How the Kidneys Work
The kidneys are bean-shaped organs, located just behind your dog’s ribcage. These organs each contain about a million tiny units called nephrons, which process blood to filter out waste products and extra water, which become urine.Urine flows through your dog’s bladder through tubes called ureters and are stored until your dog relieves himself.Waste in your dog’s blood comes from normal breakdown of active muscle and from his food.
After the body has taken from the food what it needs for energy and self repair, the waste is sent to the blood where it will be filtered by the kidneys. Without this process, waste products would build up and damage the body.The kidneys also regulate levels of chemicals like sodium, phosphorus and potassium and release them back to the blood to return to the body.
1. Acute Renal Failure (ARF)
In acute renal failure, the symptoms appear suddenly and can be quite severe: vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite are those most commonly seen. There may be lack of urine production, especially in cases of urinary obstruction. ARF is a potentially fatal condition and must be treated immediately in order to save your pet’s life.
ARF is often caused by waste products and toxins that build up in the body, known as nephrotoxins. Common toxins and poisons that are well known to cause kidney failure include certain antibiotics, antifreeze, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), raisins and grapes, and (in cats only) the Easter lily plant. Anything that decreases blood flow through the kidney can cause renal failure.
If your pet has ARF, the best approach is to consult with a veterinary homeopath. There are a number of remedies that are effective, depending on the cause and the symptoms. Animals with ARF should also receive intravenous fluids under the care of a veterinarian.
The good news is that ARF can be treated successfully if caught early enough. Unfortunately, in some cases it becomes chronic and is more difficult to treat.
2. Chronic Renal Failure (CRF)
Chronic renal failure is the gradual loss of function of the kidneys, most frequently in older pets. A number of factors can contribute to the development of CRF. Vaccination is a prime suspect, especially in cats. Diet also seems to play a role in the development of the disease. Other factors include infection, high blood pressure, kidney trauma and kidney stones. Timely diagnosis with ongoing veterinary care and a good diet will help to maintain the pet’s quality of life.
Preventing Kidney Disease
It’s highly preferable to prevent rather than treat kidney disease. Limiting or eliminating the number of vaccines, anesthetic procedures, and pharmaceutical drugs given to your pet will reduce the number of toxins the liver and kidneys have to process. Also, feeding a balanced, species appropriate diet instead of commercial pet food will supply your dog with adequate nutrition to support organ function. Highly processed commercial kibble provides poor quality nutrition for your pet and should be avoided. If your pet has early kidney disease, do not wait to begin treating him with an improved diet and Chinese herbal medicine.
The first symptoms of CRF are an increase in drinking and urination. Your dog may begin to sit near the water bowl and ask to go outdoors more often. At this stage you may also observe changes in the coat or dry and flaky skin, as well as very bad breath. These changes can be gradual and are easy to miss, so it’s a good idea to perform laboratory tests annually or semi-annually on older pets. Testing should include blood tests and a urinalysis; kidney disease usually shows up first in the urinalysis.An increase in protein in the urine often appears prior to increased drinking and urination. Early detection of this protein allows your holistic veterinarian to help slow the progression of the disease.
As the disease progresses, the pet loses the ability to concentrate the urine and this results in an increase in urine production. At this stage of kidney disease, the pet has lost approximately two-thirds of the nephrons in the kidneys. (Remember, nephrons are the functional units that remove waste and extra fluids from the blood.) Usually, the only noticeable changes in your pet at this time are the increased drinking and urination.
As the disease progresses to a point where three quarters of the nephrons are not functioning, bloodwork starts to reveal changes – usually an increase in Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine. At this stage your pet may have anorexia, nausea and vomiting, and foul smelling breath. Their coat may appear dull and they may have some weight loss and lethargy, even sunken eyes.
Unfortunately, this is often the stage at which many pets are first taken to the veterinarian. By then they are usually depressed and dehydrated. They need to be hospitalized and receive IV fluids until their BUN and creatinine come down to an acceptable level. This is stressful for the pets and expensive for their owners – another reason early detection and prevention are so important.
Why Conventional Treatment is Ineffective
Conventional treatment aims to lower the level of protein in the blood by feeding a prescription diet low in protein. This keeps the BUN and creatinine from increasing dramatically because they are the byproducts of protein metabolism.
Unfortunately, this treatment just masks the problem and does not really treat the underlying kidney disease.
In fact, reducing the protein level in the diet may actually reduce the effectiveness of the kidneys because the amount of blood filtered through the kidneys is related to the amount of protein in the diet. Reducing the protein reduces filtration, which reduces excretion of toxins. Reduction of protein intake is only necessary when the kidney function decreases to a point where the toxins build up and cause symptoms such as vomiting, mouth ulcers and anorexia.
Most conventional treatments for renal failure only marginally slow the progression of the disease.
Fortunately, there are alternative treatments that are often very successful at arresting or even reversing kidney disease.
- Homeopathic Remedies
There are also homeopathic remedies that can successfully treat many symptoms of CRF.
Arsenicum album,Great for animals with chilliness and thirst. These animals are often restless, especially after midnight. They may hang their heads over the water or food bowl but don’t eat or drink much.
Mercurius,Mercurius may be of benefit in animals with advanced disease with oral ulcers and irritability.
Natrum muriaticum (Nat Mur.)
Good for animals that seek cool, rather than the usual heat seekers.
Is a good remedy for the sluggish, unkempt animal. They are usually thirsty with poor appetites but are still very sociable.
Herbs that can improve blood circulation include ginkgo and hawthorn. Hawthorn is effective in increasing blood circulation, whereas ginkgo can dilate the blood vessels in the kidneys. Ginkgo also has anti-inflammation properties which can reduce inflammation in the urinary tract. Other herbs that have anti-inflammation properties include marshmallow, couchgrass, and corn silk.
Diuretic herbs such as dandelion, alfalfa, nettle, stone root (a native North American root) are good choices to gently increase urine output.
An herbal tea made from equal parts of alfalfa, ginkgo, hawthorn and echinacea (if infection is present) can be given to your dog if she suffers from early stages of kidney failure.
Dosage: About 1 teaspoonful of the tea per 20 pounds of body weight of the dog.