Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats and Dogs

Chronic kidney disease is the progressive loss of kidney function that can occur in cats and dogs. Chronic kidney disease, also called CKD or chronic renal failure, develops over time. Acute renal failure (also called acute kidney injury) is different from CKD in the sense that it develops suddenly with a faster onset of clinical signs. Acute and chronic kidney diseases are managed differently, and the below will focus on CKD specifically.

The general cause of chronic kidney disease is a loss of function of the kidneys. One of the functions of the kidneys is to filter blood and eliminate things the body does not need through the urine. The urine contains minerals and other things that the kidney filters out of the bloodstream. When these minerals and other things build up in the body, it can cause an animal to feel sick. Animals with chronic kidney disease are usually middle-aged or older, with signs developing over time.

Clinical signs that can occur in dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy
  • Increased frequency of urination combined with increased water consumption

Because these signs could be an indication of other health problems, laboratory testing will help your veterinarian identify if CKD is the cause of these signs. High blood pressure may also occur in dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease, and your veterinarian can measure your pet’s blood pressure in their hospital. Your veterinarian may also perform x-rays or an abdominal ultrasound to evaluate the appearance of the kidneys to help with diagnosis.

The blood and urine testing that your veterinarian performs can include a complete blood count (CBC), chemistry panel, urinalysis, and other tests. Things on these tests that help veterinarians identify animals with CKD can include anemia, elevated BUN and creatinine, high blood phosphorus, dilute urine, and signs of protein in the urine. One of the major markers of kidney disease is elevated creatinine levels in the blood.Creatinine becomes elevated when it is not properly eliminated by the kidney, so animals with CKD will typically have elevated creatinine levels.

After a pet is diagnosed with CKD, management may vary depending on the animal. Fluid therapy, medication to help control blood pressure, medication called phosphorus binders, electrolyte management, and nutritional modification are all components of managing a pet with CKD. The medication prescribed can vary depending on the animal.Nutritional modification is an especially important part of managing patients with CKD. Restricting dietary protein and dietary phosphorus can actually help animals with documented CKD feel better and can slow the progression of disease in some cases.Nutritional modification for CKD may also include things like incorporating omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil in the diet and ensuring that the diet is energy dense to allow for weight maintenance or, if necessary, weight gain.

Many owners are extremely concerned about their pet eating in general because loss of appetite and weight loss can occur in many cats and dogs with CKD. Changing the pet’s diet to a lower protein and lower phosphorus veterinary-exclusive renal diet can be very stressful for both the pet owner and the cat or dog. The key to successful dietary modification for CKD is focusing on palatable diet options that can be used safely without causing additional harm to the kidneys.

Factors that affect palatability, or an animal’s acceptance of a low-protein/low-phosphorus diet, can vary significantly. Kibble size and shape, flavor, andthe texture of the food can affect a dog or cat’s preference for diet. Some animals prefer smaller kibble while others prefer larger kibble, for example. Some animals prefer canned food over dry food, while others prefer a combination of canned and dry food versus one or the other.In addition to the palatability of a single renal-friendly diet, rotating among these diets may help an animal eat more consistently – changing the food can sometimes affect appetite.

Appetite is an important factor for owners and veterinarians alike. Owners never like to see their animal turn their nose up at food.Veterinarians also get concerned when a cat or dog does not eat because of multiple factors. The primary reason is that animals typically feel better and have a better quality of life when they are eating regularly. When pets with chronic kidney disease are fed an appropriate diet, they have the best chance for prolonged quality of life.

VISIT YOUR VET

Only a veterinarian can diagnose, manage, and provide diet options for pets with chronic kidney disease. If your pet is exhibiting signs similar to those listed above, contact your veterinarian.

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