For more detailed and updated information on the recipes contained in this article, we recommend Lew Olson’s book, Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs, found on Amazon.com for $11.53. This book not only contains recipes for raw and home cooked diets, but also diets for specific illnesses, mixing fresh food with kibble and information on dogs and digestion.
Age in Senior Dogs Does Not Cause Renal Failure
I often get questions on adult or senior dogs with kidney or renal problems. These dogs often have elevated BUN and Creatinine level results in their blood work. The main question I am asked are, 'What are the best diet and supplements to give these dogs?' While I am asked the same question all the time, what startles me most is why the veterinarians are not running further tests to determine the reason and/or cause for these elevated values.
Old age is not a disease and it does not cause loss of kidney function. Usually two issues cause kidney problems: 1. it is a genetic issue and generally appears in a puppy or young adult and 2. it is an acute issue, which means the problem was caused by an insult to the kidneys. Some reasons for this could include poisoning, poor diet caused by poor quality proteins or a carbohydrate laden diet, dehydration, certain prescription medications, anesthesia, urinary tract infection (bacteria), leptospirosis, Cushing's or Addison's disease and tick borne disease, to name just a few.
So, if your veterinarian says your adult or senior dog has renal disease, ask for further tests to be done to determine the actual cause. Many causes of renal issues can be treated and the problem can reverse itself IF diagnosed and treated early enough. The key to early detection is being aware of any changes in your dog. These could include drinking more water, urinating more, loss of appetite, weight loss or lethargy.
If your veterinarian does not offer further testing, the following is a list of tests I suggest you ask your veterinarian to consider so the real cause can be determined.
Sterile Urine Culture:
This test can be done at your veterinarian's office. It involves taking urine directly from the bladder in a sterile manner and then sending it to a laboratory to be cultured for FIVE days. This is the definitive test to find out if a bacterium is present AND should a bacterial infection be detected, it tells you which antibiotic to use to treat that bacterial infection. Urinary tract infections are very "antibiotic specific" in treatment. UTI's can cause elevated BUN and Creatinine. They also cause pain and discomfort, increased urination and an increase in water consumption. Use the right antibiotic for AT LEAST ONE month and then retest again after the dog has been off the antibiotics for ten days.
Leptospirosis Blood Titer:
This test looks for one of the many serovars (strains) of the leptospirosis bacteria. Leptospirosis is spread from the urine of rats, squirrels and other wild life. Male dogs are more prone to catching this disease, as they tend to lick and sniff more at traces of wildlife. It can also be caught if squirrels or other wildlife urinate in water buckets or pools of water in the yard or kennel. Symptoms include drinking more water, urinating more, lethargy, red eyes and can include lameness. Oftentimes blood work will show elevated liver enzymes before it will show renal values start to increase.
Tick Borne Disease Blood Test:
Tick borne diseases can also cause kidney problems. The symptoms include weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy and increased renal values.
Addison's or Cushing's Disease:
This is an adrenal disorder and is caused by either too much or too little cortisol being produced. Some signs may show up in the blood work but the definitive test is an ACTH Stim test, which can be done at your veterinarian's office. Cushing dogs can appear to have a pot gut, have darkening patches on the skin, drink more water, urinate more frequently, and are listless. Addison dogs often show rear end weakness, have diarrhea, loss of appetite and lose muscle tone and body mass.
Reactions to Medications:
Some medications we routinely give our dogs have side effects that can damage the kidneys. These can include NSAIDs (rimadyl, Deramaxx, previcox, aspirin and Metacam), steroids such as prednisone, enalapril and certain anesthesia. Always check the side effects of any prescription drug you give your dog. The internet is a great source for doing this and offers a wealth of information on drugs, their reactions and side effects. Should your dog be on any drug that could affect the kidneys, consult with your veterinarian to discontinue its use. Another safety precaution is to always check drug interactions if you are using other medications.
Diet is extremely important for senior dogs. Despite popular belief, current research shows senior dogs need increased protein in their diet and the protein needs to be highly digestible. See more information here:
This means a good quality protein, such as proteins that are found in home cooked or raw diets. Dry dog foods use a high percentage of carbohydrates (grains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice and other starches) to maintain a long shelf life. However, these foods offer little in nutrition for dogs, and their inclusion only limits the amount of good animal protein dogs need to maintain and keep healthy organ function. Many veterinarians will caution owners to 'reduce' protein in a senior dog's diet, when research shows more protein is needed to keep the kidneys, heart and liver healthy. There may be a time, when phosphorus needs to be reduced in dogs with compromised kidneys, but this is only to provide comfort. In chronic renal failure (BUN over 80, creatinine over 3), the kidneys can have problems metabolizing phosphorus found in the diet. This can cause pain and nausea. However, you can still feed quality proteins and keep protein at a good level:
There is no need to reduce phosphorus before this time, as lowering phosphorus or protein does not 'spare' the kidneys. In fact, it does the reverse by not providing enough of the amino acids needed from animal-based sources that are needed to help maintain good organ function. I feel many renal problems occur in older dogs and seniors simply because they have not been fed a good diet throughout their lives. Well meaning owners may think feeding dry dog food provides their dogs what they need. While the 'complete and balanced' advertising motto states, the reality might very well be that the high carbohydrate, poor protein source may have been 'starving' the kidneys for the badly needed amino acids it needs. Quality animal-based proteins contain essential amino acids, such as taurine and l-carnitine, which are needed to keep the organs in good health.
Supplements for Kidney Health and Support
Important supplements for renal health include:
EPA Fish Oil Capsules: Fish oil contains omega 3 fatty acids, which are renal protective and have a natural anti-inflammatory effect. Omega 3 fatty acids are also good for the heart and liver health, help the immune system, and provide great support for healthy skin and shiny coat hair. Give one capsule per 10-20 lbs of body weight daily.
COQ10: This enzyme is thought to help keep creatinine levels lowered in dogs with compromised kidneys. Give 2 mg per pound of body weight daily.
B-Complex Vitamins: This important group of vitamins work together to help support kidney function.
Berte's Immune Blend: The Berte's Immune blend of vitamins includes Vitamins C, E and B, and it has probiotics and digestive enzymes, which help with renal function, and supports the immune system.
HAC Kidni Kare: This herbal blend contains cornsilk, which helps to stop leakage in dogs with incontinence.
So remember, old age is not a cause of renal problems. Always seek further for the real cause of the problem by insisting your veterinarian do more diagnostic tests. Continue to feed a good diet that includes a quality source of animal-based protein and offer the right supplements to support your dog's kidney function and immune system.
Next month, I will cover the issues of chronic renal failure and diets and various treatment options. This is specific for dogs that have highly elevated BUN and Creatinine blood levels.
Happy Saint Patrick's D and May the Luck of the Irish be with ya!