Most people recognize cancer as the silent killer of pets, but did you also know that kidney disease can take your dog's life unexpectedly? In fact, after cancer, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is commonly considered the number two killer of dogs in the U.S. To better prepare and protect your dog from this horrible affliction, read on and learn a bit more about how kidney disease affects dogs.
According the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, your dog's kidneys "act as a complex filter that removes from blood wastes that are generated from break down of food, old cells, toxins or poisons and many drugs that are given for treatment of other diseases." Your dog's two kidneys also help regulate blood pressure and calcium and vitamin D metabolism as well as produce a substance that helps with the creation of new red blood cells. Due to the various functions of the kidneys, a dog with kidney disease may display a multitude of signs. However, these signs may not become apparent as quickly as you'd imagine.
Kidneys are made up of microscopic nephrons. As your dog ages or if the kidneys become damaged, some nephrons begin to die and other reserve (or "resting") nephrons take over. Once there are no extra nephrons remaining, your dog may begin to display signs of kidney damage such as loss of appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, and anemia. However, this often only occurs once 75% of kidney function (2/3 of nephrons) has been lost. This is why it so important you bring your dog to veterinarian at least once a year and remain vigilant for unusual signs in your dog's behavior. It may help prevent your dog from developing kidney disease in the first place.
Ultimately the severity of your dog's signs will determine what treatments are needed. Some common forms of treatment include medication, fluid therapy, dialysis and dietary management. Often dogs with kidney disease will be given a diet that is low is phosphorus, salt, and protein. A veterinarian may also recommend that your senior dog be given a diet that is lower in protein if undetected or early renal insufficiency is suspected.
There are many different causes of kidney disease — birth defects, cancer, toxins and nutritional factors, to name a few. That is why it is crucial to bring your dog in for regular veterinary exams and discuss with him or her how to best keep your dog healthy.