For dog parents, a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease (CKD) for their four-legged family member can evoke emotions ranging from disbelief to devastation — even guilt. If caught early, before signals such as increased peeing or drinking are noticed, owners may question the diagnosis because their dog isn’t acting sick. But more frequently, chronic kidney disease in dogs is discovered during the condition’s later stages, after substantial and irreversible damage has occurred and caused a rapid decline in health that requires immediate hospitalization. Dog owners may find themselves asking, “How could I have missed the signs?” or even “Why didn’t I call the veterinarian sooner about their accidents in the house and decreased appetite?”
So now what?
Your dog’s condition and any other health issues found during examination and diagnostics will help determine treatment. Some dogs with CKD, especially early stage kidney disease, may live for a few years with the proper treatment. As a pet parent, you’ll want to understand not only what needs to be done to manage your dog’s kidney disease but why it’s important to follow through with your veterinarian’s recommendations.
Living with a dog with chronic kidney disease
Treatment of chronic kidney disease in dogs aims at improving the quality of the pet’s life and slowing disease progression. Here are several things you should expect:
Frequent trips to the veterinary clinic. Dogs with CKD need to be monitored on an ongoing basis, although the frequency will depend on the disease stage at diagnosis. Dogs with early, stable kidney disease may only need to be rechecked every three to six months. But dogs with advanced CKD may require monthly or more frequent recheck appointments. Follow-up visits often involve examinations, blood work, urinalysis and possibly a blood pressure check if your dog also has high blood pressure. Changes in medication or pet food may be recommended based on test results and exam findings.
Changing your dog’s food to a kidney-friendly diet. Your veterinarian will likely suggest changing your canine companion’s diet to a special food designed especially for dogs with kidney disease. Therapeutic diets such as Diamond CARE Rx Renal Formula for Adult Dogs restrict dietary phosphorus and sodium levels, provide controlled amounts of high-quality protein and supplement added omega-3 fatty acids, several B vitamins and vitamin C. This combination has been shown to improve overall quality of life and may minimize disease progression, which can result in a longer life span.
Monitoring and encouraging water consumption. Dogs with CKD can’t conserve water by making concentrated urine. The result is that they pee larger amounts more frequently, and to maintain fluid balance, dogs with kidney disease drink more water. Monitoring their water intake is very important to prevent dehydration. In addition to making sure they always have lots of fresh water available, you can encourage your pet to increase their water intake by:
- Adding canned food to their diet
- Providing a pet water fountain
- Placing clean bowls with fresh water in several rooms around your home
- Adding an occasional splash of low-sodium chicken broth to their water dish
More trips outside for bathroom breaks. Dogs with kidney disease are typically going to need more bathroom breaks, so working this into your schedule will be important. A dog door with access to a fenced yard, a friendly neighbor or a professional dog walker can give your pooch a needed break and help you avoid coming home to a puddle or two.
Additional medications or treatments. The kidneys play a critical role in removing harmful wastes from the blood, helping to control blood pressure and making hormones and enzymes. So when the kidneys aren’t working properly, a number of other serious health problems can occur, including high blood pressure, anemia, excessive stomach acid production, increased phosphorus levels in the blood and protein loss in the urine. Your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate medications if any of these medical issues occur. That’s another reason for ongoing regular veterinary visits: Your veterinarian will want to fine-tune and individualize your dog’s therapy.
One last item for your to-do list
Celebrate your dog and their role in your family! Consider creating a bucket list for your best friend and sharing their accomplishments with family and friends.
Chronic kidney disease isn’t reversible, preventable or curable. Although dogs can be stable for long periods with appropriate treatment, CKD is a progressive disease that worsens slowly. Some dogs may worsen over months, others over two to three years, before their quality of life will be no longer acceptable to their pet parents. So now is the time to celebrate your special four-legged family member.