Every organ in your pet’s body performs vital life functions, and the kidneys are no exception. While these workhorses can continue to perform their duties until they’ve sustained a great deal of damage, protecting and preserving kidney function helps your pet live a longer, healthier life. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common cause for older pets’ declining quality of life, with the condition affecting up to 50% of cats age 15 years or older.

Poor kidney function can lead to many issues, but detecting disease in its earliest stage is critical for keeping your pet healthy and happy. To learn about the importance of early disease detection and why every pet should undergo regular diagnostic screenings, read our South Shores Pet Clinic team’s guide to CKD.

The importance of properly functioning kidneys in pets

While the kidneys are an essential part of the urinary system, they perform numerous other functions within the body. If the kidneys cannot function adequately, toxins build up in the bloodstream, electrolyte disturbances develop, anemia occurs, and an entire cascade of health issues develop. Kidneys do the following:

  • Maintain hydration 
  • Remove toxins
  • Balance electrolytes
  • Regulate blood pressure 
  • Produce red blood cells (RBCs)
  • Conserve protein
  • Balance pH 

The importance of early detection of chronic kidney disease in pets

When your pet’s CKD is diagnosed early, your veterinarian can provide effective treatment that slows disease progression. Learn to recognize these early CKD signs:

  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Inappetence
  • Lethargy
  • Bad breath

While these signs can be obvious, they generally do not develop until two-thirds of kidney function is lost. However, by monitoring your pet’s kidney function through early detection screening, our South Shores Pet Clinic team can detect kidney disease before the condition causes signs and decreases your furry pal’s quality of life.

To detect kidney disease early in the disease process, our team will perform diagnostic screenings during your pet’s wellness visits. Young, healthy adult pets can undergo testing annually, while senior, geriatric, and predisposed pets should be screened every six months. Diagnostic screenings for kidney disease include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) — Because the kidneys help generate red blood cells (RBCs), pets with kidney disease often have a decreased number of RBCs (i.e., anemia).
  • Blood chemistry profile — A blood chemistry profile focuses on two key kidney function tests: creatinine and blood urea nitrogen. These two waste products will be elevated when the kidneys fail to remove toxins from the body, and typically appear on blood work when a pet has lost 75% of their kidney function. Another important component of a chemistry profile is the phosphorus level, which will rise if kidney damage has occurred.
  • Symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) — A biochemical marker, SDMA is an amino acid produced when the body breaks down protein. SDMA levels rise when 25% to 40% of kidney function is lost, making this test much more sensitive than the standard blood chemistry profile that measures creatinine and blood urea nitrogen levels.
  • Urine specific gravity — The kidneys are in charge of concentrating urine. When kidney disease is present, urine specific gravity is low.
  • Blood pressure — Hypertension and kidney disease often go hand-in-hand, so monitoring your pet’s blood pressure is important for diagnosing, treating, and monitoring all kidney-associated diseases.
  • Imaging — For our team to better assess damage and function, we may perform abdominal X-rays and an ultrasound to take a closer look at the shape, size, and blood flow through your pet’s kidneys. 

The importance of staging chronic kidney disease in pets

Once we have diagnosed your pet’s kidney disease, our team will stage their condition, which will help guide your furry pal’s treatment course and future disease progression monitoring. Staging CKD disease is accomplished through the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) staging system. The four CKD stages progress in disease severity, and are based on blood work that evaluates kidney function, your pet’s blood pressure reading, and the presence of protein in their urine.

Chronic kidney disease management in pets

While CKD has no cure, our team can successfully manage your pet’s condition, especially if we make a diagnosis early in the disease process. Management focuses on:

  • Proper nutrition — The stage of your pet’s kidney disease determines which diet is most appropriate, as protein and phosphorus needs change throughout the disease process.
  • Adequate hydration — Pets with CKD need to stay hydrated to help the kidneys flush out toxins. Administering fluids at home under the skin provides hydration support and boosts electrolyte levels.
  • Anti-nausea medications — As metabolic wastes and toxins build up, they nauseate your pet, causing them to eat and drink only small amounts. Anti-nausea medications can aid your pet in maintaining adequate hydration and nutrition.
  • Management of associated conditions — Various medications may be necessary to stimulate the bone marrow to produce RBCs, bind phosphorus, increase calcium absorption, and lower blood pressure.

By helping ensure your pet’s CKD is diagnosed at an early stage, you help preserve their quality of life. Schedule your furry pal’s wellness and diagnostic kidney screening appointment with our South Shores Pet Clinic team.