Let’s start by talking about Kidney Disease. We will discuss what it is and what it isn’t. Recently I have had several people sending me questions about their dogs that were recently diagnosed with having kidney disease. They are scared, searching frantically for what to do next, what diet will help, and the best plan of action.
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There are two types of kidney disease. Acute and Chronic. Chronic disease can’t be reversed and are most often caused by genetic or congenital causes. It can also be caused by poisoning or other serious trauma or injury.
Acute Kidney disease has a cause or source and is most often treatable. Old age DOES NOT CAUSE KIDNEY DISEASE. Common causes of increased kidney values such as creatinine, BUN and phosphorus will be discussed below. I always recommend that if your dog is diagnosed with kidney disease, proceed with these tests to rule these potential causes out. I would hate to see any dog owner miss something treatable.
In a Kidney Disease diagnosis, BUN and Creatinine will be above normal, but in true renal disease, these can climb rapidly. Slower moving of these numbers can mean a lot of things.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI): A UTI causes elevated BUN and Creatinine. If you suspect a UTI, get a Sterile Urine Culture done at your veterinarian’s office. The test will be sent to a lab to either rule out a UTI or determine which bacteria are present causing the infection. The results take a few days, but UTI’s are very treatable with the RIGHT antibiotic given for at least 2 – 4 weeks.
- Leptospirosis titer: There are 7 strains of leptospirosis, however, the current vaccine only covers 3 or 4 of these strains and the vaccine is only good for 3 or 4 months. Penicillin given for two weeks cures leptospirosis if discovered early in the bacteria infection.
- Tick Borne Disease: This issue can cause elevated renal numbers (BUN and Creatinine), so a Tick-Borne test should be run to rule it out. Doxycycline is used most often for tick borne diseases.
- Cushing’s and Addison’s Disease: These two diseases can cause elevated liver and/or kidney levels. An ACTH stimulation test can be done at your veterinarian’s office to determine if your dog has either of these diseases. Addison’s is more easily treated with low dose steroids and there are now newer medications available for Cushing’s disease.
- Medications: Medications such as anti-inflammatories, steroids and some antibiotics, to mention a few, can cause elevated renal values. Sometimes long term use of steroids and anti-inflammatories can cause permanent renal damage. However, if caught early, they can be stopped and renal function can return to normal.
If you suspect your dog may have kidney disease and you are waiting for a firm diagnosis and treatment plan, a good interim treatment is administering IV Fluids and/or Subcutaneous fluids. These are the most helpful in supporting the kidneys and it gives you the time needed to continue pursuing the cause and correct treatment.
I am also asked about kidney diets. It is important to know that kidney diets are useful for pain when the phosphorus level rises and the dog can’t process phosphorus well anymore. This generally occurs at the end stage of renal disease. Reducing phosphorus removes most of the pain the dog experiences to process this mineral. However, no diet truly stops, slows down, or reverses kidney disease with true kidney damage. But one of the above causes is more likely if it isn’t a puppy with a genetic or congenital issue.
Now let’s talk about Struvite Crystals and Stones. Crystals develop and turn into stones. For some reason, most veterinarians will recommend a prescription diet. Unfortunately, diet does nothing to combat struvite crystals or stones. Struvite crystals form when a bacterial infection is present or urinary tract infection (UTI). Bacteria waste is what makes the urine become alkaline, which is a perfect environment for struvite crystals to form. If left untreated the crystals eventually form into stones. Please note, blood work can show some of the same blood levels you might see with early renal issues. UTI’s can cause increased protein in the urine and low specific gravity, along with an increased BUN level. If the infection becomes severe the creatinine level can increase as well. SO, if you see these values, increased drinking and urination, PLEASE get a Sterile Urine Culture done at your veterinarian’s office. The urine is collected in a sterile manner and sent out to a lab to CULTURE. This shows WHAT bacteria is present, and the RIGHT antibiotic to kill it. UTI’s are VERY antibiotic specific. Use for at LEAST 3 weeks to cure it. Diet does not CURE it or STOP it. Only the right antibiotics will stop struvite’s from developing and turning into bladder stones.
A main cause of dogs being prone to UTI’s is not having enough chances to urinate during the day and eating a dry diet. Dogs, like people, need to urinate often during the day, have water available around the clock AND a moist diet to be able to flush, flush, flush so bacteria and struvites cannot form and grow in the bladder. So remember, get your dogs out often during the day and feed a moist diet (raw, home cooked, fresh with kibble). Feeding probiotics and yogurt are also helpful!
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