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Chronic Kidney Disease in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Written by aslmad.yaz

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in dogs is a progressive, long-term condition in which the kidneys gradually lose their ability to function effectively. It is a common health concern that can affect canines of any age but is most often seen in older dogs. The kidneys play a critical role in filtering waste products from the blood, maintaining hydration, and balancing electrolytes. When CKD occurs, the kidneys are unable to perform these essential tasks effectively, leading to a buildup of toxins in the body which can be life-threatening if left untreated.

CKD in dogs is typically divided into four stages, often referred to as Stages I through IV. Each stage represents a different level of kidney damage and severity of symptoms, with Stage I being the mildest and Stage IV being the most advanced. As such, early detection and management are crucial for the health and well-being of dogs with CKD. Here’s what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for the condition.

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in dogs

The symptoms of CKD in dogs are often subtle and can vary greatly depending on the stage of the disease. Initially, dogs may show no noticeable signs, but as the condition progresses, symptoms may become more apparent. Common symptoms include:

Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in dogs

Young veterinarian examining dog suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) with stethoscope in clinic.
(Photo Credit: Julia Christe | Getty Images)

Several factors can lead to CKD in dogs, ranging from genetic predispositions to environmental influences. One of the primary causes is aging. As dogs get older, their kidney tissues naturally deteriorate, thereby affecting kidney function. Genetic defects that affect the kidneys can also predispose certain breeds to CKD.

Some dog breeds commonly susceptible to CKD are:

Besides long-term exposure to toxins, including antifreeze, certain medications and grapes or raisins can cause kidney damage. Furthermore, infections, such as leptospirosis, can lead to CKD if not promptly and adequately treated. Other causes include chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys, high blood pressure, and diseases that impair blood flow to the kidneys, such as diabetes mellitus. All these factors can lead to decreased kidney function over time.

To diagnose CKD, your vet will begin by taking a detailed history of your dog’s health and performing a thorough physical examination. Following this, your vet will proceed with laboratory tests. A complete blood count (CBC) and a biochemical profile are standard tests to assess the overall health of your dog and specifically evaluate kidney function.

Additionally, your vet will request a urinalysis. This test evaluates the urine’s concentration, detects the presence of proteins or blood, and helps in identifying any underlying infections, which can be a sign of CKD. Your vet might also recommend imaging tests such as X-rays or an ultrasound of the kidneys to look for abnormalities in the size, shape, or structure of the kidneys, which can help in understanding the cause and progression of the disease.

Treatments for Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in dogs

While CKD is not reversible, with proper management, dogs can live comfortable lives for years after diagnosis. The treatment focuses on slowing the progression of the disease and managing the symptoms to improve the quality of life.

  • Dietary management: Feeding your dog a special diet that is low in phosphorus, protein, and sodium but rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help manage CKD. These diets are designed to decrease the workload on the kidneys, reduce the accumulation of toxins, and support the kidneys’ function. Your veterinarian can recommend the best dietary plan based on your dog’s specific needs.
  • Fluid therapy: Chronic Kidney Disease can lead to dehydration. Supplemental fluids, either given at home under the skin — also known as subcutaneously — or intravenously at a vet clinic, can help maintain adequate hydration and kidney function.
  • Medications: Various medications can be used to manage CKD and its symptoms. These may include phosphorus binders to prevent phosphorus from being absorbed into the bloodstream, blood pressure medications, erythropoietin to stimulate red blood cell production, and anti-nausea medications — such as Cerenia, ondansetron, or omeprazole — to manage symptoms of toxin buildup.
  • Monitoring and supportive care: Regular vet checkups are crucial for monitoring the progression of CKD in your dog and adjusting treatment as needed. Monitoring includes blood tests to check kidney function and urine tests to evaluate the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine. Supportive care, such as managing secondary symptoms and ensuring a comfortable and stress-free environment for your pet, is also important.

By the time CKD is diagnosed, it’s estimated that about 75% of kidney function may already be lost. However, regular veterinary checkups and routine health monitoring can aid in the timely detection of CKD. This early intervention is crucial in managing your dog’s comfort and can significantly improve their overall quality of life.

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