Kidney Disease in Dogs
Veterinarian Reviewed on April 2, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Your dog has been diagnosed with kidney or renal failure by your veterinarian. This handout is to help explain what this condition is, and how it is treated.
What Is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease is common in older dogs. It is a condition that needs to be treated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Kidney failure requires a strong commitment of time and money to keep your dog healthy after this diagnosis. Special “low-protein” diets have to be prepared in combination with veterinary treatments, daily supplements and holistic care. Pet insurance should always be considered when buying or adopting a furry best friend.
As dogs age their kidneys stop doing all the jobs they were meant to so such as filtering the blood to remove waste, saving the good salts (electrolytes), saving protein in the blood, and producing factors that make red blood cells. When this happens your dog may go into kidney insufficiency or early kidney failure.
It’s sometimes difficult to even be aware that dogs are having kidney problems because of the remarkable capacity of the kidneys to compensate for loss of tissue. Age, infections, parasites, kidney trauma, and toxins may all contribute to kidney disease. There are two common types of kidney problems:
- Chronic renal (kidney) failure
- Kidney stones
Dogs that are on NSAIDs are also vulnerable to this disease. Also known as renal disease, it is most common among senior dogs age seven or older. If your dog has been diagnosed with kidney disease, it’s a warning that there are toxins in the body. With proper veterinary care, though, your dog can live comfortably for months or even many years. Conventional veterinarians recommend switching diets to a low-protein “kidney-diet” or “prescription-diet” food.
Treatment of kidney disease includes subcutaneous fluids, calcitriol if this disease is diagnosed in its early stages, phosphorus binders and erythropoietin.
In addition to these treatments, there are some natural treatments that will help. Chinese herbs and acupuncture help to stimulate the kidneys. Special herbal teas will also help to flush out the kidneys. Although these alone cannot be used to treat kidney disease, their primary benefit is to improve a dog’s quality of life.
Kidney disease can affect younger dogs as well. It can affect any dog breed, yet some breeds are more predisposed to kidney disease. Some of the breeds that are prone to kidney disease, and to abnormally developing kidneys include:
- Alaskan Malamutes
- American Cocker Spaniel
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
- Brittany Spaniel
- Bull Terriers
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Miniature Dachshund
- Miniature Schnauzer
- Norwegian Elkhound
- Shih Tzus
- Standard Poodle
- Standard Dachshund
- Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers
Polycystic kidney disease is congenital and puppies are born with this. Dogs will develop cysts on the kidneys. The amount of damage done to the kidneys will depend on how many cysts develop. Renal dysplasia is also inherited. This occurs when the tissue in the kidneys are malformed. Kidney deterioration often begins in young or middle aged dogs.
Keeping your dog as healthy as possible with regular veterinary care is the best prevention. Feed your dog a healthy diet, and prevent exposure to poisons like antifreeze, pesticides and other toxins. Combine holistic and traditional treatments to provide your dog with a better chance of having a prolonged lifespan, and to improve quality of life.
Prevention: Keeping Your Dog’s Immune System Strong
The immune system will protect your dog from illness. It also supports the repair of his body when he is ill or injured. Because the environment is filled with microscopic organisms that have the potential to infect a dog with numerous minor and life-threatening diseases, it’s important to keep your dog’s immune system in optimal condition. To do this your dog needs to eat a high-quality dog food, or balanced home cooked recipes. He will also need clean water, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and a good multi-vitamin-mineral supplement.
If your dog’s immune system is subjected to anything that could suppress it, he will need extra nutritional support to restore his immune system back to health. Consider a holistic veterinarian that can diagnose and treat your dog using blood work results. Avoid anything that will stress your pooch and weaken his immune system.
As your dog ages there will be a natural decline in the efficiency of his immune system. A healthy and well balanced diet will delay and minimize the inevitable decline in his immune system as he ages. Geriatric dogs will need extra nutrients in their diet, an increase in their multivitamin-mineral supplement, and extra key nutrients like garlic, beta-carotene, vitamin A, proteins like buckwheat and quinoa, vitamin C, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, iron, manganese and selenium. Just as your dog will need more calories if he has an active life, your dog’s immune system will need additional nutritional support when it has to work harder.
Symptoms of Kidney Disease
The most common symptoms of kidney failure are increased thirst and urination. If your dog has blood-tinged urine, urine that has no color or smell, or dilute urine, these are telltale signs of a kidney problem. Some other symptoms will include bad breath, breath with a chemical odor, sores in the mouth, and light-colored gums, which indicate anemia. Episodes of vomiting and diarrhea with nausea demonstrated with him licking his nose frequently, is also another sign of kidney problems. Some other symptoms are:
- Decreased urination
- Blood in urine
- Decreased appetite
- Unhealthy coat condition
- Reluctance to move
- Muscle weakness
- Exercise intolerance
If your dog displays any of the above symptoms, it warrants a visit to the vet.
Function of the Kidneys
Your dog has two kidneys which are located behind and below his rib cage. Their function is to form and excrete urine and the balance of water and electrolytes. The kidneys extract water, toxins, mineral salts, and other waste products from the blood and send them to the bladder for excretion. The kidneys then take the purified water, mix the perfect balance of electrolytes, which are sodium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, and then release it back into the bloodstream.
The kidneys are like a filter that funnel out filtered waste material. They need to filter waste freely, and not clog up. If they do clog up, this will result in kidney and urinary tract problems. Dog owners need to keep their dog’s immune system functioning properly by building and maintaining a healthy immune system, so that the kidneys are kept clean.
Causes of Kidney Disease in Dogs
Kidney disease is hardly ever diagnosed in dogs. This is because the loss of kidney function is usually not symptomatic until there is kidney failure.
Early detection of kidney disease in dogs can mean adding on years to your dog’s life, rather than months. With the E.R.D Health Screen Canine Urine Test, kidney dysfunction is detected much earlier on than with the usual blood test. The E.R.D test detects microscopic amounts of albumin in urine. When this is detected, it’s a clear indication that the kidneys’ are not functioning as they should, and that there’s damage to the kidneys’ filtration units. By using the E.R.D test to screen for kidney disease, veterinarians are able to modify a dog’s diet earlier. This makes a huge difference on the lifespan of the affected dog.
There are many causes of kidney disease such as:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Congenital and inherited disorders
- Toxic reaction to a medication or poison
- Fungal, viral, or bacterial infections
- Amyloidosis- abnormal deposits of a certain protein in the kidney
- A diet that is high in acid, phosphorus, sodium, or protein
- A diet that is low in potassium
Kidney Failure in Dogs
Chronic kidney failure can affect both male and female dogs of all breeds. Sometimes young dogs are affected as well. Chronic kidney failure may be hereditary or may be the result of an inflammation, tick disease, progressive degeneration or unknown causes. Common causes of acute kidney failure include trauma injury, ingesting of poisons like antifreeze or household poisons, damage caused by certain medications, bacterial infections like leptospirosis, dehydration and fungal infections.
Chronic kidney disease is the result of a 65% or more loss of functional tissue in both kidneys. In the early stages of kidney disease there are very few signs. It is recommended that dog owners keep up with yearly testing so that veterinarians can keep a record of a dog’s condition, and to ensure that early treatment can begin before his kidneys get worse.
Rather than something causing chronic kidney disease, some young dogs are born with poorly functioning kidneys, and can succumb to kidney failure at a young age.
Chronic Nephritis Symptoms
- Low-grade fever
- Long-term inflammation of kidney tissue that usually results in permanent kidney damage to fragile renal tissue.
How Much Thirst Is Excessive?
If the weather is hot outside, it will only be natural for your dog to drink more fluids than usual. This will apply to exercising as well. Use your common sense and find out if increased thirst is not linked to weather or exercise. Another sign of future kidney problems may be frequent bladder infections called cystitis. Unfortunately treatment of cystitis with antibiotics and a special diet to acidify the urine does not slow down or end kidney disease. It only masks the symptoms.
How Can Pet Parents Detect Early Signs of Kidney Disease?
Dog owners that are observant will be able to pick up kidney failure symptoms early. By doing so, you’ll be able to give your dog a better chance of having a longer life with a special diet and natural treatments. These natural treatments or natural/ herb formulas can provide effective treatments and relief for your pet. Don’t wait for an emergency. Visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.
How is Kidney Disease Diagnosed?
Kidney disease is diagnosed by blood and urine tests, often on routine wellness testing. By the time the blood tests show anything at least two – thirds of the kidney has been affected, so early urine screening is key. Elevated blood pressure is often a sign of kidney problems.
During the physical examination, the veterinarian will look for:
- Signs of dehydration
- An enlarged abdomen that is caused from the accumulation of fluids – ascites
- High blood pressure
- Softening of the bones in young dogs with hereditary
- Swelling of the limbs that is caused from the accumulation of fluids –subcutaneous edema)
- Bad breath that smells like ammonia or fish.
- Dull coat
- Signs of increased thirst
- Signs of increased urination
Complete blood work, a urine culture and a urinalysis are done. Imaging techniques can also help to determine what may be causing the kidney problem. These tests determine whether kidney disease is present, and whether it is an acute or short-term kidney problem, or a chronic, long-term one.
Blood Urea Nitrogen (Serum Urea Nitrogen): BUN
Dogs consume proteins, which are large molecules. When they are broken down during digestion and used by the body, the by-product result is a nitrogen-containing urea compound. The body has no use for this, and the kidneys excrete it. If the kidneys don’t function properly and don’t filter these waste products, they will accumulate in the dog’s blood. Before your dog takes this test he should fast for 12 hours, so as to prevent the BUN level from rising after consuming protein.
This is used to measure how well the kidneys are filtering waste. Since the kidneys are the only organs that excrete creatinine, the level of creatinine will indicate whether the kidneys are functioning well. If the creatinine levels are high, it is a sign of decreased kidney function. This is known as azotemia. Uremia is defined as azotemia with all the added clinical symptoms such as vomiting, weight loss, anemia and polyuria-polydipsia.
Azotemia is when there is an increase in the BUN or creatinine. Uremia is azotemia with renal failure and includes anemia, polyuria-polydipsia, vomiting or weight loss. Azotemia can be divided into three categories.
Prerenal Azotemia is the result of other causes and not actual kidney malfunction. These will decrease the blood flow to the kidney and include dehydration, Addison’s disease, or heart disease.
Renal Azotemia is when the kidney is actually damaged. This may include chronic or acute renal disease or failure when 75% of the kidney is not functioning properly.
Postrenal Azotemia will occur when there is pressure in the urinary tract system. This can happen where there is a blockage.
Calcium and phosphorus levels are kept normal when there is an interaction of three hormones on three organs. Phosphorus levels increase when kidney disease is present because the kidney excretes less into the urine.
Many tests are performed on a urine sample. These tests will determine if kidney disease is present. These tests include:
- Urine specific gravity
- A complete blood count (CBC)
- Imaging techniques
How is Kidney Disease Treated?
Conventional treatment for this is fluids, medication and maybe a special diet. Some conventional medications include Renal Advanced Powder, vitamins, blood pressure medication and low protein diets. Beyond that your western medicine has few options.
Once a kidney condition has been diagnosed, the stragedy is to avoid any further deterioration, and to aid kidney function. This is done by homeopathic, herbal and nutritional treatments, and by reducing or eliminating the toxic load on the kidneys.
Everything that is in the dog’s food or environment, which cannot be used by the body, must be eliminated. This includes the following:
- Food preservatives
- Food coloring
- Dog food ingredients that may be toxic
Dogs displaying symptoms of mouth ulcers, anemia, skin irritations, frequent vomiting, complete loss of appetite, inflammation of the mouth, low energy and foul breath, which are symptoms of blood poisoning need to be treated with emergency intravenous fluids. Sometimes as much as sixty to seventy percent of the kidney tissue has been destroyed. This cannot be regained. When this happens the fluids are pushed through up to twenty times faster, losing essential salts, water and other nutrients.
The main goal with nutrition is to reduce the load of metabolic wastes like excess phosphorus, sodium and protein on the kidneys. Most of the waste comes from protein, so it’s important to feed a pet a minimal level of protein of maximal usable quality. Choose a well-assimilated form of calcium lactate, calcium gluconate or chelated calcium. If these are unavailable, opt for calcium carbonate or eggshell powder. It’s recommended that all calcium supplements containing phosphorus be avoided.
Home-cooked meals are also recommended to help with recovery. Recipes include liver, which is easy to digest, small portions of other meats, eggs, cheese, with plenty of grains and fresh organic vegetables and fruits. Dandelion and parsley are recommended which help to flush the kidneys. Other foods recommended are:
- Home-made chicken broth
- Clam broth
- Water from tuna fish
- Melted ice cream (this is high in fat and does not have a lot of protein. It is also high in carbohydrates and sugar, which provides energy.)
Divide up your dog’s meals into two or three rations instead of one. Use herbs and remedies that will help to strengthen your dog’s kidney tissue. Always have fresh water available.
Vitamins are necessary to ensure adequate amounts of essential nutrients, which could be low in the “low-protein” diet. Special kidney diets are low in ash, which makes them perfect for pets that are prone to kidney stones and urinary obstruction. Kidney supplements that are recommended are:
- Raw kidney
- High doses of the B-complex vitamins
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- An essential fatty acid supplement
Therapeutic Measures For Canine Kidney Patients
Avoid chlorinated or chemicalized water, commercial foods and spoiled foods, excessive heat and unnecessary exposure to chemical products, car fumes and polluted environments. Groom your dog daily and give him a weekly bath. It’s important to also allow for daily calming exercise like a slow and short walk. Your dog needs to be able to go outdoors easily, and to enjoy sunshine and fresh air.
Your veterinarian best handles any severe kidney crisis. Most times only intravenous fluid administration will help. It’s critical to survival because anything given by the mouth is vomited. Your veterinarian will show you how to give daily fluid injections. There are also additional supportive treatments adapted from herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy.
Cool Parsley Tea
- Steep a tablespoon of fresh parsley in a cup of hot water for 20 minutes.
- Give 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons 3 times a day.
- Pour 3 cups of boiling water over a cup of whole barley.
- Cover and let seep overnight.
- In the morning strain and squeeze out the liquid through a cloth or muslin.
- Add 2 teaspoons each of honey and pure lemon juice.
- Feed your animal 1/4 to 2 cups of this liquid twice daily.
You’ll need to combine raw, grated parsnips with thick honey. Parsnips help to detoxify the kidney. Honey is your energy source. Roll into balls and give as desired. This recipe is more likely to be accepted by dogs than cats.
Recipes credit: Herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy
Holistic Kidney Medicine
Holistic medicine offers many other options, which are effective when combined with traditional medications and on their own. Holistic nutrition, herbal medicine, acupuncture, and supplements like Omega 3 fatty acids, probiotics and B vitamins can help to prolong your pet’s life, and improve his appetite and energy level. Herbal supplements, either Western or Chinese that contain the herb Rehmannia are frequently used for this condition. Rehamnnia has been used in both cats and dogs with all stages of kidney disease with great success.
What is Kidney Support Gold?
Kidney Support Gold is natural support for kidney disease in dogs. It is a unique formula that is gentle, yet a powerful combination of herbal ingredients, tested by our team of holistic veterinarians. Kidney Support Gold is comprised of scientifically researched extracts for supporting total kidney health. The result is a formula that is excellent for aging dogs, and is an essential part of your dog’s long term health regime for helping to maintain normal kidney function.
The effects of the herbs in Kidney Support Gold have been studied for their “tonic” actions. Tonic herbs are restorative, help maintain vitality, and provide nutrition to the body in a way that it can readily absorb.
The key to preventing kidney failure is to keep your dog healthy with regular exercise, a healthy diet and good veterinary care. If your dog has been exposed to pesticides in his environment, his kidneys will have to work harder to detoxify the blood. If you have a dog that is predisposed to kidney problems, it is important to help him build up a strong immune system. Early detection combined with traditional and holistic veterinary care is key to providing your dog with a prolonged lifespan, and to improving his quality of life.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan