Chronic kidney disease in dogs and cats

As our pets age, we often see behavioural and physical changes in them – some of these may be normal signs of aging while others may indicate that there is a medical problem. Today I will discuss chronic kidney disease, one of the illnesses we see relatively commonly that can be mistaken for old age changes and unfortunately can be hard to manage. Chronic kidney disease means there has been longstanding damage to kidney cells that has led to irreversible damage.  Most commonly, kidney disease is seen in older patients but rarely it can be from a hereditary condition and in those cases are seen earlier in life.  We often never find out what causes the damage as it happens much before we see the effects. The kidneys have a large reserve capacity, meaning it takes a large loss of cells until we see the effects of it. Unfortunately, this means we often don’t find the disease until it has progressed significantly. This highlights the importance of yearly geriatric exams and regular bloodwork as it allows to catch diseases earlier. 

Common signs we see with chronic kidney disease are generally not specific such as weight loss, inappetence, poor haircoat and lethargy. Other signs that can be seen is increased drinking, increased urination, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or sudden blindness. All of these signs can be seen for different reasons, so further investigation by your veterinarian is important. You can help your veterinarian by providing an accurate history with the abnormalities you have seen in your pet. 

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As many of the signs seen with kidney disease can be seen with different illnesses, diagnostics are important in finding kidney disease. Bloodwork and urine analysis are both crucial in diagnosing chronic kidney disease but other diagnostics will aid in ruling out other illnesses. Bloodwork is also helpful to evaluate how severe the kidney disease is and aids in directing appropriate treatment. Abnormailites we see on bloodwork is elevation of kidney enzymes while the urine is not concentrated. We also look for elevation in phosphorus as the kidneys lose the ability to clear it from the body. 

If you have a cat or dog that has been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, keep in mind this is a condition we can only manage and not cure but pets can continue to live happily, especially if diagnosed early on. Regular check ups and bloodwork especially as your pet ages are crucial for diagnosing kidney disease, as well as other illnesses, early on. 

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