As our dogs age, we keep a close eye on their health, watching for signs of illness and disease. Kidney failure is common in senior dogs. The disease is progressive -- so the sooner you recognizing the signs and confirm the illness the sooner you can work to slow the disease and add years to your dog's life.
The Function of Kidneys
Kidneys are the body's filters. All of the toxins in the body are carried in the blood and circulate through the kidneys, which filter them, dissolve them in water and excrete them. Healthy kidneys can get rid of large quantities of toxins in small amounts of water. As the kidneys begin to fail, more and more water is necessary to expel the toxins. Eventually, the dog can't take in enough water to keep up with what the kidneys need, and toxins build up in the dog's body.
Prevalence and Diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is one the most common diseases that affect older dogs. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, as many as 10 percent of senior dogs visiting veterinary clinics have CKD. Chronic kidney disease can develop over a period of months, and owners may not notice the signs until significant parts of the kidneys are already irreversibly damaged. Chronic kidney disease is diagnosed through blood work and urinalysis -- so routine blood and urine screenings are important as your dog gets older.
Symptoms of Kidney Disease
Signs of chronic kidney disease can be subtle, and they are similar to those of other diseases, so it's important to know what to watch for as your dog ages. The most common symptoms are:
- increased drinking
- increased or decreased urination
- poor appetite
- weight loss
- poor coat condition
- vomiting and diarrhea
As kidney disease progresses, your dog may experience more pronounced symptoms, including:
- mouth ulcers and bad breath from toxin buildup
- fluid retention
- high blood pressure
- Kidney size changes/kidney pain
Many of these symptoms are often overlooked, as owners assume their dogs are slowing down with age. If your older dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, a simple blood test can tell you whether CKD is the cause. Regular veterinary visits and geriatric blood profiles can help you monitor all of your dog's major body systems and organs, including the kidneys, giving early warning that may significantly extend your dog's life.
Treatment for Kidney Disease
There is no cure for chronic kidney disease; once your dog has CKD, irreversible damage to the kidneys as been done. But your veterinarian can help you come up with a treatment plan to mitigate the symptoms. One of the most important parts of managing kidney disease is fluid therapy. For most dogs, fluids are given subcutaneously, or under the skin. After a few training sessions with a vet, most owners can give fluids at home, which is less stressful for the dog and less costly for the owner. Other parts of a kidney management plan include:
- feeding a lower-protein and -phosphorus diet to reduce toxins
- supplementing the diet with phosphorus binders and probiotics
- adding medications to reduce stomach acid, nausea and diarrhea
In late stages of the disease, IV fluids and feeding tubes may be necessary
While no treatment plan will turn damaged kidneys back into healthy kidneys, a comprehensive treatment plan can significantly extend your dog's quantity and quality of life.
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