Kidney failure is one of the toughest diseases to affect dogs and can be very challenging to manage. For those with senior and geriatric dogs, kidney disease could be quite common, and though it is a heartbreaking diagnosis, I have learned that there are ways to make the healing journey with your dog a little less bittersweet.
Last year, my beloved heart dog was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease (canine renal failure). Having previously dealt with this disease in the past, I instinctively rushed her to the veterinarian for IV fluids to flush out toxins in her body — the first-step in a treatment program that I am aware would have no end. I also knew what to expect– the soul-crushing conversation with the vet so I could manage my expectations and prepare myself for the inevitable; never-ending blood tests; subcutaneous fluids and a mountain of medications and supplements. Despite this knowledge, I must say I still felt woefully inadequate to deal with my dog’s kidney disease.
Yet I didn’t let these feelings of inadequacy overwhelm me. If there is one lesson I learned from my old dogs who have crossed over to the rainbow bridge, it is to make the most of the short time that I have with the dogs who are still with me. I told myself that I would make our remaining days together count, so that my beloved girl would not be afraid of constant vet visits and endless poking, but feel loved and secure through all these.
And so I found ways to make each moment with my dog special. Kidney failure can be hard on any dog, sapping energy and appetite, but I knew I had to be a strong, reassuring presence for my dog, a constant source of comfort. For instance, I learned how to administer subcutaneous fluids as she curled up on my lap, so that these sessions would become bonding moments for us. I made sure she took full part in the pack’s daily routine, carrying her from room to room when her energy was low so that she could take part in all our family activities. She took part in our Christmas and New Year festivities, getting her favorite goodies to pique her interest in food. I made sure I indulged her every whim, and that she knew how much we all loved her.
There are two types of kidney disease in dogs — acute (which happens out of the blue. Read my previous blog on this) and chronic (which happens over time as dogs age, and was the case for my dog).
Although kidney disease is irreversible, I would like to believe that all these have helped slow down its progression and have helped her feel loved all throughout, which I saw in her soulful eyes as she lay on my lap. In treating her, my goal was to extend the quality time that we had together, and maintain her quality of life so that she is as comfortable as possible.
To those of you in a similar journey, here are some tips that I hope would be of help:
- Don’t underestimate the value of subcutaneous fluids. Some vets do not push it, but I have been lucky to have a vet who knows how subcutaneous fluids can help your dog after the initial IV fluid therapy. If your dog is in the earlier stages of kidney disease, it can make a major difference but even in the latter stages, it is still valuable. My vet previously taught me how to administer subcutaneous fluids myself, and encouraged me to do so again. If you do not know how to do this, ask your vet to teach you. It can be scary at first but you can do it. I administered subcutaneous fluids daily and I could attest to how this helped improve my dog’s activity levels and appetite.
- Give prescribed supplements. Our stash included phosphate binders, probiotics, and vitamins. Since these are not available in the Philippines, I had to order some of these abroad (Amazon and ShippingCart are your friends). They can truly make a difference in your dog’s health.
- Watch your dog’s diet. Most likely, your vet will prescribe a renal diet to your dog, and if you can, stick to a diet that is low on phosphorus. The canned renal diet is delicious but it is also high in fat, so be careful if your dog has other issues. Work closely with your vet on this. However, in some cases, your dog might not have the appetite to eat. This could really be tough, but I’ve found that Vitamin B and fluids can help stimulate the appetite.
- Learn how to read blood test results. Your vet will be relying a lot on this and discussing this with you. For starters, your vet will be discussing BUN, Creatinine, and Phosphorus, along with other values. Make sure you keep a record of these blood tests so you can see how your dog is progressing. It is important to monitor blood pressure as well.
- Monitor vomiting and dizziness. If oral medicines do not stop vomiting, ask your vet to inject an anti-emetic.
- Anemia can be a problem. My vet managed this this erythropoietin shots which helped prop up dropping values.
- Watch for diarrhea. Sometimes, kidney disease can be accompanied by pancreatitis which has diarrhea as a symptom. Pancreatitis is a life-threatening disease and has to be dealt with aggressively. My dog’s pancreatitis was detected and confirmed through blood tests and an ultrasound, and required a different dietary approach altogether.
- Keep the faith. Dealing with your dog’s kidney disease can drain you emotionally, and would take up a lot of time. When the burden feels too heavy, reach out to a higher power. Prayer touches the soul in ways that will astound you. Having access to your trusted vet or a support group that would understand what you are going through is especially helpful to get you through these trying times.
If your dog is in the earliest stages of kidney disease, act without delay. Your early intervention could help slow the progress of the disease. But even if your dog is at the latter stages, your intervention could still help alleviate discomfort.
I won’t sugar coat it – battling canine renal failure is extremely difficult and you can only delay, but not stop, what is to come. Yet you can make this journey with your dog a little less bleak with your love and devotion to your pet, who wants nothing more than your comforting touch and presence at this time.