Canine Kidney Disease:
Symptoms & Treatment

Canine Kidney Disease, also called Canine Kidney Failure, is fairly common in senior dogs. It is not known exactly what sets off deterioration of the kidneys, but the breakdown often begins in middle age. While this disease, usually a result of aging, cannot be reversed, it is sometimes possible to prolong and enhance a dog's quality of life through traditional or holistic treatments, or a combination of the two.

Snapshot: Canine Kidney Disease
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.

  • Symptoms: Dogs suffering from kidney disease may show one or a combination of symptoms that include increased thirst, frequent urination, loss of appetite, low energy, vomiting, diarrhea and less common, seizures.
  • Diagnosis: Your veterinarian will run blood tests to determine if Canine Kidney Disease is the issue.
  • Treatment: If your dog is in the early stage of Canine Kidney Disease, a special diet and natural remedies can be used to slow down deterioration. A dog at a later stage will suffer from blood poisoning, also called uremia. Common symptoms at this stage include refusal to eat, low energy, vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea. A dog will require intravenous fluids in order to save his life. This disease can be fatal. If your dog recovers, he/she will need to eat a special diet that helps reduce the load of wastes the kidneys must process.

Symptoms

If your best friend is suffering from Canine Kidney Disease, he or she may show one or a combination of symptoms that include increased thirst, frequent urination, loss of appetite, low energy, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea and less common, seizures. Unfortunately, the kidneys' ability to continue functioning even when up to one-third of its tissue is diseased means that symptoms are often undetected until the later, life-threatening Kidney Failure phase. A dog can be suffering from Kidney Disease for a long time, even many years, before it enters a crisis stage and symptoms become severe and emergency medical attention is needed.

In addition to Kidney Failure, other complications of Kidney Disease include mouth and stomach ulcers, anemia, low red blood cell count, high blood pressure and urinary tract infections.

Causes of Canine Kidney Disease

If your best friend is suffering from Canine Kidney Disease, he or she may show one or a combination of symptoms that include increased thirst, frequent urination, loss of appetite, low energy, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea and less common, seizures. Unfortunately, the kidneys' ability to continue functioning even when up to one-third of its tissue is diseased means that symptoms are often undetected until the later, life-threatening Kidney Failure phase. A dog can be suffering from Kidney Disease for a long time, even many years, before it enters a crisis stage and symptoms become severe and emergency medical attention is needed.

In addition to Kidney Failure, other complications of Kidney Disease include mouth and stomach ulcers, anemia, low red blood cell count, high blood pressure and urinary tract infections.

Conventional Treatment

If your dog is in the early stage of Kidney Disease, a special diet can be used to slow down deterioration. A dog at a later stage will suffer from blood poisoning, also called uremia. Common symptoms at this stage include refusal to eat, low energy, vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea. A dog will require intravenous fluids in order to save his or her life.

This disease can be fatal. If your dog recovers, he/she will need to eat a special diet that helps reduce the load of wastes the kidneys must process. Some veterinarians will also advise the addition of omega-3 fatty acids to the diet.

Holistic Treatment

Holistic vets, who look at the "whole picture" of a dog's health, will focus on a homeopathic and nutritional approach after the crisis has passed. During Canine Kidney Failure, however, they will administer intravenous fluids, which are essential to saving the dog's life.

Once the dog is in recovery, supplements of vitamins A, B and C may be recommended. Homeopathic drops to bolster the kidneys and help flush out toxins may also be suggested. To consult with a holistic veterinarian, contact the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

Nutritional Remedies

Both conventional and holistic veterinarians advise using a special diet for patients with Canine Kidney Disease. Some vets believe patients diagnosed with Canine Kidney Disease should not be given dry kibble. They reason that the dry food will cause dehydration and actually make the disease worse. Because of this, a homemade diet or a commercial canned food specially formulated for Kidney Disease is recommended. These foods should be low in phosphorous, salt and protein.

Dr. Donald Strombeck, DVM, has written Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets. This book includes recipes for dogs (and cats) with Kidney Disease. Click on the link to read a review of the book and view sample recipes. Dr. Strombeck specializes in internal veterinary medicine at the University of California at Davis.

Commercial varieties of food specially formulated for dogs with Kidney Disease are also a nutritional choice. Examples of manufacturers offering this specialty food can be found by clicking here. As always, I recommend consulting a veterinarian for advice while also reading dog food reviews. (We will offer reviews on our web site in the future.)

My Experience

In October 1999, I took Babe, our 12-year-old German short-haired pointer, to our vet. (Her picture is at the top of this page.) She was vomiting and had diarrhea. Blood tests showed that Babe was a very sick girl. Our vet said she had Canine Kidney Disease and was in Kidney Failure. It was very serious. She might not live.

He put her on IVs and gave her Metronidazole for the diarrhea. We agreed that I would take her home at the end of the day but bring Babe back for more IVs the following day, a Saturday. I called Linda Mulholland, a friend who practices Chinese medicine, and told her about Babe's condition. She literally drew me a picture of Babe, as though she were lying on her back, and indicated the areas where I should massage Babe in order to move her life energy through her body and help her heal.

After Babe's IV treatment on Saturday, I took her home for the weekend. She curled up on the chaise lounge, her favorite place, and slept oh so quietly. I would occasionally put my hand on her chest to assure myself she was still breathing. I knew it was essential for Babe to get her rest, but I interrupted her every few hours to massage her as Linda had instructed. I was sick with worry. Babe was such a sweet-natured girl. She loved everyone. I wasn't ready to let her go.

We awoke the next morning to Babe standing by the bed. She was barking, which she hadn't had the strength or energy to do since becoming ill. She was obviously feeling better and wanted to eat, which she hadn't done for several days. I gave her a small mixture of boiled hamburger and cooked rice and she ate it enthusiastically. I kept giving her small meals over the next few days, building back to her normal food level.

Babe continued to improve. We returned to the vet on a regular basis to monitor her progress. We gave her Chinese herbs prescribed by Linda, in the form of small round pills, to build her immune system. By December, her blood test showed her BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen, a protein excreted by the kidney) was 17.5. In October, when she was close to dying, the BUN was 74.7. Creatinine, which was 4.27 in October, had returned to the normal range of 1.09.

Babe lived another wonderful five years with us before the Kidney Failure returned, but this time it did not respond to the methods that had saved her life previously. At that time she was an amazing 17 years old. Her body, quite simply,had worn out. We said goodbye to our sweet girl, whose greatest pleasure had been to follow us from room to room, always at our side.

We were very sad but also very grateful for the gift of five years given to us by the healing powers of conventional veterinary medicine and Chinese medicine.

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