Chronic kidney disease is a progressive condition that affects many pets as they age, particularly cats. As the disease advances, it can take a serious toll on your pet’s quality of life, causing nausea, inappetence, weight loss, and lethargy. However, by performing preventive screening tests, our Wales Animal Clinic team can detect your pet’s kidney dysfunction long before they exhibit health problem signs, and take the necessary steps to preserve your furry pal’s kidney function.

What functions do the kidneys serve in pets?

If their kidneys are not functioning adequately, your pet will experience a cascade of negative health effects as their body slowly shuts down because of kidney failure. The kidneys perform many functions in the body, including:

  • Removing waste products from the bloodstream
  • Regulating minerals
  • Conserving water 
  • Producing urine
  • Stimulating red blood cell production
  • Controlling blood pressure
  • Producing hormones

What are chronic renal failure signs in pets?

Until the disease has progressed to more advanced stages, spotting your pet’s kidney disease signs can be difficult. Oftentimes, pets’ first signs are excessive thirst and urination. A cat may flood their litter box, whereas a dog may have urinary accidents inside the house. Other kidney failure signs include:

  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Bad breath
  • Oral ulcers

Keep in mind that your pet may not exhibit kidney disease signs until roughly two-thirds of their kidney function is lost. At that point, the kidneys can no longer compensate for decreased function, and the toxin level becomes too much for their body to handle.

How will I know if my pet has chronic renal failure?

Your veterinarian can perform several diagnostic tests to evaluate your pet’s kidney function. Previously, the most common kidney function evaluation tests have included:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) — A CBC quantifies the red and white blood cells in your pet’s body, along with their platelet level. Because the kidneys are responsible for red blood cell formation, anemia often indicates a pet may be experiencing kidney failure.
  • A blood chemistry panel — A blood chemistry panel assesses various organs’ function and health, including the kidneys. Two key levels indicate kidney function—creatinine (CRE) and blood urea nitrogen (BUN). The kidneys typically filter out these waste products and excrete them in the urine. When the kidneys fail to function adequately, CRE and BUN levels rise. A blood chemistry panel also quantifies electrolytes and detects imbalances. Excessive urination can cause electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, to become imbalanced.
  • A complete urinalysis — A few drops of your pet’s urine yield a great deal of information about their health status. In regard to kidney function, our Wales Animal Clinic team will assess the specific gravity to determine how well your pet’s kidneys are concentrating urine. We will also check for increased protein in the urine, which indicates decreased kidney function.

A more recent test has become extremely beneficial in diagnosing kidney failure. Veterinarians can now perform a symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) test, which detects kidney disease much earlier in the disease process than the diagnostics previously available. 

What is SDMA in pets?

SDMA is a naturally occurring kidney function biomarker, which is a form of arginine, an amino acid, that the kidneys release when they process and eliminate protein. When the kidneys are failing, the SDMA concentration increases.

SDMA detects kidney function impairment earlier than other tests. Studies have shown that a mild increase in SDMA is often the earliest kidney disease indicator, and that half of cats and dogs had increased CRE within a year of having increased SDMA. In general, SDMA increases with 40%—and as little as 25%—of kidney function loss. In comparison, the CRE level does not increase until up to 75% of kidney function is lost. 

What are the benefits of SDMA testing?

SDMA testing offers several key benefits, especially when included in annual routine screening tests. SDMA testing is helpful in evaluating your pet’s kidney function for these four reasons:

  • SDMA increases earlier in cats than CRE — Studies have shown that SDMA in cats with chronic kidney disease increased 17 months earlier than CRE levels.
  • SDMA increases earlier in dogs than CRE — SDMA increases earlier in dogs than CRE, with SDMA changes appearing an average of 9.8 months earlier than CRE changes. 
  • SDMA is less impacted by extrarenal factors — Factors other than kidney problems, such as body condition, advanced age, and disease state, affect CRE and BUN levels, whereas they affect SDMA less, which makes an SDMA a more accurate test in kidney function evaluation. 
  • SDMA is more reliable than CRE — CRE values can change based on the protein content in a pet’s diet, or if they have muscle wasting. SDMA is more specific to kidney function than CRE, making SDMA a more reliable test.

By performing an SDMA test during your pet’s annual wellness visit, our veterinarians can detect whether your furry pal has kidney disease at a much earlier stage. We will recommend necessary treatments, such as a kidney function support diet, increased water intake, and nausea management—all of which can help improve your pet’s quality of life.

To learn more about kidney disease in pets and the importance of testing or to schedule your pet’s annual wellness visit, contact our Wales Animal Clinic team.