Kidney Failure


The kidneys are one of the most important organs in the body. Their main function is to filter the blood and send any waste into the urine. By filtering the blood, the kidneys help maintain fluid, protein and electrolyte balance. The kidneys other important roles include red blood cell production and helping maintain blood pressure.

If the kidneys are not working properly, toxins can start to build up in the bloodstream. This makes animals feel sick, and therefore they try to compensate by drinking more water to dilute out the blood stream. This consequently leads to increased urine production. Many times owners notice these changes when they start changing the litterbox more frequently, seeing Fluffy urinate several times outside, or need to fill the water bowl several times a day.

To some extent, animals can compensate fairly well with early kidney failure. However, as the kidney failure becomes more severe, drinking extra water is not enough. The toxins in the blood (proteins such as urea) can cause animals to feel sick to their stomach. At this point, they may not want to eat their food and often times will vomit.

Cat eyeAt this time, the kidneys also have difficulty helping create red blood cells. This can cause an animal to be more tired and lethargic. Additionally, the kidneys can have trouble maintaining a steady blood pressure. Often times, a high blood pressure results which puts increased stress on the heart. As the toxin levels continue to rise, they can even have an impact on the lungs and brain; when these organs are affected, animals can develop respiratory distress, seizures and death.

Pug portrait

There are two different forms of kidney failure – chronic and acute. Acute kidney failure develops suddenly and is often times due to toxin exposure (plants, antifreeze, drugs). Acute kidney failure can also be due to infections, urinary tract obstructions, and shock. Chronic kidney failure often develops slowly and is usually a result of time taking its toll on the kidneys. Over time, the kidneys can be “injured” by infections, kidney stones, and other miscellaneous insults. These injuries can lead to scar tissue which inevitably leads to decreased kidney function as the pet grows older. As kidney function decreases, toxin levels start to build up and kidney failure results.

Patients in acute kidney failure need to be seen immediately to try and save the kidneys from permanent, irreversible damage. Although chronic kidney failure is unlikely to take place overnight, patients still need to be seen as soon as possible. The sooner the symptoms (increased thirst, urination, poor appetite, vomiting) are addressed, the better chance we have to help the patients’ kidneys.

Hill's Prescription Diet K/DThere is no cure for chronic kidney failure. Once kidney function starts to decrease, it is unlikely animals will ever regain the lost function. Thus, to treat kidney failure we need to treat the symptoms. Treatment includes special diets that are low in protein and phosphorus. By using these diets, the kidneys don’t have to work as hard filtering the blood. In more severe cases, we may recommend fluid therapy. By administering fluids underneath the skin, we can help “flush out” the system which effectively reduces the concentration of toxins in the blood. Specific treatments are available for some of the other symptoms of kidney failure, including medications for vomiting, red blood cell production, and high blood pressure.

Lastly, kidney dialysis and kidney transplants are available for animals. They are expensive and typically performed in university settings. If you are interested in more information about these treatments please contact us.

Kidney failure is a complex but serious issue. Many other organs depend on the kidneys’ function, therefore it is important to try and keep them functioning as best and as long as possible. If you have any questions about kidney failure, please call us at 651-739-0117.

For more reading material on chronic kidney failure, please visit Here you can search species-specific articles on kidney failure as well as treatments that are available.

Image Credit: Bag of Hill's Prescription Diet K/D - ®/™ Prescription Diet and k/d are registered trademarks owned by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc.

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