Just like people, dogs and cats have two kidneys located either side of the abdomen.

The kidneys are a vitally important organ, and play a part in many different functions within the body. They are responsible not only for filtration of the blood, and excretion of waste products via the urine; but also for control of fluid balance, stimulation of red blood cell production, regulation of blood pressure, production of certain hormones, and electrolyte balance.

The kidneys are roughly oval shaped (The same shape as a kidney bean, hence the name!), and in a medium sized dog, they will be approximately the size of a chickens egg.

The kidneys are vital to life, and when they begin to fail, the effects can be seen in a number of different ways.

Despite all of this, the kidneys are a remarkably resilient organ, and it is not until approximately 75% of function is lost that signs will become visible.

Unfortunately, this often means that animals may be living with some degree of kidney failure for many months, or even years before any symptoms are seen!

Thankfully, recent advances in medical care have provided us with a new way to detect acute kidney damage and chronic kidney disease earlier than ever before.

Previously, kidney damage would not be able to be detected on a routine blood test until around 75% of kidney function had been lost, however thanks to a simple new blood test, a specific indicator of kidney function can be assessed. This test is much more sensitive than our in house blood tests, and can detect even very early kidney dysfunction, before any outward symptoms are shown, allowing us to begin pro-active treatment much earlier.

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is one of the most common conditions affecting older animals, with up to 31% of cats over the age of 15 being affected. It is a progressive disease, which means that the kidneys’ ability to function normally will deteriorate over time, with the end result being the kidneys failing to perform their normal functions. This will result in abnormal filtration, leading to a build up of waste products in the blood. Symptoms of this can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Ulceration of the oral cavity
  • Dehydration


Failure of the kidneys to produce hormones can result in high blood pressure, a decrease in red blood cell production resulting in anaemia, and an inability to adequately concentrate the urine, leading to dehydration and protein loss.

Whilst there is ultimately nothing that can be done to prevent the eventual loss of function, there are various steps we can take to safeguard the remaining kidney function, and slow the progression of the disease. The idea is to reduce the workload of the kidneys, and improve the quality of life for the pet.

Often, patients with severe symptoms will need to be admitted into hospital, and given intravenous fluids (put on a drip) to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, alongside medications to help alleviate some of the symptoms.

If hospitalisation is not required, the vet may choose to start the pet on medications to be given at home, alongside a prescription kidney diet.

Diets such as Virbac’s Kidney support, or Hills’ K/d are specifically designed to have a reduced quantity of higher quality protein, as well as reduced phosphorus and sodium (salt) levels; making them an ideal treatment option of pets with CKD. These diets are specifically formulated to reduce the workload of the kidneys, and reduce high blood pressure which is a common problem in animals with CKD.

In cases where pets are not eating well, the vet may choose to prescribe appetite stimulants.

Fresh, clean water should always be available to your pet, however especially in cats with CKD, it is often beneficial to provide several different drinking options, for example using a water fountain, or leaving a tap dripping.

Some pets may be suitable candidates for owners to be taught how to inject fluids subcutaneously (under the skin) at home a few times a week to help prevent dehydration; however this would be something requiring discussion with the vet, and training to do competently.

If any secondary problems such as high blood pressure or anaemia are present, the vet will select the most appropriate treatments based on the severity.  

Thankfully, chronic kidney disease does not have to be a death sentence, in fact, in many instances, with careful management, pets receiving appropriate treatment can continue to live a happy life for many years to come.


If you have any concerns about your pets health, or if you have noticed any of the symptoms described above, please give us a call on 01670 457271 to arrange an appointment with one of our vets.