The kidneys are one of the most important organs in their body, and perform three vital jobs. Firstly, they filter the blood to remove any toxins or old chemicals. Secondly, they balance the amount of water in the body. Lastly, they produce some special chemicals and hormones, such as EPO, that regulate the blood and the body as a whole.
But kidneys do have one weakness – they are sensitive to injury, and once the kidney tissue is damaged it’s very difficult to rebuild. This means it is especially vital to keep kidneys as strong and healthy as possible, and to recognise signs of kidney problems early, allowing for effective treatment.
Kidney failure (also called Renal failure) is unfortunately common in our pets, especially cats, and can occur at any age but is more common in older animals.
Kidney failure occurs when the microscopic filtration units called nephrons become damaged, affecting the kidney’s ability to get rid of waste and toxins in the urine. This failure can happen very suddenly due to a toxin or infection (called acute kidney failure), or slowly over time as an animal gets older and the nephrons wear out due to old age (called chronic kidney failure).
Signs of Kidney Disease.
Initially the signs of kidney damage can be quite vague – a tired cat or dog who is losing weight and looks a little under the weather.
The classic symptoms of kidney failure in dogs and cats are:
- Losing weight
- Loss of appetite
- Increased drinking and urination
- Weakness or tiredness
- Bad breath
It is very important to detect kidney problems as quickly as possible, early treatment will greatly improve the outcome and chances at a normal and happy life. If your pet has any of the above signs or you are concerned about kidney problems, we’d recommend a check-up by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Keep in mind that older pets (over 7 years) are at a higher risk than younger cats. Some of the possible tests are discussed in the next section.
Diagnosis of Kidney Disease.
If a vet suspects an animal has kidney disease, diagnosis is usually performed by:
1. Clinical Examination – looking for signs such as dehydration and smelly (uraemic) breath
2. Blood test – to check the kidney function. Increases in blood chemicals called BUN and creatinine often reflect kidney problems. Phosphorus levels may also rise and red blood cell counts may fall in more severe cases.
3. Urine test – to check the concentration and chemistry of the urine. Lower concentrations and increased urinary protein can indicate kidney issues.
4. Ultrasound – this can be useful to examine the shape, size and structure of the kidneys to look for any reductions or problems.
We will discuss Treatment and Preventions of Kidney Disease in next post.