As your pet grows older, their organ function typically declines as a result of aging. However, numerous issues can cause kidney failure in pets of any age. If your pet has developed kidney failure, this condition can be quite complex and you may be left with many questions. Although your Liberty Veterinary Hospital veterinarian is your best resource for any concerns about your pet’s care, use the following Q&A as a refresher about kidney failure in pets.

Question: What functions do the kidneys serve in pets?

Answer: The kidneys perform a large number of important tasks in your pet’s body, including:

  • Regulating the fluid amount in the spaces surrounding the body’s cells
  • Regulating the amounts and types of solids in the blood to keep blood concentration in normal limits
  • Regulating the acid-base balance through retention or elimination of specific ions in the blood
  • Removing metabolic waste products and molecular foreign substances detoxified by the liver
  • Controlling the exchange of water back into the blood 
  • Producing the hormone responsible for red blood cell production

Q: What causes kidney failure in pets?

A: Kidney failure in pets can be the result of many health issues, and can be acute or chronic. To determine the best course of treatment or management for kidney failure, the underlying cause must be diagnosed. Kidney failure causes in pets include:

  • Hereditary and congenital abnormalities, such as polycystic kidney disease, renal tubular dysfunction, and renal dysplasia
  • Bacterial infections, like leptospirosis, Lyme disease, and urinary tract infections 
  • Fungal infections, such as blastomycosis and histoplasmosis
  • Trauma to the kidneys
  • Urine flow blockage caused by kidney or bladder stones 
  • Toxicity caused by antifreeze, raisins, grapes, or contact with any lily family flowers

Q: What are the signs in a pet with kidney failure?

A: Chronic kidney failure signs typically develop slowly over time, and may include any combination of the following:

  • Increased urination
  • More frequent urination 
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Acute blindness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Blood in the urine

Most commonly, pet owners notice their pets drinking and urinating more frequently, and may suspect a urinary tract infection. However, comprehensive diagnostic testing is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

Q: How will I know if my pet is suffering from kidney failure?

A: If our Liberty Veterinary Hospital veterinarian suspects that your pet is in kidney failure, they will recommend a few essential tests, including a urinalysis, complete blood count, and blood chemistry panel, that will help rule out other similar conditions and determine a kidney failure diagnosis. 

In nearly all kidney failure cases, the kidneys cannot concentrate urine, which will be evident on a urinalysis. Additionally, protein can appear in the urine, since protein molecules often cannot be reabsorbed when the kidneys are not functioning properly. Other cells and debris from damaged kidneys can also show up in a urine sample from a pet with kidney failure.

When your pet’s blood sample is evaluated, they may have signs of anemia, or a low red blood cell count. And, if toxins are building up in your pet’s bloodstream, the blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CRE) levels are typically elevated. Unfortunately, changes in the BUN and CRE levels generally do not appear until at least 75 percent of kidney function is lost. 

Q: How can I support my pet’s kidney function?

A: Chronic kidney failure is not curable, but the illness signs can be managed. Many therapies can help support kidney function and improve your pet’s quality of life, including:

  • Intravenous or subcutaneous fluid administration
  • Anti-vomiting and anti-nausea medications
  • Medications to manage hypertension
  • B vitamins
  • Phosphate binders
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • High quality, low protein diets

Chronic kidney failure is a progressive disease, and regular check-ups are essential for monitoring your pet’s treatment response. Adjustments will be necessary as the disease progresses to ensure your furry pal remains as comfortable and happy as possible.

Has your pet been drinking and urinating more than usual? If so, schedule an appointment with our Liberty Veterinary Hospital team to diagnose the cause of your pet’s abnormal behavior, as not all excessive thirst and urination cases are the result of kidney failure.