Kidney Disease in Dogs” How Much Do You Know?

The time to understand the symptoms and often-heartbreaking progression of kidney disease is before you hear the dreaded diagnosis “renal insufficiency.” Since kidney tissue does not regenerate as many other canine tissues do, by the time your dog is diagnosed with renal insufficiency, or any of the stages of kidney disease, your dog may already be far down the tragic road to kidney failure. A dog with kidney disease could be suffering in the final (irreversible) stage before a host of symptoms alert an owner that a life-threatening problem exists.

Dogs’ kidneys perform many jobs of blood filtration. They filter and rid toxins and waste from the blood, and these waste products are excreted in the urine. They regulate phosphorus and calcium levels.

Symptoms of lethargy, excessive drinking, frequent urination, and decreased interest in eating might be written off to everyday dog illnesses that respond more readily to treatment, while the dog may actually be suffering from reduced kidney function.  Urinary tract infections, tick-borne diseases, pancreatitis, liver disease, and many other illnesses may cause the same complaints. 

Clear and speedy diagnosis of why your dog is not acting like himself is critical. Present your dog to your veterinarian and ask for a full blood-analysis panel. Even if the dog had a thorough annual physical exam and blood analysis a few months ago, ask for the full panel. If your dog has any stage of kidney disease, you do not want to waste weeks or even months before making indicated dietary changes and obtaining your veterinarian’s aggressive intervention in this heart-wrenching disease. Be sure your veterinarian knows you are receptive to analysis for urine bacteria, tick-borne diseases, pancreatitis, leptospirosis, and Cushing’s and Addison’s diseases.

In a detailed chapter on the diagnosis and management of kidney disease, author and canine digestion specialist Lew Olsen, Ph.D., suggests close scrutiny of BUN (blood urea nitrogen), creatinine, phosphorus, protein, red blood count, enzyme counts (especially amylase and lipase), sodium, and HCO3. Olsen’s book, Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs, offers detailed chapters on food, veterinary testing, and how to provide optimal nutrition support for dogs who are suffering renal disease and many other diseases that are critically affected by nutrition. You need not be feeding a raw diet to find and use the in-depth discussions of kidney disease, cancer, pancreatitis, liver disease, and other health concerns in this very helpful resource volume.

Loss of appetite is usual in kidney disease. Tempting a dog to eat who is probably very nauseous due to toxins accumulating in his blood is often a labor of perseverance, love, and high anxiety. Remember to remain upbeat no matter how frustrated or frightened you become as you coax and use your imagination to find ways to get your dog to eat. Tempting foods include sautéed egg whites; pungent-smelling and -tasting cheeses; cottage and ricotta cheese; macaroni and cheese; pasta sprinkled with Parmesan cheese; very small amounts of lean chicken, beef, or fish, grilled or baked; canned chicken chunks; and hard-boiled eggs. Your vet will probably advise lower protein and higher fat.  Look for high-quality, easily digestible protein. If your dog is suffering from pancreatitis or liver disease, you will need to feed lower fat but still need to offer taste-tempting foods. Several frequent meals, instead of the usual two, may be helpful.

Giving necessary drugs and supplements is difficult when your dog has lost his appetite. Tucks pill into softened, pungent cheeses; peanut butter; cream cheese; butter; honey; or a tiny piece of meat. When all fails, use a pill crusher to crush pills. Ask your vet for a syringe with the largest tip, and mix crushed medications into something such as honey, softened cheese, or vanilla pudding, and squirt the mixture into the dog’s mouth. You may need to break the tip off the syringe, leaving a bigger hole for the crushed medications to exit.

Enroll in canine kidney-related Internet discussion groups for information and support. K9KIDNEYS, K9KidneyDiet, and K9Nutrition are excellent Yahoo groups on this topic. The website dogaware.com is a great place to visit for dog health information.

Special thanks for research assistance for this column to Carol Callahan (donahanspringers.com).

S.F. (January 2015), English Springer Field Trial Association