A Pet Owner’s Guide to Early Detection of Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can be a challenging condition for pet owners and veterinarians, because the illness slowly creeps up over time, making early detection difficult. Fortunately, testing is available that helps catch kidney disease sooner than standard tests, which gives your pet the best prognosis for a long-term good quality of life.

Chronic kidney disease causes in pets

Chronic kidney disease has numerous causes, with aging the most common, since organ function naturally declines as pets grow older and their body wears down. Other reasons for impaired kidney function include genetics, renal hypertension, underlying concurrent illness, infection, protein intake, toxin exposure, urinary tract issues, and cancer. Acute kidney disease can also become chronic.

Chronic kidney disease signs in pets

Early stage kidney disease signs are often so subtle that they go unnoticed until the disease has advanced. Because the clinical signs progress so gradually, early detection testing is critical, so CKD is diagnosed and management tactics are implemented as soon as possible.

Although you likely won’t spot kidney disease in your pet until later stages, keep an eye out for the following signs, which can be the first clues that your pet has a problem:

  • Depression
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive thirst and urination

How chronic kidney disease is typically diagnosed in pets

In most cases, CKD is diagnosed through routine wellness screening tests, not because the pet appears ill. Since CKD can take months before the illness is visible, blood work abnormalities are often the first disease indicators. Pets who do not undergo annual or biannual screening tests are more likely to develop clinical signs before CKD is diagnosed, so they have a much poorer prognosis. 

Standard wellness screening tests for kidney disease include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) — The kidneys secrete erythropoietin, a hormone that triggers red blood cell production. If your pet lacks erythropoietin, they will develop anemia, which can be seen as a decreased red blood count on a CBC. 
  • Blood chemistry profile — The kidneys’ primary function is excretion of metabolic wastes, which accumulate when the kidneys are damaged. Elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CRE) levels also are seen with kidney disease, although they can indicate other disease processes, as well.
  • Urinalysis — Poorly functioning kidneys cannot concentrate urine, so dilute urine—as seen with a low specific gravity—will be seen on urinalysis.

These standard screening tests are incredibly important for monitoring your pet’s health and catching early stage disease, but they do not pick up on kidney dysfunction until about 75% of the organs are irreparably damaged. At this point, clinical signs also may be evident, and blood work will show increased kidney enzymes and anemia. Unfortunately, the damage has been done.

How chronic kidney disease can be detected earlier in pets

Because standard testing does not indicate kidney disease until the majority of kidney function is lost, testing that will detect CKD early is more and more becoming a component of the standard testing package.

Now, a test specific to kidney function can assess the level of the biomarker, symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA), and kidney disease can be detected much earlier. SDMA is created when protein is broken down, and excreted through the kidneys. An increased SDMA level can be seen much sooner than other kidney disease markers—studies show that SDMA levels can increase up to 17 months before creatinine.

SDMA testing is also important for kidney disease detection, because other conditions that lead to increased creatinine levels, such as Cushing’s disease, liver disease, or heart disease, do not affect the test results.

SDMA testing is capable of detecting kidney disease when your pet has lost only 25% of their kidney function, so this early detection test is an essential component of wellness screening. Diagnosing kidney disease in its earliest stages affords your pet the best possible prognosis and quality of life, and they can potentially live many more happy, healthy years.

Catching disease in its earliest stages is critical for keeping your pet as healthy as possible. Give our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Urgent Care Services team a call to schedule your furry pal’s wellness screening appointment.

By |2024-02-15T00:00:09+00:00August 21st, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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