It is undeniable that pets are living longer than ever. The average life expectancy of a dog is now 11 years and of a cat, a remarkable 14 years. As our pets live longer lives, many are developing diseases of old age. Among the most prevalent of these is chronic renal disease or renal failure.

Causes of Renal Disease in Dogs and Cats

The kidneys serve a vital function in detoxifying the blood as well as in maintaining hydration and electrolyte balance. Kidney cells are arranged to form filters of the blood called nephrons. Unfortunately, there are only a finite number of nephrons in the kidneys and they are vulnerable to damage. They also cannot regenerate as organs like the liver can. The result of this is that kidney function can decrease over time. This is what is referred to as renal failure.

In some instances, the decline in renal function can be precipitated rapidly. This is referred to as acute renal failure. In pets, this is most often caused by toxin ingestion. Examples of toxins that can damage the kidneys include lilies, antifreeze and grapes, among others. If the pet survives this acute kidney injury, it may still be left with chronic renal dysfunction. Chronic renal dysfunction can also occur as a function of aging and possibly diet as nephrons are gradually lost over time. In either instance, the pet can no longer properly regulate its hydration status or filter toxins from the blood. This is what leads to the symptoms of renal disease which include increased drinking, increased urination, gastrointestinal ulceration, nausea and decreased appetite as well a general malaise.

Early Detection and Prevention of Renal Disease

Regular veterinary visits and at least annual blood and urine testing are the best way to assess your pet’s renal status. Monitoring values from a young age allow early signs of renal disease to be detected. The sooner renal disease is detected, the more effective treatment can be. Early detection therefore significantly improves both the quality and quantity of your pet’s life.

If your vet suspects renal disease, she may use the IRIS (International Renal Interest Society) guidelines to stage the severity of the condition. Depending on the stage of failure, different treatment options and follow up testing will be required.

Renal Disease Treatment for Dogs and Cats

The mainstay of treatment is dietary intervention. My moderately restricting protein and phosphorous and increasing potassium, kidney function can be spared and diet alone can significantly increase life expectancy as well as Quality of Life.

As the disease progresses, other medications and treatments may be necessary. These can include things such as blood pressure medication and fluid therapy.

Many pets can have their disease progression slowed significantly to the point that it doesn’t become the ultimate cause for death or euthanasia. However, sometimes despite all efforts at treatment, your pet may deteriorate and renal disease is a very common reason for euthanasia in both dogs and cats.

If you think your pet may be showing signs of renal disease, talk to your vet. If you are struggling assess quality of life, your vet can help to assist you. We are also available to help you work out if your pet may be suffering.

Additional resource for information on Renal Disease in dogs and cats – IRIS: