The kidneys are hardworking organs. In addition to filtering blood and eliminating waste in urine, they help maintain proper hydration, electrolyte balance, blood pressure, red blood cell production and bone strength. So when one or both kidneys aren’t pulling their weight, it can impact a lot of functions in your dog’s body. But what’s the difference between acute and chronic kidney disease?
Acute kidney disease
Dogs with acute kidney disease experience a sudden onset of kidney dysfunction. It can happen when they accidentally ingest toxins, such as ethylene glycol in antifreeze, grapes or raisins. It can occur as a side effect of some antibiotics or medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Severe bacterial infections, including those associated with leptospirosis and Lyme disease, and any condition that may compromise blood flow to the organs, such as shock, can also lead to acute kidney disease.
Signs of acute kidney disease can appear within hours or days of the inciting event, and may include loss of appetite, increased drinking, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain, bad breath, and a decline in urine volume. In mild cases, there may be no signs at all.
The prognosis depends on the severity of the injury to the kidney and if the underlying cause can be quickly identified and treated. In one study, about half of dogs with acute kidney disease didn’t survive.1 The good news, though, is that prompt treatment may be able to reverse the damage. Dogs typically require hospitalization, fluid therapy, medications and a renal diet. Some dogs recover fully, while others may eventually progress to chronic kidney disease.
Chronic kidney disease
Unlike acute kidney disease, the chronic form is present for months to years. While cases caused by congenital defects (which are present at birth) tend to occur in young dogs, most dogs experience chronic renal disease later in life.
Because the disease has a slow, gradual onset, you may not notice the signs until the condition is quite advanced. The signs can include loss of appetite, weight loss, drinking more, urinating large volumes, vomiting, diarrhea and, in the later stages, anemia, which can result in pale gums and weakness.
It’s often difficult to identify the exact cause of chronic kidney disease. In addition to congenital defects, chronic disease may result from a number of factors including chronic kidney infections, immune system diseases and toxins.
While there is no cure for chronic kidney disease, dogs can live for many years with the right care. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment may include fluid therapy, medications and a therapeutic renal diet.
Nutrition plays a major role in kidney disease
A therapeutic renal diet, such as Diamond CARE Rx Renal Formula for Adult Dogs, is generally considered the cornerstone of treatment for kidney disease. Renal diets have been shown to slow the progression of the disease and help pets with kidney disease live longer.
Typically, these diets feature controlled levels of protein and reduced phosphorus and sodium to help lighten the load on the kidneys. Increased levels of fat and calories can help maintain body weight. And increased omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants may help reduce inflammation.
For dogs with kidney disease, regular veterinary check-ups are important to help monitor the progression of the disease and adjust treatment to help your dog feel his best and, ideally, live for many more years.
1. Vaden SL, Levine J, Breitschwerdt EB. A retrospective case-control of acute renal failure in 99 dogs. J Vet Intern Med 1997;11(2):58-64.