The kidneys are some of the hardest working organs in an animal's body. Their primary responsibility is to filter and excrete toxins and metabolic by-products from the blood. But they also play a major role in regulating pH, electrolytes, blood pressure and red blood cells. The kidneys are very strong organs and having two in the body gives animals a lot of "back-up." However, they are also sensitive organs and are susceptible to many different types of diseases that can severely affect an animal's health.
Kidney failure can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (slow, gradual onset). The most common causes of acute kidney failure are toxins such as antifreeze or accidental drug overdoses, and infections from bacteria in the urinary tract. If discovered immediately and the cause treated aggressively, acute kidney failure can be very treatable. Chronic kidney failure is usually less treatable, because by the time it is discovered there has been extensive damage to the kidneys. However, special prescription diets available from your veterinarian, with high quality but lowered amounts of protein, can be very effective at controlling this disease. The most common causes of chronic kidney failure are age related degenerative changes or high blood pressure.
The most common clinical sign seen with animals with kidney disease is an increased thirst along with an increased frequency and amount of urination. This is because as the kidneys ability to filter the blood fails, so does their ability to retain and reabsorb water back into the bloodstream. As more water goes into the urine and dilutes it, an increase in the amount and frequency of urination is noticed. This in turn causes dehydration and stimulates the animal to drink more water in an attempt to replace this water loss. Other common clinical signs include loss of appetite, vomiting and lethargy. If you notice any of these you should bring your pet to your veterinarian immediately. Simple blood and urine tests can evaluate if the animals kidney function is impaired at all.