New Hope in the Fight Against a Silent Killer: Canine Kidney Disease 

Kidney disease is the second-leading cause of death in dogs, just after cancer. It is often called a “silent killer” because by the time a dog begins to show visible signs, almost 70 to 80 percent of its kidney function has been lost, significantly reducing the dog’s life expectancy. 

Recent advances in veterinary science are finally making some headway against this serious and widespread condition. New diagnostic tests and treatments are turning kidney damage from a fatal sentence into a condition that can often (but still not always) be treated. 

What is canine kidney disease? 

The kidneys filter body wastes from the blood, dispose of them in the urine and conserve water. Acute (rapid, short-acting) kidney disease results in the speedy decline of kidney function and can be caused by exposure to poisons such as antifreeze, or by hyperthermia (elevated body temperature). Chronic (long-acting) kidney disease results in the gradual decrease of kidney function and is more common in dogs and cats than the acute variety.  Chronic kidney disease can be caused not only by problems in the kidneys, but also by other systemic diseases such as infections, high blood pressure or diabetes. 

Common signs of kidney disease in dogs include:

Historically, the diagnosis of kidney disease required both blood and urine tests to measure the kidneys’ ability to remove waste products from the blood and conserve water. Unfortunately, these conventional tests cannot detect disease until approximately 70 percent of kidney function is destroyed and the pet is very sick. This is referred to as “end-stage” kidney disease. A new test, just introduced within the last six months, is now available that can help veterinarians diagnose kidney disease before it reaches this point. 

Diagnosing a silent killer 

For the first time, there is a medical test that diagnoses kidney disease before the dog begins showing symptoms, giving the vet a chance to treat the cause of the disease and extending and improving the dog’s life. The E.R.D.-Screen™ Urine Test from Heska Corporation, specifically developed to identify dogs at risk of developing fatal kidney disease, is able to detect ongoing kidney damage before the kidneys have sustained a debilitating amount of damage.  

With the E.R.D.-Screen Urine Test, kidney disease can be identified prior to the detectable loss of function. Earlier diagnosis enables veterinarians to look for common illnesses that cause kidney damage, many of which are treatable, thus slowing or halting the disease. Even when the cause cannot be identified, early treatment can slow the progression of disease, which can lengthen and improve the quality of a dog’s life. 

The E.R.D.-Screen Urine Test takes just five minutes and can be conducted in a vet’s office. The test detects a protein called albumin in urine samples. Albumin is normally found in blood but not in urine. When kidney damage occurs, albumin crosses the barrier between the blood and the urine during the blood filtering process. The E.R.D.-Screen Urine Test can detect when this barrier is damaged very early in the progression of the disease. In contrast, conventional blood and urine tests can only detect disease after the majority of kidney function is destroyed.

Older dogs* should be tested every year during their routine health exams. Because the kidneys must lose the majority of their function before visible signs of the disease appear, many apparently healthy dogs have undetected disease. French Bulldogs should be tested annually once they reach adulthood.

Early diagnosis enables treatment

Because many treatable diseases can cause kidney damage, your veterinarian may run additional tests to determine the cause of your pet’s condition. Whether the cause of the kidney disease is identified or not, your veterinarian will recommend treatments to support the kidneys, thereby slowing the progression of the disease. These recommendations may include: 

·         Increased monitoring. Your veterinarian will want to test your dog’s urine again every three to six months to see if the albumin levels are stable, increasing or decreasing. This information will help your veterinarian manage your pet’s kidney disease.

·         Your veterinarian may recommend treatments to delay the progression of kidney disease such as specialized diets and medications.

·         Your veterinarian may recommend treatment programs to protect your dog from diseases that can further damage its kidneys (e.g., maintaining good oral health, heartworm prevention, tick protection).

·         Knowing that your dog has early kidney disease, your veterinarian may recommend additional precautions be taken during anesthesia. He/she will also carefully consider the risks of prescribing medications that may harm your dog’s kidneys and monitor your dog closely if such medications are needed.

·         The best way you can help your dog is to follow your veterinarian’s instructions. 

In addition, the April 15, 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) reported that nutritional intervention in chronic kidney disease can dramatically improve the quality and extend the life of affected dogs. Dogs fed Hill’s Prescription Diet® Canine k/d® (a specially formulated dog food designed to reduce strain on the kidneys) showed a 72 percent reduction in the rate of kidney damage and half the clinical signs associated with kidney disease when compared to the dogs on the non-therapeutic diet. 

How do I protect my dog?

Ask your veterinarian for an E.R.D.-Screen Urine Test at your dog’s next visit and at every annual health exam. 

For more information on topics discussed in this article, please visit: 

Kidney Disease in Dogs

Heska Web site 

Hill’s Web site

Heska and Hill’s Pet Nutrition have teamed up to educate veterinarians about the benefits of early testing and treatment of canine renal disease. Consumers interested in receiving rebates and free Hill’s dog food should ask their veterinarians if they are participating in the Heska and Hill’s Kidney Focus Campaign. Benefits include:

* The age at which a dog is considered “older” varies widely among the different breeds: large breeds have shorter life expectancies than small breeds, and should be tested much earlier.