Kidney disease in animals

This year Thursday 12 March 2015 marks World Kidney Day.

Why is it so important to understand more about this disease?

  • Kidney failure is one of the most common diseases in pets older than 10 years.
  • With 9 out of a 1000 dogs live with chronic kidney disease, and
  • as many as 1 out of 3 cats older than 10 years living with a degree of kidney insufficiency, the precursor of kidney failure.

In comparison with the liver the kidney is significantly smaller and easily will fit in your hand. This by no means signifies a less important function.  The liver is also an organ with regenerative capacity which can result in recovery after an insult even if as much as 75% of the liver was compromised. The kidney unfortunately cannot regenerate and once kidney damage has set in it is irreversible

Know your breed’s risk profile

Kidney disease can affect any breed of cat or dog. Certain breeds are more prone and therefore if you share your life with a Bull Terrier, Cairn Terrier, German Shepherd, English Cocker Spaniel or Sharpei it is important to speak to your vet on how to detect kidney disease early.

Persian and Abyssinian cats are also genetically more prone to certain kidney disease like polycystic kidneys or PKD.

Causes of kidney disease

The underlying cause of kidney disease often remains undetected. Age related changes, certain toxins and pain medications, infections, cancer and congenital defects may be underlying.

Symptoms to look out for

Unfortunately kidney disease may be a silent condition until already in an advanced state.

Common signs to look out for are:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Increased urination
  • Pale mucus membranes
  • Breath smelling of ammonia

We mainly think of the kidney as a filter but this special organ is involved in many other important body functions like blood pressure control, hormone production, electrolyte and fluid balancing.

How is kidney disease confirmed?

There is no single test for kidney failure and therefore blood and urine tests need to be evaluated concurrently.

To test your dog or cats kidney parameters takes less than 15 minutes (if a urine sample is submitted at consultation).



The aim of treatment is management and support and not cure. Most patients will need a drip to flush out all the accumulated waste products and usually will stay in hospital for up to 3 days.

Other treatment will also be given to relieve nausea, stomach wall irritation and infection.

Although kidney disease cannot be cured modern day medicine makes quality of life possible. And once stabilised patients will go home with supportive treatment to improve blood flow to kidneys, regulate blood pressure and control nausea.

Clinical trials also proved that special diets can extend the life of a patient in kidney failure.

Who needs testing?

  1. All cats and dogs with excessive thirst or urination.
  2. In dogs and cats older than 7 years it is recommended to test the urine and blood routinely once a year.
  3. After the age of 10 it is recommended to test urine and blood routinely every 6 months or sooner if signs develop.
  4. In predisposed breeds testing is even more important.

Although kidney disease cannot be cured it can be managed with supportive treatment to ensure a quality life.

But early diagnosis is key to prevent the disease to be a death sentence.

By Dr Adel Ferriera


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