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Kidneys – Most Vital Organs

Often times in veterinary practice, pet owners ask me about the most common reasons that we lose pets.   Certainly, being hit by an automobile takes the lives of many pets.  So also are attacks by other animals (and occasionally man).  Yet, I often surprise pet owners when asked about the most common natural causes of pet death.  Sure, the answer may lie in heart disease topics.  Yet, kidney failure is right up there with the heart when it comes to veterinary cases.

Particularly in cats, kidneys are the #1 cause of natural death by organ failure.  This often happens in conjunction with tissue aging, or as a nephrologist might say, “loss of functional nephrons”, or cells of the kidney.  Yet, these paired organs, which much rid the body of excess internal fluid waste can cause a problem in the prime of life from other causes.  For example, poisonings and infectious disease can also lead to loss of functional kidney tissue.  Occasionally, the tissue may turn upon itself in the unusual circumstance of autoimmune disease.

For the most part, we as veterinarians try to actively treat the entire spectrum of kidney diseases when we are faced with the challenge.  Commonly, we utilize intravenous fluids to not only rehydrate the dehydrated pets, but to also re-activate dry, dormant tissues of the kidney.  In the case of infectious disease, we commonly use antibiotics systemically, as long as they are kidney-friendly in nature.  We also control symptoms such as nausea, anorexia and diarrhea, which can often accompany kidney disease.

Once the patient can get to the point of eating food voluntarily, kidney tissue is further spared by using a special diet like the k/d food.  One such food is the k/d food (a.k.a. “kidney diet”) from Hill’s.  Veterinarians often request that blood tests, which were used to diagnose the case originally are repeated once the therapy progresses.  In that manner, improvement can be measured.  Unfortunately, not all kidney case treatments are successful.

The cases such as the aforementioned, brought on by failing kidneys from old age and poisonings causing irreparable damage often yield a poor prognosis.  Try as we may, veterinarians must prepare pet owners properly for these tragic outcomes.  Transplantation is impractical in veterinary medicine at this time because of lack of donation banks and also because many canine and feline patients are at such a high risk for the procedure by the time the patients are presented and diagnosed.   Some veterinary teaching hospitals have succeeded in transplantation on selected patients and at a great economic expense.

The truth to the matter is that when it comes to kidney treatments in pets, there needs to be clear communication between the pet owner and the veterinarian.  Owners need to be cognizant of the risks inherent to these cases, and veterinarians need to be cautious about outcome.  Establishment of a proper diagnosis and prognosis is the key in the client-veterinary relationship while the storm of pet kidney disease is being weathered.

One way to stay ahead of kidney disease is through blood and urine testing, especially once your dog or cat reaches senior age (over 7 years of age).  In that manner, early detection of kidney disease may take place, and kidney-sparing measures instituted.  Ask your veterinarian to explain the laboratory results, and if your pet seems to be at risk for kidney disease.

We all want the same thing:  A long, quality life for your beloved pet.

Have a great week with your pets!

Dr. Chris Duke