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What to Expect When Your Dog has Kidney Failure

Function of Kidneys in Dogs

When kidney failure strikes man's best friend, the diagnosis may feel as if it cast a dark shadow of uncertainty and apprehension over the strong bond dogs and dog owners share. Owners are therefore often left to fear a grim prognosis with a not so happy outcome. While treatment options commonly used in humans such as dialysis or a kidney transplant may come to mind in hopeful owners,  it is an unfortunate fact that such procedures are most likely not feasible options to treat dogs affected by kidney failure. However, the good news is that there are still other viable options that will help control the progress of the disease, often ultimately buying dogs some extra months or even years of life.

The kidneys are two bean shaped organs that are responsible for  removing toxic waste from the dog's body. When kidney failure takes place it means that the dog's kidneys have stopped working and therefore they are no longer capable of carrying on with their duties. Most likely this event occurs in senior dogs as a result of aging. The kidneys have simply started failing as a result of  the normal wear and tear processes. Indeed, the average age of dogs affected by kidney failure is around 7 to 14 years old.  

A diagnosis of kidney failure therefore can have different outcomes. The prognosis really varies since it relies on several factors such as the level of kidney failure,  the age of the dog and the ability of owners to perform follow up care as required. 

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

Dogs affected by kidney failure will exhibit a variety of clinical signs. Often, owners  mistakenly expect dogs to urinate less because they believe that when the kidneys fail they are no longer capable of producing urine. This however is not the likely scenario, instead, the kidneys will still be capable of producing urine, but they will no longer be able to remove toxic waste,  therefore, the end result is having dogs pass large amounts of diluted and no longer concentrated urine.

This fluid loss causes dogs to easily become dehydrated and therefore, dogs affected by kidney failure will compensate by drinking more. Increased water consumption and increased urination indeed are staples of kidney failure and are medically known as''polydypsia and polyuria''. Some dogs may be prone to metabolic acidosis as well and they therefore develop ulcers in their mouth and stomach.

As kidney failure advances, dogs will be affected by ''uremia'' characterized by episodes of appetite loss, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea. Uremia takes place when the toxic wastes that were supposed to be disposed of in the urine by the kidneys, are spread in the dog's bloodstream instead, ultimately intoxicating the dog, a condition known as ''uremic poisoning''.

Treatment of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Upon having a dog diagnosed with kidney failure, veterinarians will likely discuss about diets and treatment. Diet plays a very important role in dogs affected by renal failure because it can really make a difference. There have been a lot of myths suggesting that feeding  dogs low-protein diets significantly retarded the progression of renal degeneration.

However, according to (a comprehensive website discussing treatment options in dogs affected by renal failure)  there are a lot of studies and articles that debunk such myths recommending instead to feed moderate amounts of high quality protein and limited phosphorus. However, it appears that a restricted protein diet may benefit  dogs diagnosed as to being uremic and therefore at advanced stages of kidney failure.

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Many owners of dogs affected by early renal failure decide to rely more on home made diets versus feeding a commercial one. They therefore look for foods that are low in phosphorus. Green tripe is a popular choice because it is highly palatable and low in phosphorus. Supplements such as fish oil and vitamin E have proved to be helpful as well.  A veterinarian should  always be consulted before changing diets and giving supplements.

Medications are often prescribed to help control the progress of the disease. Phosphate binders are often prescribed to be given with food in dogs that maintain high phosphorous levels even if they are fed a reduced phosphorus diet. Their action is to block excess phosphorus from entering the dog's blood stream. 

Several other medications may be prescribed to treat symptoms and keep complications at bay. Dogs suffering from vomiting episodes may be prescribed anti-emetics, dogs that have a low red blood cell count may be prescribed drugs to correct the anemia, dogs affected by ulcers will benefit from medications such as Carafate and dogs who need their parathyroid gland and calcium levels regulated may benefit from Calcitrol.

Fluid therapy plays an important role in controlling the progress of kidney failure. Owners can be taught how to give SubQ fluids at home. Dogs should always have access to fresh water and wet food  (either cooked, canned, raw or soaked dry food) may help keep the dog well  hydrated. 

As seen, as grim as the diagnosis of kidney failure may be, there are many treatment options that may slow down the progress of this disease. The key is to rely on these options and take an active role in controlling the disease. With proper treatment, regular follow up care and lots of TLC, dogs may be able to live many more months or years.

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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