The organs that probably fascinate me most are the kidneys.
The kidneys are two fairly small, bean-shaped organs located in the abdomen which function as the body’s filter.
As blood flows into the kidneys, it is filtered of all the waste products while preserving essential nutrients.
The kidneys are also responsible for regulating the hydration of the body, excreting the fluids we don’t need and leaving just the right amount we do need.
After the filtration process, the blood continues to flow back into the body’s circulation.
The excess of fluids and the body waste products come out of the kidneys in the form of urine.
The urine flows from the kidneys into the urinary bladder and from there is secreted out when the bladder gets full.
Because the kidneys are responsible for regulating the body’s hydration, one can assess a hydration level by the urine output.
For pets, the urine will be copious, light in colour and diluted. When the body is dehydrated, the kidneys will secrete minimum amount of fluids to retain as much as possible in the blood.
Under this scenario, the urine will be dark yellow, smelly and concentrated.
If you recognize this in your pet, it’s a sign that your pet is not sufficiently hydrated and needs to drink more water.
The normal function of kidneys is extremely important for the body’s existence.
The kidneys are quite durable organs that can continue functioning even when damaged.
In fact, signs of kidney failure will be noticeable only when 70 per cent of a kidney is damaged.
Kidney failure can occur suddenly due to ingestion of a toxic substance or over a longer period as a pet ages.
Acute failure will lead to more dramatic symptoms and will show a more significant kidney failure than the chronic cases, but if caught in time it may be reversed.
Chronic kidney failure can’t be reversed and the treatment focuses on trying to slow down the process and support the animal.
The kidneys have additional functions such as secreting hormones that trigger red blood cell production and blood pressure regulation.
When the kidney fails, it does the opposite of its normal function. The body waste products are staying in the blood, the water and nutrients are secreted in the urine.
The symptoms of kidney failure are the manifestation of that.
In acute failure, the symptoms are related mostly to the toxic effect of the retained waste products of the body.
The most common symptoms of acute kidney failure are vomiting, inappetence, very little or no urine output, depression and in severe cases neurologic abnormalities including seizure and coma.
In the chronic form of kidney failure, the symptoms are less dramatic and more subtle over time.
In the chronic form, the symptoms are more related to the loss of the essential nutrients in the urine. Animals that suffer from chronic kidney failure will typically lose significant weight, will drink and urinate excessively.
Vomiting and depression are also common in this form of the disease.
Because the kidneys are also responsible for controlling the red blood cells and blood pressure, animals with chronic damage are typically anaemic (will have pale gums and skin) and suffer from blood pressure abnormalities.
The kidney function can be evaluated easily with blood and urine sampling.
For people, the treatment for kidney failure is dialysis treatments involving a machine that filters the blood instead of the kidneys.
Unfortunately in veterinary medicine, dialysis is not yet available.
So the treatment for kidney failure consists of supportive treatment. Aggressive fluid therapy that helps flashing the kidneys and supportive nutrition and nutritional supplements are the main courses of action.
As for prevention, it’s impossible to prevent the chronic form that is caused by aging.
However, the acute form is most commonly a result of intoxication. Avoid giving human medication to your pet, some of the common human over the counter drugs, especially drugs such as Tylanol and Advil are toxic to pets kidneys.
Antifreeze (especially ethylene glycol based) is extremely dangerous because it is palatable to pets and very toxic to the kidneys.
Some metals are toxic to pets, as well as some human food, such as chocolate, grapes and raisins. If you recognize any of the symptoms mentioned consult your vet.
Even making small changes in your pet’s life, such as changing its diet to a kidney supportive diet can often help slowing down the deterioration and prolong your furry friend’s life.