Your pet’s kidney function is crucial to their health. If their kidneys are not functioning, your furry pal can die. The kidneys can easily sustain damage and are prone to disease or failure, which can occur as your furry pal ages. Up to 10% of dogs and 35% of cats develop this disease during their senior years. 

When kidney disease is detected at an early stage, the condition responds significantly better to treatment than if it is detected in a later disease stage. Our Lebanon Animal Hospital team focuses on early detection to help ensure that an affected pet has an improved outcome and lives a long, high-quality life. Learn the answers to your questions about pets’ kidney disease, diagnosis, and treatment.

Question: What is kidney disease in pets?

Answer: Chronic kidney disease (CKD) (i.e., kidney failure or chronic renal failure) is a progressive condition that affects kidney function. Kidney cells sustain damage as a result of aging, injury, infection, or another disease process, and the remaining cells must work harder to compensate. Eventually, after around two-thirds to three-quarters of the kidneys’ cells have died, the organs’ function begins to decline and negatively affect the whole body. 

Q: What are the stages of kidney disease in pets?

A: Based on the disease’s severity, the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) classifies CKD as ranging from stage one through stage four. A pet with stage one or two CKD usually exhibits no signs. A pet with stage three or stage four CKD exhibits obvious signs, and their overall health declines. When our Lebanon Animal Hospital veterinarians diagnose your furry pal’s CKD, we will perform specific diagnostic tests to stage your furry pal’s disease severity.

Q: What are kidney disease signs in pets?

A: The kidneys filter the blood, conserve water, regulate minerals, proteins, and other blood substances, and also play a role in red blood cell production and in blood pressure regulation. When the kidneys are unable to perform these functions, your four-legged friend’s signs may include the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy
  • Retinal disease or blindness from high blood pressure

Q: How do veterinarians diagnose kidney disease in pets?

A: Our Lebanon Animal Hospital team most often diagnoses a patient’s CKD when their owner brings them in for an examination after their furry pal has exhibited disease signs. We will perform blood, urine, and imaging tests to rule out other issues that cause similar signs, such as diabetes, before confirming a CKD diagnosis. To determine whether your four-legged friend has CKD, the tests our team performs will include blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine in the blood, urine concentration and protein content, and blood pressure.

Q: What is SDMA in pets, and how is it different from other kidney diagnostic tests?

A: Symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) is a newer blood test used to detect diminished kidney function in the earliest CKD stages. Because this test can detect changes after 40% of the kidneys’ cells have died, SDMA is more sensitive than BUN or creatinine, which only detects problems after 67% to 75% of kidney cell loss. While SDMA remains stable and reliable, BUN and creatinine are influenced by factors that may change over time, such as hydration status or body muscle tone.

Q: How is SDMA best used for early kidney disease detection in pets?

A: SDMA can detect CKD in the earliest stages, which allows our Lebanon Animal Hospital veterinary team to start treatment before your pet feels ill. This is a game changer, because treatments can help protect your furry pal’s remaining kidney cells and significantly delay sign onset and disease progression. The most effective way to detect CKD in an apparently healthy pet is by scheduling your four-legged friend’s annual wellness examination, during which we perform blood and urine tests, starting when your pet is in middle age, so our team can monitor the values from year to year.

Q: What if my pet’s SDMA test result is high?

A: If your furry pal’s SDMA is elevated, our Lebanon Animal Hospital team must perform a second SDMA a few weeks or months later to confirm the reading. If your pet’s SDMA value is consistently high, we may recommend starting a prescription diet that reduces the kidney’s workload and protects the remaining cells. If your four-legged friend’s other kidney values are normal, we’ll recommend close monitoring every few months. However, if your pet is exhibiting signs, such as high blood pressure, we’ll prescribe medications to resolve them.

Q: What is the long-term outlook for pets diagnosed with kidney disease?

A: A pet whose CKD is in stages one or two has an excellent prognosis and, with the proper diet, monitoring, and other treatments, can live many years after their diagnosis. A pet whose CKD progresses to stages three or four or who are diagnosed in the disease’s later stages can experience a diminished quality of life. Our Lebanon Animal Hospital team can provide treatments to help alleviate your furry pal’s nausea, dehydration, poor appetite, weight loss, protein loss, and mineral or electrolyte imbalances. These treatments can help your four-legged friend feel better for several months, but eventually, their quality of life may become so poor you may choose to have them humanely euthanized. 

As your pet ages, their kidneys may deteriorate even if they are not exhibiting signs. The best way to detect CKD at its earliest stage, manage the disease, and prolong your furry pal’s healthy years is through routine blood and urine screening tests that include SDMA. Schedule your four-legged friend’s wellness examination and annual kidney health screening with our Lebanon Animal Hospital team.