Early Signs of Kidney Disease
Race Foster, DVM
Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc. 

The kidneys are essentially the filters of the body system and renal failure, if not diagnosed quickly and treated aggressively, can lead to a total breakdown of the body and eventually death.

Functions of the urinary system

The kidneys are a major part of the urinary system. The urinary system includes the kidneys, the ureters (the tubes from the kidneys to the urinary bladder), the urinary bladder, and the urethra (the tube from the urinary bladder to the outside). Functions of the urinary system include:

Removal of waste products from the blood and then from the body 
Regulation of the volume of body fluid 
Maintenance of pH balance, sodium and potassium levels in the body 
How renal disease affects pets

Renal disease or failure can have an acute (sudden onset) form, which is sometimes reversible, or a chronic (slow and usually progressive) form which is irreversible but can often be managed successfully. Although all breeds and ages can suffer the effects of both types, older pets are at higher risk of the chronic form.

Acute renal failure (ARF)

ARF is less common than chronic renal failure and usually has precipitating factors such as ingestion of a toxin. There are many precursors of ARF, including heatstroke, reaction to other body system failures, certain medications and diseases such as leptospirosis. The incidence of ARF is much more common in fall and winter months when animals are exposed to antifreeze containing ethylene glycol, a major cause of ARF.

Chronic renal failure (CRF)

CRF results from kidney disease that has been persisting for months or years. It is irreversible and renal function deteriorates progressively over the course of the disease.

Warning signs of ARF and CRF

Since our pets cannot tell us when they hurt, we must rely on our observations to let us know when something is wrong with the kidneys. Dogs may have:

Changes in urinary habits such as urinating a lot (polyuria) or not at all (anuria) 
Increased water consumption (polydipsia) 
Anorexia (not wanting to eat) 
Vomiting or diarrhea, which may or may not be bloody 
Ataxia (stumbling as the result of loss of voluntary movement) 
Seizures or blindness 
Anemia and resulting weakness 
Known or suspected toxin exposure 
In addition, pets with CRF may experience weight loss, poor hair coats, and often develop high blood pressure.

With either form, symptoms get worse as the disease progresses. If you notice any of the above signs, schedule a visit with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Early diagnosis of acute renal failure will greatly influence the success of the treatment. Pets with chronic renal failure, if managed successfully through diet, hydration therapy, and medications, can often live for years with the disease.

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