Kidney failure in pets: what you need to know

  • by DR Roxanne Jones
Kidney failure in pets: what you need to know

Kidney failure, also known as kidney disease, is unfortunately very common in cats and dogs, and is most often seen in old cats, but is also common in dogs. Less frequently it may be seen in young pets. 

What is kidney failure?

Simply speaking, kidney failure is when the kidneys stop working properly. The kidneys are able to compensate very well when a small percentage of the organ is not working well. It’s only when a large portion of the kidney is not functioning that your pet will start to show signs of illness. 

The kidney’s function in the body is to filter out bodily by-products, which are produced during normal body function and need to be removed. The kidneys filter blood and create urine, and the by-products are excreted from the body via the urine. 

If the kidneys are not functioning properly, they are unable to filter out these by-products, and thus waste accumulates in the body. When there is too much of these waste products in the body, the body starts to become poisoned, and your animal will start to get sick. If left untreated, kidney failure will eventually lead to death.


How do I know if my pet has kidney disease?

Kidney disease is an illness that needs to be diagnosed by your vet. Blood tests and urine analysis must be performed to get an accurate diagnosis and an indication of how far advanced the illness is.

Symptoms of kidney disease include:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Poor appetite
  • Bad or abnormal smelling breath
  • Vomiting blood 
  • Black stool
  • Coma 

Types of kidney disease

There are a few different kidney conditions but the most common that we see is chronic kidney disease and acute kidney disease.

Chronic kidney disease comes on gradually and is the most commonly seen, usually in elderly pets. However, it is possible in young animals. It happens when irreversible damage has occurred to the kidneys. It usually starts with weight loss, and it cannot be cured, only managed. Your pet may be able to cope with treatment for a period of time.

Acute kidney disease comes on rapidly. Usually, the first signs are vomiting and loss of appetite. It can occur after an incident of poisoning, or ingesting any of the following: anti-freeze, human pain medication, lilies (especially cats) or raisins (especially dogs). It can also occur as a result of injuries that cause the animal to go into shock, and blockages in the urinary tract (ie: bladder blockages). 

Depending on the cause of acute kidney failure and the amount of damage done to the kidneys, some cases can be treated and cured, while other cases may result in permanent damage to the kidneys.

What is the treatment for kidney disease? 

Treatment will usually start with your pet being admitted to hospital, placed on a drip and given medication. If your pet responds well to in-hospital treatment, she will be able to go home and continue, in most cases, life-long treatment at home. This treatment will usually include medication and a special diet. Trying to increase your pet’s daily intake of water is very important. 

If your pet has suffered acute kidney failure that is reversible, you can count yourself (and your pet) incredibly lucky. Your furbaby may not require life-long medication or treatment. 

Special diets for kidney disease are critical and your pet should be encouraged to eat these at all costs.

It’s important to be realistic. Treatment of chronic kidney disease will not cure your pet. Rather, it’s aimed at keeping your pet as happy and comfortable as possible for as long as possible. Some animals respond well to treatment and are able to thrive for a long period of time, while others struggle. Unfortunately, in most cases, kidney disease is terminal and will eventually get the better of your beloved pet.

Are there ways to prevent kidney disease?

Usually, the cause of chronic kidney disease isn’t really known, but it tends to strike older pets. As far as acute kidney disease goes, it’s critical to ensure that your pets never have access to toxins, such as those mentioned earlier. Even certain types of plants in your garden at home can be very dangerous to your pets. Chat to your vet if you’re concerned.

While you can’t prevent chronic kidney disease, you can detect it early. The earlier it is detected and treated to slow it down, the longer your furbaby will remain happy and feeling well.

Screening tests are available from your vet, and if it’s found that your pet is at risk for kidney disease, measures can be taken to address it. As with every other kind of disease, if your pet starts showing signs of illness, get her to your vet sooner rather than later, as an early diagnosis of a disease always means the best possible prognosis and quality of life for your animal. 

The best advice we can give you is to always spend plenty of time with your pet to get to know his or her ‘normal’. That way, you’ll know as soon as something isn’t right. And spending loads of time with your furbaby sounds like a treat all round!

Disclaimer: Always consult your vet for professional advice. The blog is provided as an educational tool and should not be used to diagnose illness or treat an animal.

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