Dialysis is something that we usually associate with human medicine rather than veterinary medicine, but dialysis can be and sometimes is used in the treatment of dogs as well. Dialysis provides a method of prolonging the life and quality of life of a dog in kidney failure, although it is not one of the most commonly offered treatment methods and is not suitable for all dogs.
In order to gain a better understanding of what dialysis is, how it works and how it can potentially help dogs, we will look at dialysis for canine kidney failure in more detail within this article. Read on to learn more.
The kidneys are the organs of the body that filter out waste products, and allow them to pass from the body naturally. When the kidneys no longer work effectively or are unable to filter and eliminate waste, this is known as kidney failure. There are different levels of kidney failure, depending on how advanced the condition has become, and how much or how little work the kidneys are still able to do. The stage of kidney failure that the dog is in, in terms of how advanced it is, will dictate whether or not any given dog is a potential candidate for dialysis.
In some cases, dogs may display the classic symptoms of kidney failure, which can include polydipsia and polyuria (excessive thirst and an excessive need to urinate) when in fact, the dog is not actually in kidney failure at all and something else is amiss.
Your vet will need to run blood and urine panel tests on your dog in order to identify the excessive protein levels that may be present in the dog’s body indicating kidney failure, in order to formally diagnose a failure of the kidneys. However, even a higher than normal level of protein in the blood and urine samples does not necessarily indicate kidney failure, as this may also potentially be caused by the dog being fed a high protein diet that is not completely appropriate for them. In this case, changing the diet of the dog should resolve the issue, once they have changed over to a food that is a better fit for them.
All of these factors need to be ascertained and taken into account before your vet can decide whether or not your dog might be a good candidate for dialysis. Generally, only dogs in the later and more severe stages of kidney failure will be viable.
The full medical term for dialysis is actually haemodialysis, and it is carried out by a machine that is hooked up to your dog. The machine essentially works as an artificial kidney, performing the job that the healthy kidneys normally take care of on their own.
Your dog will be catheterised and connected to the machine, and the machine will then draw blood from your dog’s body, process it through the machine by mixing it with a substance called dialysate, which removes the toxins from the bloodstream that the kidneys are unable to process.
The “cleaned” blood is then filtered and pumped back into your dog’s body.
A full cycle of dialysis takes anywhere between 3-5 hours to achieve, depending on the size and weight of your dog, the machine’s settings, and how high the level of toxins in the bloodstream are.
Understandably, getting a dog to keep still for this amount of time can be a challenge, and so dialysis might be performed under sedation, but if the dog can tolerate the process while conscious, this is the better approach to take.
Dialysis is an ongoing approach to the management of kidney failure, rather than a one-off cure or solution. How often your dog needs to undergo dialysis will again vary, but can range from just once a week to every other day. Dogs in the final or end stages of kidney failure that require frequent, repeated dialysis may benefit from having a catheter implanted under the skin, to make the process easier.
While many dogs in the later stages of kidney failure may potentially benefit from dialysis, it is not an option for every dog and owner. Dialysis is not a service that will be provided by your local veterinary clinic, which means that your dog will likely need to visit a specialist for their treatments, which makes the treatments potentially very costly. Many pet insurance policies will include cover for dialysis in them if recommended by the vet, but because the procedure can be expensive and is regularly repeated, many dog owners will soon find themselves at the limits of their policy’s coverage.
Added to this, it can be hard to find a clinic or referral centre that offers dialysis, due to the cost of the dialysis machines themselves and the time constraints of running them.