Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Watch for Chronic Renal Failure as Pet Matures


Pet Column for the week of November 4, 1996


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Joseph Hahn
Information Specialist

What purpose do kidneys serve? Your pet's kidneys clear the blood of toxins and conserve
water at times when an animal isn't drinking as much as it should. When the kidneys
deteriorate (chronic renal failure), it can lead to serious health problems for your pet.

"Chronic renal failure is a slow deterioration of the kidneys resulting from a variety of
inherited or acquired disorders," says Dr. Donald Krawiec, a veterinarian specializing in
urology and former chief of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine
Teaching Hospital at Urbana. "It occurs in middle-aged to older cats and dogs."

He explains that "the signs are so vague that they could mimic almost any other condition."
These signs include excessive drinking or urination, weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting,
or general signs of not feeling well.

"There is still a lot we don't know about chronic renal failure," remarked Dr. Krawiec.
"Most of the toxins that are cleared from the blood by the kidney tend to be products of
protein metabolism. Therefore, we reduce the amount of protein in the diet to help alleviate
this problem. We also know that animals in renal failure have a hard time regulating
phosphorus and that plays a role in the progression of the disease. Finally, we know that in
humans hypertension (high blood pressure) plays a role in the disease so in animals we tend
to reduce salt in the diet as well."

The main treatment for renal failure is dietary. Protein, phosphorous and salt are reduced in
the diet to help slow the progression of the disease. Your veterinarian can recommend an
appropriate diet, most of which are commercially produced and readily available. The diet
is also supplemented with water soluble vitamins. If necessary, the animal is treated for
anemia if the condition is present.

Renal failure is usually first diagnosed with a blood test and urine sample and later with the
help of radiography. Monitoring for mild renal failure is not rigorous. At first, animals will
need to be seen monthly until the rate of the renal failure is determined. Once this is
determined, most animals require only once- or twice-a-year visits.

"The progression of this disease is highly variable," explains Dr. Krawiec. "Renal failure will
progress rapidly in some animals and slowly in others. Cats will tend to progress more
slowly than dogs."

"As with people, the cause with chronic renal failure in dogs and cats is currently unknown,"
he says. "It is important to be observant with your dog and communicate any unusual
changes or behaviors with your veterinarian. The changes may be subtle but it helps if it can
be identified before the animal is overtly ill."

If you would like further information on chronic renal failure, contact your local veterinarian.