Diseases, Elderly Pet Care

Kidney Disease in Dogs and Cats

Kidney diseases due to genetics are typically seen more often in dogs than in cats. At this time, the best way to decrease the incidence of kidney diseases in dogs and cats is by screening for and identifying dogs and cats that have these abnormalities and removing them from breeding programs.

Kidney Disease Symptoms in Dogs and Cats

What are the first signs of kidney disease in dogs and cats? Poor appetite, increased water consumption and urination, smaller than average size, bad breath, and vomiting are the most common symptoms of kidney disease in dogs and cats. However, these symptoms are often seen in other disorders as well.

Most familial kidney diseases progressively worsen and are ultimately fatal. The rate of progression often varies considerably among individuals with the same disorder. Treatment goals are generally focused on combating complications such as hypertension and urinary tract infections as they arise and medically managing chronic kidney failure to minimize disease progression.

Types of Kidney Disease in Dogs and Cats

There are multiple types of kidney disease in dogs and cats, some are inherited and seen more commonly in certain breeds. Others are acquired:

  • Renal dysplasia in dogs and cats: Refers to the abnormal development of one or both kidneys. It is most commonly seen in Shih Tzus and Lhasa Apsos but has been identified in many other breeds.
  • Primary glomerulopathies: The onset is marked by an increase in protein loss in the urine at four to eight months of age.
  • Polycystic kidney disease in cats and dogs: Develops when multiple cysts form in one or both kidneys. These cysts continue to grow as the animal ages, to the point where they cause a significant increase in kidney size and decrease in function. It is most commonly seen in Persian and Persian-cross cats and Bull Terriers, mostly from Australia. Ultrasound is the most effective diagnostic tool. The gene mutation that causes this disease has not been identified, but dogs at risk for the disease can be screened with ultrasonography prior to breeding to minimize production of additional affected animals.
  • Amyloidosis in dogs and cats: A condition in which a protein called amyloid is deposited in the kidneys. It is most commonly seen in Chinese Shar Peis and Abyssinian cats. In Shar Peis, there may be associated episodes of fever and swollen hocks (joints in the animal’s hind legs). The liver may also be involved. Typically, these individuals have progressive disease, starting under one year of age and progressing to failure at four to six years of age. Treatment options are limited.
  • Immune-mediated glomerulonephritis: This familial disorder is often found in Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers. This may be associated with food hypersensitivity and is most commonly seen in female Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers. Along with kidney failure, blood clots and high blood pressure are seen in 12 percent of cases.
  • Tubular dysfunction aka Fanconi’s syndrome in dogs and cats: Occurs when the kidneys are unable to reabsorb electrolytes, glucose, or amino acids appropriately. This is most often seen in Basenjis, Miniature Schnauzers, Norwegian Elkhounds and Shelties.

How to Test for Kidney Disease in Dogs and Cats

Testing for kidney disease in dogs includes blood tests for BUN, Creatinine, SDMA, and urine tests for specific gravity and urine protein: creatinine ratios. SDMA is not an accurate test in puppies and kittens because of their metabolic differences compared to adults. Ultrasound may help determine the specific cause of kidney disease. In many cases, the diagnosis cannot be confirmed until after death when the kidneys can be examined. If you suspect your dog or cat has kidney disease, I recommend contacting your vet to help with testing and in the development of a treatment plan.

For more questions on cat or dog kidney disease, call a Revival Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.

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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

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