Chronic Renal Failure in Dogs

Chronic renal failure (CRF) can affect a dog of any age, breed or gender. It is actually a normal part of the aging process and the average age that owners begin to notice symptoms is seven.

The kidneys work as a filtration system for the blood, removing waste products through the urinary tract. When they do not work as they should, waste products build up and the clinical signs of kidney disease develop:

  • increase in water consumption
  • increase in urine production
  • blood in urine or stool
  • lethargy and weight loss
  • loss of appetite or anorexia
  • ‘ vomiting
  • loss of muscle tone
  • ‘ diarrhea’
  • gastrointestinal ulcers
  • bad breath
  • exercise intolerance
  • eventually, urination and drinking slack as the kidneys are unable to produce urine and the puffy look of water retention will begin to show

The increase in water consumption, or polydipsia, is the bodies attempt to flush out the build up of toxins. The increased urination, or polyuria, is caused by the increased water intake but the kidneys are unable to concentrate the urine so it is a almost clear in color with little to no odor.

Symptoms of Cronic Renal Failure in Dogs

Symptoms of CRF usually do not show until the disease is in an advanced stage, normally when the kidneys are functioning at only twenty-five percent function. By this time, it is often too late for treatment to do much besides make the dog more comfortable and help alleviate symptoms. Dogs with chronic renal failure can live for a few months to a few years depending on how well the dog takes to treatment and how quickly the disease progresses.

Although CRF can occur in any dog, there are breeds that are prone to congenital renal failure that can often develop when the dog is still young. These breeds include Basengi, Beagle, Bull Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Chow, Cocker Spaniel, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd Dog, Lhasa Apso, Miniature Schnauzer, Norwegian Elkhound, Rottweiler, Samoyed, Chinese Shar Pei, Shih Tzu, Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier and Standard Poodle.

Most owners initially notice the increase in thirst but put it down to just a sign of old age. Often it triggers them to switch the dog to a senior diet, which, because it is lower in protein, sodium and phosphate, lessens the load put on the kidneys. This helps to alleviate the symptoms for anywhere from a few months to a few years. When the dog begins to drink excessively again, this time with a marked increase in the quantity and frequency of urination, the owner realizes quickly realizes there is a problem.

A veterinarian will first do a physical exam in an attempt to diagnosis the problem. Active renal disease can mask the severity of the disease so the vet must clear up these symptoms first rehydration, correcting ph imbalances and alleviating any metabolic issues. A physical exam may reveal small or irregular kidneys, weight loss and loss of muscle tone, pale mucous membranes, oral ulcers and uremic breath. Lab tests will include a complete blood count (CBC), blood chemistry analysis and urinalysis. X-rays, ultrasound and urine culture may also be requested to further diagnosis what stage the disease is in currently.

Chronic renal failure is normally idiopathic or caused by the normal aging process, or congenital. However, other conditions and diseases can cause or exacerbate the problem. These include : kidney toxins, high blood calcium, inflammation of the internal structure of the kidneys, kidney infection, polycystic kidney disease, kidney stones, chronic urinary obstruction, some medications and lymphoma.

Renal diets are not just low in protein, they are low in salt and phosphorus as these both increase the load on the load on the kidneys by offsetting ph balance and causing water retention/dehydration. Veterinary formulated renal diets are also high in the naturally occurring anti-inflammatory Omega 3, fiber and vitamin D all with a neutral ph. These diets are also calorie dense so even if their appetite is off, the diet will hopefully help keep some weight on the dog.

Other treatment can include medications to control nausea, inappetence, electrolyte and mineral imbalances, hormonal deficiencies and high blood pressure. Subcutaneous fluids, sterile fluids injected under the skin, are often administered in moderate to severe cases while some severe cases may need more aggressive treatment that requires hospitalization.

Chronic renal failure can lead to other medical conditions such as inflammation and ulceration of the stomach and intestines, anemia, decreased red blood cells, urinary tract infections and systemic hypertension (hypertension and CRF combined often leads to blindness).

Early diagnosis and treatment is critical for dogs suffering from chronic renal failure. An early detection can slow the progression of the disease considerably, helping your dog to lead a longer, healthier life. At the first signs of the disease, make an appointment with your vet for a diagnosis and how best to treat the condition.



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