Longer Lives for Dogs with Kidney Disease

Pat Long

From the Morris Animal Foundation's "Animal News", Volume 5 Number 4


Chronic renal failure (CRF) is a common disease in older dogs, affecting about 10 percent of dogs over the age of 12.Typical clinical signs include increased thirst, increased urine (or, rarely, a decrease in urine), weight loss, decreased appetite, vomiting, muscle wasting, lethargy, bad breath, oral ulcers and sometimes diarrhea.

One treatment option that has helped to prolong these dogs' lives is diet therapy. Dogs with CRF who eat special diets live about three times longer than those who don't, but there is still no cure. This is why more research is needed to understand the causes of the disease and ways to slow its progression. Dr David Polzin is making great strides. With funding from Morris Animal Foundation, he recently completed a clinical trial at the University of Minnesota that points to a promising new treatment option. When a dog's kidney is functioning normally, it produces a hormone called calcitriol, which scientists believe helps to manage fluid and electrolyte balance and excrete waste as urine.

In CRF, calcitriol levels drop, and the kidney can no longer adequately perform these functions. Based on this knowledge, Dr. Polzin wanted to determine whether providing small doses of calcitriol in addition to diet therapy would benefit dogs with kidney failure. His team gave calcitriol to a group of dogs with CRF while another group received a placebo of flavored olive oil. To eliminate bias, neither the researchers nor the pet owners knew which group was receiving the calcitriol.

During the study, the dogs were monitored for changes in their kidney function, biochemical changes, decline in quality of life and survival. Dr Polzin's team determined that a daily low dose of calcitriol stabilized kidney function, slowed the progression of the disease and prolonged survival.

As recently as a decade ago, dogs with CRF often survived less than six months after diagnosis. Today the outlook is much more promising, thanks to treatment advances like this one.

While there is no simple plan for preventing canine kidney disease, with good nutrition and calcitriol therapies, dogs with CRF can often enjoy many more years of high-quality life.

Brush those pearly whites Good oral hygiene can help your pets stay healthy.

Although not yet proven, it appears that lack of dental care is associated with kidney disease. What veterinarians know for certain is that good dental care minimizes oral ulcers, poor appetite and bad breath, all of which are associated with chronic renal failure.

For information on maintaining your pet's teeth and gums, check the American Animal Hospital Association's recently released guidelines for dental health in cats and dogs at: