There are several different types of kidney diseases that are common in various breeds of dogs as well as in mixed breed dogs. Since the kidneys of a dog work to filter wastes from the blood and produce urine to remove those wastes as well as help to balance various components of the blood, they play a large role in overall canine health.
Kidneys also work in tandem with other body organs and systems to help to regulate blood pressure, release and manage the production of calcium in the body, regulate and manage phosphorous in the blood as well as produce hormones that lead to the production of new red blood cells in the body. This is all done through the nephrons or tiny filters that make up the kidney. There are literally millions of these tiny filters each performing multiple tasks to keep the body healthy and free from wastes. As the dog ages, just like with humans, these nephrons may become damaged due to a number of internal or genetic reasons or environmental issues. Dogs that are exposed to certain types of toxins or that have genetic health conditions or acquired conditions from food or infection will be at greater risk for developing kidney problems as the nephrons shut down. The kidney is an amazing organ however and is able to cope with up to 75% of the original nephrons shutting down as long as it happens gradually. Most dogs will experience some kidney shut down as they mature, but since it is done gradually their overall health is not affected by this decrease. It is only when the nephrons are shut down or fail to work quickly or more than 75% are affected that kidney disease becomes life threatening on its own.
Acute Kidney Failure
Acute kidney failure occurs when there is a sudden shut down of the functioning of the kidney. This can occur in dogs or puppies of any age and may be triggered by such toxins as car antifreeze ingestion, rat poison or even some prescription medications such as chemotherapy drugs used in cancer treatment in dogs. In addition some occasionally prescribed antibiotics may also cause increases in calcium production in the body leading to deposits and crystallization in the nephons of the kidneys. This can be checked with a simple urine or blood test that the vet can administer.
Antifreeze and rat poison are so toxic to dogs that just a small teaspoonful of either substance can lead to death and non-reversable kidney shut down. There are some antifreeze products on the market that do not contain the poison ethyleneglycol and they should be used whenever possible. Rat poison should never be used anywhere near dogs or yards or houses where dogs are present.
Acute kidney failure typically is very fast and is noted by excessive drinking and frequent urination or straining to urinate with no results. Dogs will be listless, have no energy and may vomit or have diarrhea. Typically in cases of poisoning death kidney failure will be very fast and cannot be prevented once the dog has ingested the compound.
Some acute renal failure can be treated. Leptospira is a bacterial condition that can be treated successfully with antibiotics. In addition some infections of the bladder or urinary tract can often back up into the kidneys causing infections and possible failure if not treated. As with any type of infection the faster the condition is diagnosed the more effective the recovery will be and the lower the likelihood of ongoing kidney related health issues will be.
Chronic kidney failure
Chronic kidney failure is most common in senior dogs and since it has been ongoing for many years the owners often believe it is just the way that the dog naturally behaves. Typically the signs of chronic kidney failure are very subtle and easy to miss. They include drinking lots of water on an ongoing basis as well as producing large amounts of very weak urine. Often these dogs cannot go the night without having to go outside and relieve themselves. They will produce clear rather than yellow colored urine although this is typically hard to see if the dog is toileting on grass or any type of absorbent surface.
Sometimes dogs will chronic kidney failure will have high blood pressure that may be first seen at a vet check. In addition most vets will also do a urine analysis on older dogs that may also provide the necessary information for a correct diagnosis. If you are concerned about how much your older dog drinks or urinates be sure to talk to your vet as these symptoms can also indicate diabetes, which can in turn affect the dog’s kidney function.
Dogs with chronic kidney failure may need intravenous fluids to stabilize their body fluids. In addition diets that are controlled and have lower levels of protein as well as the addition of vitamin supplements containing B-complex and C are often prescribed to help the body in replenishing the nutrients the kidney is not balancing properly. Calcium and phosphorous levels should also be monitored. Omega-3 fatty oils and Vitamin E can be used as antioxidants to reduce the inflammation and infection in the kidneys to increase natural kidney functions. Low sodium diets and removal of any type of sodium in treats or snacks is absolutely essential.
Chronic kidney failure is not automatically a life threatening condition, especially if the dog is started on a specialized diet and supplement program as early as possible. The biggest concern is that other health issues, infection or environmental conditions may trigger the senior dog with chronic kidney failure into acute kidney failure. Typically senior dogs with chronic kidney failure should see the vet more than just once a year with visits every three to four months typically being recommended. In addition the owner should immediately make an appointment if any changes in drinking, eating or urinating are noted in the dog between visits.
Always provide dogs and puppies with as much fresh, clean water as they want as dehydrated dogs and puppies are at the greatest risks for early kidney function shut down.