The kidneys are part of the urinary tract, and function to filter toxins, waste, and extra water from the bloodstream. The filtered material is carried to the bladder as urine, and expelled from the body. The kidneys also help to control blood pressure, produce red blood cells, and keep the body’s electrolytes balanced. If these important organs malfunction, several body systems are affected. Our team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital wants to educate you on how acute and chronic kidney failure can affect your pet, to ensure you recognize the signs.

Acute kidney failure in pets

Acute kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are impacted by a sudden injury that results in malfunction, causing a rapid decline in kidney health and the other body systems that the kidneys facilitate. As the condition progresses, damaged kidney cells cannot receive oxygen from red blood cells, the kidneys lose the ability to filter the blood properly, and damaged cells and protein clog the filter. The resulting inflammation causes further dysfunction. This process quickly becomes irreversible if not addressed promptly, although some kidney function can be recovered with appropriate treatment. Acute kidney failure is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate veterinary attention. 

Numerous factors can cause acute kidney failure in pets, including:

  • Infection — Kidney infections and circulating pathogens that travel to the kidneys can result in kidney tissue damage.
  • Decreased blood supply — Conditions such as shock and heart disease can cause insufficient blood perfusion to the kidneys, resulting in acute failure.
  • Toxins or venom — Toxic substances and venom from poisonous snakes or insects can harm the kidneys. The most common toxins in cats include lilies, ethylene glycol, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), while the most common toxins in dogs include grapes, raisins, ethylene glycol, and NSAIDs. If your pet ingests a toxin, immediately contact Gentle Touch Animal Hospital or Animal Poison Control.
  • Urinary tract obstruction — A urinary tract blockage can result in significant kidney tissue damage.

Chronic kidney failure in pets

Chronic kidney failure is the continued loss of kidney function over months or years. Causes include malformed kidneys, chronic bacterial infections (e.g., bacteria from the mouth because of poor dental health can result in chronic kidney failure), high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. Often the cause is not determined, because signs do not immediately manifest, and the cause is no longer apparent by the time the pet exhibits signs.

What are kidney failure signs in pets?

Kidney tissue cannot regenerate once the cells are destroyed. Therefore, the kidneys have a large reserve capacity, meaning that at least two-thirds of the kidney’s ability to function must be damaged before signs manifest. Possible signs include:

  • Increased thirst and urination — As the kidney’s ability to filter the blood diminishes, the body increases blood supply to the organs trying to increase filtration. This results in more urine production. Since more urine is being expelled, your pet will exhibit excessive thirst to replace the fluid loss.
  • Decreased appetite and vomiting — As waste products build up in the bloodstream, toxins such as ammonia and nitrogen can cause a decreased appetite or vomiting in your pet.
  • Lethargy — The toxins in your pet’s bloodstream will make them feel unwell, and they will likely become lethargic.
  • Pale gums — The kidneys play a role in red blood cell production, and as that function wanes, your pet can develop anemia.

How is kidney failure diagnosed in pets?

Two tests are commonly used to diagnose kidney failure in pets.

  • Blood chemistry profile — This test assesses your pet’s kidney health by measuring two waste products, blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. An increase in these values indicates kidney dysfunction. A more specific test, SDMA, can also be also be performed to evaluate kidney function. 
  • Urinalysis — Your pet’s urine is analyzed for color, content, and concentration. A low urine specific gravity indicates kidney failure. Protein in the urine also indicates kidney malfunction.

How is kidney failure treated in pets?

Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited veterinary professionals at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital will first administer intravenous fluids in high doses to flush out the kidneys, and remove accumulated toxins in the bloodstream. Three possible outcomes can then be expected:

  • Kidney function returns — Your pet’s kidneys will resume functioning and continue to function long-term.
  • Kidney function returns temporarily — Your pet’s kidneys will resume functioning during treatment, but fail again as soon as treatment stops.
  • Kidney function failure — Your pet’s kidney function will not return.

If fluid therapy is successful, the goal is to keep your pet’s kidneys functioning normally for as long as possible. This entails several treatment approaches.

  • Diet — Your pet must be on a low-protein, low-phosphorus therapeutic diet. Several kidney prescription diets are available for dogs and cats.
  • Home fluid therapy — Depending on your pet’s condition, they may require subcutaneous fluid administration daily or intermittently.
  • Medications — Drugs may also be prescribed to bind phosphates, regulate calcium levels, and help stimulate red blood cell production.

How is kidney failure prevented in pets?

Kidney failure cannot be definitively prevented, but taking your pet for regular wellness checks, and keeping common household toxins out of reach, can help safeguard your pet.

If you believe your pet may be affected by kidney disease, or you would like to schedule a wellness exam, do not hesitate to contact our Fear Free team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital.