The kidneys are important in maintaining your pet’s overall health and quality of life, but their function can decline with age and the development of chronic kidney disease (CKD). Treatments are available to slow CKD progression, but many pets eventually will succumb to this condition. The Neighborhood Vet team recommends routine wellness screening tests for older pets to make it easier to detect CKD early, which will lead to more successful treatments. Here we share the facts about CKD in pets.

#1: CKD is most common in aging pets

CKD is estimated to affect less than 3% of the general pet population, but this number drastically increases in aging pets. An estimated 30% to 50% of cats older than 15 years suffer from CKD. Young or middle-aged pets also can develop this condition if they suffer from a congenital malformation or inherited disease, or from damage sustained during anesthesia or acute illness.

#2: Pet CKD has multiple potential causes

Most of the time, the underlying cause of CKD is unknown and is attributed to changes associated with aging. Other times we may be able to pinpoint a cause that we can take steps to correct, but treatments are otherwise similar whether we know the cause or not. Possible CKD causes include:

  • Infection
  • Acute kidney injury
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Obstruction (i.e., stones)
  • Blood clots
  • Genetic disease

#3: Pet kidneys have multiple functions

The kidneys are a vital part of your pet’s overall health. When kidney function is lost, pets can become sick in many different ways. The main tasks for the kidneys include:

  • Filtering toxins from the blood to create urine
  • Conserving fluids
  • Conserving proteins, sugars, electrolytes, minerals, and other blood components
  • Regulating calcium balance
  • Stimulating red blood cell production

#4: Pet CKD is a progressive disease

Once damage to the kidney begins, decreases in function can lead to further damage. This means that CKD is a progressive disease. However, the progression rate can vary among individual pets. As CKD progresses, more and more functional kidney cells—called nephrons—are lost and cannot be regained. Treatment for CKD focuses on preserving the nephrons that are left and preventing or slowing further loss.

#5: Pet CKD is diagnosed and classified based on disease stage

CKD diagnosis can be made using routine wellness screening tests, or when pets have compatible clinical signs. Clinical signs result from increased blood toxins and reduced ability to maintain proper fluid, mineral, protein, and electrolyte balance. Signs may include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath

Tests our team may order to diagnose CKD and rule out other diseases include:

  • Blood chemistry profile, including SDMA
  • Complete blood count
  • Thyroid hormone level
  • Urinalysis
  • Urine protein: creatinine ratio
  • Urine culture
  • Abdominal X-ray and/or ultrasound
  • Blood pressure 

Once a CKD diagnosis has been established, our team will classify your pet’s disease based on its severity and the results of the tests listed above. International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) stages one through four use test results to estimate how much function your pet’s kidneys have left, and we use this staging information to determine which treatments will help your furry friend.

#6: Pet CKD can lead to complications

Because the kidneys have far-reaching effects on the body, CKD can lead to secondary complications that can speed up nephron loss and make your pet feel unwell. These common complications are factored into your pet’s overall CKD treatment:

  • High blood pressure
  • Retinal bleeding or detachment
  • Urinary protein losses
  • Low blood potassium levels
  • High blood phosphorus levels
  • Anemia

#7: Early pet CKD diagnosis improves long-term outcomes

By the time your pet shows noticeable CKD signs at home, they already will have lost two-thirds to three-quarters of their kidney function, which often places them into disease stages three or four. These CKD stages have higher complication rates, require multiple treatments, and are associated with faster overall declines and shorter life spans. 

Traditional CKD diagnosis relies on blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine blood levels combined with urine concentration—tests that often come back normal during early disease stages. A newer test, called symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA), can detect kidney disease in the earliest stage when only 40% of kidney function has been lost. SDMA is included in all wellness screening blood tests and allows for earlier treatment and significantly extended life spans for most pets with CKD.

#8: CKD treatments are individualized to each pet

CKD treatments are aimed at improving quality of life and slowing down disease progression. This can be done effectively with a simple diet change in stages one or two, but diet alone is often not enough for later stages. As the disease progresses, pets with CKD may require the following based on their individual disease stage and signs:

  • Prescription diet — protein and phosphorus restricted and specially balanced to reduce kidney workload
  • Intravenous or subcutaneously administered supplemental fluids
  • Oral potassium supplementation
  • Oral phosphate binders
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Hormone injections to stimulate red blood cell production
  • Anti-nausea and appetite stimulant medications

Chronic kidney disease can sneak up on your pet, and by the time you notice the signs, most kidney function already has been lost. When detected in stages one or two, CKD is manageable, and pets can go on to live many more healthy years. To proactively manage your pet’s health, contact The Neighborhood Vet and schedule your pet’s next wellness examination and blood and urine screening tests.