Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common diagnosis among senior dogs and cats. Fortunately, early detection and targeted therapies can slow kidney deterioration and preserve function, helping an affected pet enjoy a good quality of life for months or years after diagnosis. Check out our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch team’s guide to kidney disease progression, signs, staging, and management.  

Your pet’s renal function

The kidneys filter your pet’s blood, removing harmful waste products and expertly balancing critical factors such as pH, electrolytes, water levels, and phosphorus. In addition, the kidneys are the body’s workhorse, controlling blood pressure and producing hormones that create red blood cells and regulate calcium levels.

In a pet who has CKD, the nephrons (i.e., working units within the kidneys) begin to wear out and die off. However, your pet’s body has tens of thousands of other nephrons, enabling the body to continue functioning normally until 70% of the kidney tissue is destroyed. When this occurs, waste products accumulate in the blood, and essential components are excreted in the urine, creating weakness and dysfunction throughout your pet’s body. Because nephrons do not regenerate, unmanaged CKD results in progressive decline.

Chronic versus acute kidney disease in pets

Two disease types can impact the kidneys. Chronic disease is slow and progressive. Acute kidney disease is sudden and rapid, occurring as a result of unexpected injury or traumatic renal structure insult, such as toxin ingestion, genetic malformation, or blunt-force trauma. 

Chronic kidney disease signs in pets

As your pet’s nephrons die off, blood filtration becomes less efficient, and the body increases blood flow to the renal area. However, rather than improving filtration, this response accelerates the body’s fluid loss, leading to the most common and notable CKD signs: increased urination and thirst. As CKD progresses and your pet’s blood becomes increasingly toxic, they become increasingly ill and may exhibit these signs:

  • Bad breath
  • Dilute urine
  • Nausea
  • Inappetence
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures

Early diagnosis improves outcomes for pets with CKD

By the time a pet exhibits CKD signs, at least 70% of their functioning kidney tissue has been destroyed. Despite veterinary treatment, an affected pet’s survival time is significantly reduced. Annual wellness blood work, including a specific test to measure the key biomarker symmetrical dimethylarginine (SDMA), can detect CKD at its earliest stage, when only 40% of kidney damage has occurred. SDMA is a critical diagnostic test that creates an early opportunity for intervention, helping your veterinarian slow disease progression by easing the kidneys’ workload and supporting renal health. Early diagnosis can help CKD-affected pets live longer and more comfortable lives.

Chronic kidney disease staging and monitoring in pets

CKD is incurable, but with regular monitoring and ongoing therapy your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch veterinarian can keep the worst signs in check. Your pet’s therapeutic treatment plan will be based on their disease stage (i.e., severity). Our team follows the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) guidelines to grade your pet’s disease and determine recommended treatment. Regular (e.g., quarterly to monthly) follow-up appointments and diagnostic testing will be necessary throughout the remainder of your pet’s life to reassess their IRIS stage and modify their treatment plan. 

Caring for your pet with chronic kidney disease

Our team will tailor your pet’s CKD management plan to their unique and specific needs, but most treatments focus on decreasing the kidneys’ workload and reducing signs. CKD treatment strategies may include:

  • Diet — Therapeutic renal diets are low in protein to help reduce metabolic waste products that can challenge the kidneys.
  • Fluid therapy (i.e., diuresis) — Diuresis can flush toxins from your pet’s system and ease signs. Therapy may be performed in the hospital (i.e., intravenous [IV] fluid therapy), or you can administer subcutaneous (i.e., under-the-skin) fluids at home to support proper kidney function and help ensure your pet’s hydration level remains adequate.
  • Medications — Our team can prescribe various medications to bind harmful compounds (e.g., phosphorous), accelerate diuresis, restore vitamin and mineral balance, stimulate appetite, or reduce nausea and vomiting.
  • Minimize stress — Stress can compound chronic illness and worsen your pet’s condition. Keep your pet’s stress to a minimum by avoiding sudden routine or environment changes.

Help ease your pet’s suffering if you suspect they have CKD. To minimize this condition’s impact and improve your pet’s quality time of life, schedule an appointment with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Jordan Ranch team, so we can tailor your four-legged friend’s CKD management plan to their unique and specific needs.