Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure is a common disease in middle-aged to older pets of all species and breeds. It is hereditary in Abyssinian and Persian cats and in Bull terriers, Cairn terriers, Samoyed and German shepherd dogs.

Over the years the kidneys sustain damage and deteriorate until they fail to function adequately. The disease is terminal and irreversible. The kidneys are a major organ, essential for many functions, including detoxicating the body via blood filtering and urine production. Other functions of the kidneys include controlling the water volume and blood pressure, regulating calcium and blood production and more.  Failure to maintain those functions is eventually fatal.

Animals with failing kidneys develop signs related to the above functions and toxin build-up. They include excessive drinking and urination (Polyuria/Polydipsia), progressive weight loss, anemia (lack of blood), bone fragility, digestive problems (vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, anorexia, and nausea), dehydration, high blood pressure, blindness, oral ulcerations, weakness, depression and seizures. 

Many animals do not show signs of illness until the very late stages and can go undetected for years. Early stages are difficult to detect and routine blood and urine tests indicate problems after much of the kidney function is already lost. It is extremely crucial to monitor older pets closely (general behavior, eating, drinking, urination, defecation) and incorporate blood and urine tests in the periodic veterinary visit. The diagnosis is based on the physical exam, blood and urine tests, x-rays and ultrasounds, biopsies, blood pressure and eye exam.

There is no cure for the disease and the treatment is aimed at reducing the damage and helping correct the effects on the body. Special kidney sparing diets and fluid therapy are the hallmark of the treatment. Other medications are used to control urinary and secondary infections, increasing deficient elements (potassium, calcium, red blood cells), limiting toxins (phosphorus), lowering the blood pressure and supporting the digestive functions.

Cats might be helped by kidney transplantation, which is available at some of the veterinary school hospitals and large specialty facilities.

Chronic kidney failure patients may survive from months to a few years with treatment, depending on the specific case and circumstances. Transplanted cats can survive several years.

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