet’s blood pressure, and calcium and vitamin D levels. Since your pet’s kidneys are so crucial to your pet’s wellbeing, the team at Billings Animal Family Hospital wants to educate you on kidney failure, and methods to safeguard cats and dogs.

Kidney failure in pets can be acute or chronic. Regardless of the type, kidney disease is a serious problem for your pet and requires conscientious veterinary attention.

Acute kidney failure in dogs and cats

Acute kidney disease in pets occurs over several hours to days, and pets of any age can be affected. Many issues can cause acute kidney failure.

  • Poisons and toxins Harmful substances that damage your pet’s kidneys most commonly cause acute kidney failure. Many common household items can result in acute kidney failure—antifreeze, cleaning fluids, and ibuprofen are common culprits. Venomous snake bites can also cause kidney failure.
  • Shock When your pet loses a significant amount of blood or becomes severely dehydrated, the blood flow to your pet’s kidneys is compromised, and can result in the kidneys shutting down. Monitor your pet closely for heat exhaustion in warmer weather, because severe heat stress can result in kidney failure.
  • Trauma Severe trauma to your pet, especially a broken pelvis or burst bladder, can cause kidney damage.
  • Infection Bacteria in the kidneys can damage the tissue and result in kidney failure.
  • Blockage If your pet has a urinary tract blockage, such as a calculus blocking the urethra, the urine builds up in the bladder and gets pushed back into the kidney. This causes pressure in the kidney, which can damage kidney tissue.
  • Heart failure The resulting low blood pressure reduces blood flow and damages the kidneys.

Chronic kidney failure in dogs and cats

Older pets are most commonly affected by chronic kidney failure, which is the persistent loss of kidney function over time. Because chronic kidney failure occurs gradually, the cause is not always determined, but several issues can result. 

Dental disease is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease. Bacteria build up on your pet’s teeth and enter their bloodstream, ending up in the kidneys for removal. Significant bacteria amounts can damage the kidney tissue. Over time, high blood pressure damages the small vessels around the kidneys, resulting in decreased blood flow, which deprives the tissues of nutrients. Hypothyroidism leads to decreased blood flow to the kidney, while hyperthyroidism increases the protein circulating in the bloodstream, causing damage to the kidney tissue when the protein needs to be filtered.

Kidney failure signs in dogs and cats

Pets in the early stages of chronic kidney failure may not exhibit any signs, but if they do, the signs include:

  • Frequent urination—cats may urinate outside the litter box
  • Excessive water intake to replace the fluids lost when urinating
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth ulcerations

Kidney failure diagnosis in dogs and cats

Diagnosis is typically based on blood test and urinalysis results. Your pet’s blood is evaluated to check the concentration of two key waste products—blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. Calcium and phosphorus levels will also be measured, since they are typically increased in cases of kidney failure. Your pet’s urine is evaluated for the presence of protein, blood cells, and bacteria, and urine concentration.

Kidney failure treatment in dogs and cats

No definitive cure is available for kidney failure, but therapy can mitigate the damage. Treatment involves a multi-pronged response.

  • Fluid therapy Decreasing the buildup of waste products in your pet’s bloodstream, while increasing their hydration levels, is paramount to treatment.
  • Correcting electrolyte imbalances This correction is accomplished through fluid therapy and dietary changes.
  • Maintaining normal blood pressure Medications may be prescribed to help normalize your pet’s blood pressure.
  • Providing appropriate dietary needs Your pet’s diet needs to be low in protein, phosphorus, and sodium, while high in water soluble vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. Supplementation with omega 3 fatty acids can be useful.

Kidney failure prevention in dogs and cats

You can take a few steps to protect your pet from this debilitating disease. Ensure your pet stays well hydrated, and consider providing a water fountain, which can entice some pets to drink more. Keep all toxins, poisons, and medications locked away. Schedule regular dental cleanings and wellness checks for your pet. Older pets should be evaluated at least twice yearly.

Protecting your pet’s kidneys will help ensure they live a long, happy life by your side. If you are concerned your pet is suffering from kidney failure or other kidney problems, do not hesitate to contact Billings Animal Family Hospital.