Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common condition that affects pets, and this disease’s prevalence greatly increases as pets enter their senior years. CKD can cause significant health complications, but if managed properly, a pet’s quality of life (QOL) doesn’t have to suffer. Our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team is concerned about your pet’s kidney health, and we explain why early CKD detection is so important. 

What is chronic kidney disease in pets?

Properly functioning kidneys are vital to your pet’s health. Healthy kidneys remove the blood’s waste products, and help control pH levels, blood pressure, serum electrolytes, calcium, and phosphorus levels, and water balance. In addition, kidneys produce hormones essential for red blood cell production and calcium balance. Impaired kidney function negatively affects the body’s systems, and the blood’s waste levels can quickly become toxic. Pets affected by early stage CKD experience a gradual kidney function loss that is often imperceptible. 

What are chronic kidney disease signs in pets?

Pets can be stoic, hiding disease signs until a condition has become severe. True to form, pets typically don’t exhibit early stage CKD signs, but as the condition progresses, signs may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration

How is chronic kidney disease detected in pets?

Annual wellness screenings for adult pets—and biannual testing for senior pets—are important for your veterinarian to detect CKD in the early stages, when the condition is easier to manage. Your veterinarian is likely to perform these important diagnostics: 

  • Serum creatinine — Muscles’ energy-producing processes make creatinine—a chemical compound which the kidneys filter from the blood. Measuring serum creatinine levels helps determine how well your pet’s kidneys are functioning.
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) — When the liver breaks down proteins for cellular use, ammonia is produced. Ammonia contains nitrogen, which combines with other elements to form urea, a chemical waste product the kidneys filter. If your pet’s BUN level is higher than normal, their kidneys may not be functioning properly.
  • Symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) — Historically, the only way to measure kidney function was by testing creatinine and BUN levels. However,  a significant amount of kidney function must be affected before these values increase above the normal range. In 2015, a new test became available to evaluate kidney function. SDMA, a kidney function biological marker, is more sensitive than creatinine and BUN. SDMA levels can detect kidney disease when only 40% of kidney function is lost, whereas creatinine and BUN may not show changes until 75% of kidney function is lost. In addition, factors unrelated to kidney function, such as muscle wasting and dehydration, can affect creatinine and BUN levels.
  • Urinalysis — Your pet’s urine can tell us a lot about their kidney health. An increase in the protein albumin can indicate your pet has kidney disease.

Your veterinarian will perform these important screening tests to detect CKD as early as possible. The sooner your pet begins treatment for CKD, the sooner their health will begin to improve and so will their QOL.

What if these diagnostics indicate my pet has kidney disease?

If a screening test indicates your pet had kidney dysfunction, your veterinarian will likely perform additional diagnostic tests to determine their condition’s severity. Our veterinary team may recommend these diagnostics:

  • Blood pressure measurement — Elevated blood pressure is often associated with CKD. 
  • Urine culture — A urine culture may be necessary to determine whether your pet has a urinary tract infection.
  • Imaging — Our veterinary team may recommend X-rays or ultrasound to see an accurate image of your pet’s kidneys and urinary tract. 

What is chronic kidney disease staging in pets?

To determine an appropriate treatment plan, your veterinarian will stage your pet’s CKD. The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) created a staging system that is based on a pet’s signs, creatinine and SDMA levels, and in some cases, ultrasound kidney imaging. Our veterinary team will gather as much information as necessary to determine your pet’s IRIS CKD stage. 

How is chronic kidney disease treated in pets?

CKD can’t be cured, but when detected early and managed properly, a pet’s QOL can be maintained at a good level. The goal is to reduce the kidney’s workload and prevent further kidney function loss. CKD treatment strategies include:

  • Hydration — Maintaining hydration is imperative for pets affected by CKD. If a pet is unable or unwilling to drink enough to prevent dehydration, you may need to administer subcutaneous fluids periodically at home to keep them healthy.
  • Medications — Medications to alleviate pain or prevent nausea may be necessary until your pet’s condition stabilizes.
  • Antibiotics — If your pet has a urinary tract infection, our veterinary team may prescribe antibiotics to address the problem.
  • Dietary modification — We commonly recommend a prescription diet for CKD pets. These diets are typically low in protein, sodium, and phosphorus, and enriched with high-quality protein, antioxidants, and fatty acids.
  • Monitoring — Regular monitoring of your pet’s condition, using creatinine, BUN, and SDMA, is important for your veterinarian to determine whether a pet’s kidney function is decreasing. Your veterinarian will modify your pet’s CKD treatment plan if their condition progresses.

Detecting a pet’s CKD early is important to prevent significant health complications, and routine screening is the best way to identify the condition before problems occur. To have your pet screened for CKD, contact our Creature Comforts Veterinary Service team, and we can help ensure their kidneys are functioning appropriately.