Your pet’s normal kidney function is important for their overall health and wellbeing. The kidneys perform several vital tasks, including removing toxic metabolic waste products from the blood, regulating bodily fluids and hormones, and assisting in red blood cell production. Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are no longer able to function appropriately. The disease is classified as acute or chronic. Our team at Belmont Animal Hospital offers information about the disease and its classifications, to help safeguard your pet.

What is acute kidney failure in pets?

Acute kidney failure is defined as an abrupt decline in the kidney’s ability to function normally, often resulting from a major event. Causes include:

  • Toxins — The kidney’s abundant blood supply makes the organ particularly vulnerable to toxins, and the kidney’s specific functions can also concentrate toxins, causing more damage. Ethylene glycol (i.e., antifreeze) is the most common toxin to cause kidney damage in pets. Other toxins include heavy metals, snake and bee venom, and lilies. Your Halloween treat bowl can also be a danger for your pet because certain treats, such as grapes and raisins, can lead to acute kidney failure in pets. 
  • Medications — Many medications can cause acute kidney failure in pets, with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories the most common culprits. Other problematic medications include cardiac medications, such as calcium channel blockers and beta blockers. Vitamin D3, found in multivitamins and psoriasis cream can also cause severe acute kidney failure.
  • Ischemia — A decreased blood supply to the kidney can result from numerous issues, including severe dehydration, heatstroke, hemorrhage, and heart failure. When these occur, the oxygen and energy supply to the kidney cells is compromised.
  • Infectious disease — Diseases such as leptospirosis, borreliosis, and babesiosis cause pathogens to colonize the kidney, leading to improper function.

If your pet is affected by acute renal failure, signs will rapidly present, including listlessness, decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. Immediate, aggressive treatment is required, and your pet may still succumb to the disease, if the kidney injury is extensive. If they survive, they will need lifelong kidney monitoring, because they will more likely develop chronic kidney disease.

What is chronic kidney failure in pets?

Chronic kidney failure (CKF) is much more insidious than the acute disease. Typically affecting older pets, the acute disease may not cause signs in the initial stages, but when pets start to show signs, they can include lethargy, unkempt appearance, and weight loss. The best way to determine if your pet is affected by chronic kidney disease is by having regular wellness exams, including screening diagnostics, such as bloodwork and urinalysis. Senior pets should be evaluated by a veterinary professional at least twice a year, because early detection can allow for effective management of this condition for months or years. CKF is staged on a scale from one to four, with one being mild disease, and four being severe.

How is chronic kidney failure managed in pets?

CKF cannot be cured, but management therapies can provide your pet with a good quality of life for months, and, in some cases, years. The therapeutic approach should be tailored to each individual pet and their disease stage. Treatment recommendations include:

  • Stage 1 — These pets have normal kidney values on blood work, but exhibit some other kidney abnormality, such as abnormal kidney palpation, or an inability to adequately concentrate urine.
    • First address dehydration, a common issue that can be corrected via intravenous or subcutaneous fluid administration. 
    • Identify and treat any primary disease processes, such as urinary tract infections or urinary tract blockages.
    • Identify and treat increased blood pressure.
    • Decrease sodium and protein in the pet’s diet.
    • Discontinue any medications that could damage the kidneys.
    • Monitor progress at least twice yearly, because these pets are at increased risk for kidney disease progression.

  • Stage 2 — These pets have normal or mildly increased kidney values, and clinical signs are mild or absent. In addition to stage one treatments:
    • Reduce phosphorus intake using a renal diet, and add phosphate binders, if needed.
    • Monitor and treat pets for metabolic acidosis.
    • Monitor progress every three to six months.
  • Stage 3 — These pets have moderately increased kidney values, and clinical signs are usually mild. In addition to stages one and two treatments:
    • Initiate treatments to address clinical signs, including appetite stimulants and anti-emetics.
    • Monitor progress at least every three months.
  • Stage 4 — These pets have significantly increased kidney values, and clinical signs are usually apparent. In addition to treatments for stage one, two, and three:
    • Ensure the pet is as comfortable as possible.
    • Monitor progress at least once a month.

CKF in pets cannot be prevented, but you can protect your pet from developing acute kidney failure by keeping all medications and potential toxins in closed containers, out of their reach. Early diagnosis is the best CKF management to help your pet live as long as possible, without feeling ill. If you would like to schedule a wellness exam for your pet, or if you believe they are affected by kidney failure, do not hesitate to contact our team at Belmont Animal Hospital.