Sadly, kidney disease is a common ailment in older dogs. Kidney disease (also called renal disease) occurs when the normal functions of the kidney are reduced, and can even be fatal.
Fortunately, there are treatments available to prevent the progression of kidney degeneration as well as to help the symptoms of the disease. One of the ways owners try to improve their dog’s quality of life with chronic disease is by incorporating cannabidiol (CBD) into their diet or therapy plan, and kidney disease is no exception.
Why are the kidneys important?
The kidneys act as a filtration system for blood, clearing waste products and producing urine which is delivered to the bladder. They are therefore important in regulating the balance of fluid in the body, as well as the minerals and electrolytes in the blood. If the kidneys are not functioning properly, the effects can cause terminal illness.
Chronic kidney disease
Chronic kidney disease is the most common type of kidney disease in dogs, affecting up to 10%. Chronic kidney disease occurs as a result of slow deterioration of the function of the kidney, and is considered a degenerative disorder. Unfortunately, chronic kidney disease is often at an advanced stage before it is detected by veterinarians and owners.
Acute kidney disease
Acute kidney disease is less common, and usually occurs after one particular event, often after the ingestion of poison or another toxin. Common toxins known to cause renal problems in dogs are antifreeze, grapes, and anti-inflammatory medications. Deterioration happens within hours or days, and can range from mild to severe in damage.
Symptoms and diagnosis of kidney disease
The most commonly noted symptoms of kidney disease are excessive drinking and urination. This is usually noticed by owners when their pet needs to be taken out to urinate more, or when their pet is having accidents in the house. Owners may also notice that they need to refill their water bowl more often. Other general signs of illness include loss of appetite, lethargy, low mood and potentially vomiting.
Regrettably, Dr Stephen P. DiBartola of the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) warns that these symptoms indicate an already relatively advanced state of the disease, with kidney function likely already reduced by two thirds.
Signs of kidney disease can be detected in blood tests, with the build-up of waste products indicating a reduction in the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood. However, when problems are detected in standard laboratory tests, kidney function is again likely already very limited. Therefore, in order to detect kidney disease at an earlier stage, regular check-ups at the vet are important for an elderly dog.
What causes kidney disease?
Kidney disease is usually multifactorial in nature. Some breeds are more prone to developing kidney disease, including Bull Terriers and Cocker Spaniels. Research published in 2013 found that other risk factors for kidney disease in dogs include advanced age, cardiac disease, hypertension, and periodontal disease, which is a bacterial infection in the mouth.
Other features associated with kidney disease are thought to be poor diet, ingestion of toxic chemicals, and dehydration.
How can I prevent my dog from getting kidney disease, or limit the disease progression?
Kidney disease is tricky to prevent, as often it occurs as a result of genetics and age. However, there are some steps you can take to limit the chances of your pooch developing kidney disease. Similarly, if your pet has already been diagnosed with kidney disease, there are some things you can do to limit further deterioration of the kidneys.
Regular trips to the vet
Catching kidney disease early is the best way to limit its development. Annual blood and urine tests are the best way to detect changes in kidney function over time that could indicate disease progression.
With dogs that have already been diagnosed with kidney disease, regular monitoring of their health ensures that your vet is well-informed regarding the status of your dogs’ disease. This allows them to prescribe the best medication and advise the correct treatment regimes.
A good diet
Nutrition is key for any chronic illness. In Dr Joseph W. Bartges’ literature review, he recommends feeding your pet a highly palatable diet full of calorie dense food to maintain muscle mass and a healthy weight if they are suffering from chronic kidney disease.
To help prevent the onset of kidney disease, you should select high quality pet food for your dog, give them plenty of water, and ensure they have no access to harmful foods such as chocolate and grapes.
Maintain good oral health
Dental problems are a leading cause of kidney disease. Therefore, it is extremely important that you practice good dental hygiene with your dog. This includes regularly brushing their teeth and using dental sticks.
With poorly functioning kidneys, certain nutrients are likely to be lacking. It is recommended that a dog suffering from chronic kidney disease has a diet supplemented with vitamin B, omega-3 fatty acids, and potassium.
A good resource
An online resource you might find helpful is this video by Dr Ruth Roberts, who is a leading expert in alternative veterinary medicine. In this video, Dr Roberts describes a variety of methods that can be used to treat kidney disease, including nutritional changes and supplements to improve kidney function.
Can CBD help a dog with kidney disease?
A recent trend in alternative in complementary medicines in humans and pets alike, is the use of cannabidiol as a therapeutic agent. CBD is used to treat a huge number of ailments in humans, including chronic pain, inflammation, cancer, anxiety, sleep problems, and neurological disorders. Anecdotal and preliminary evidence suggests CBD can have measurable benefits in certain contexts (particularly in treating seizures), but rigorous scientific testing is lacking.
In spite of the limited scientific research, there has also been a huge increase in the use of CBD at for treating similar health problems in pets. There is some supporting evidence of its effects in pain management in canine osteoarthritis, and anti-convulsant effects in dogs suffering from seizures. Could CBD have beneficial effects in the management of kidney disease?
The endocannabinoid system in dogs
Cannabinoids are chemicals that can be extracted from Cannabis plants. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis plants, meaning it does not produce a “high”.
CBD is increasingly used in alternative and complementary therapies because of its health benefits. However, legitimate scientific research into its beneficial applications to medicine is still limited, partly due to the complexities surrounding the legality of cannabis plants in many countries.
The endocannabinoid system describes the physiological signals in the body that respond to cannabinoids. Cannabinoids include the chemicals extracted from the cannabis plants, but there are also a class called endocannabinoids, which are produced by the body.
The endocannabinoid system consists of two receptors in the cell, as well as the cannabinoids that they bind to in order to begin a signal cascade, kicking the system into action. These receptors are called CB1 and CB2. CB1 is largely found in the cells of the brain and central nervous system, CB2 is primarily found in cells of the immune system.
What does the endocannabinoid system do?
The endocannabinoid system is increasingly investigated as a therapeutic target owing to its broad roles in mammalian physiology, including in regulating sleep, metabolism, immune system, neuroprotection, and various neural processes.
Broadly, the function of the endocannabinoid system can be summarized as maintaining homeostasis in the body. This means it helps to regulate the body’s internal environment, such as the temperature, balance of chemicals, pH, and water balance.
Should I use CBD on my dog with kidney disease?
The first important feature of CBD use is that it has been shown to be safe for consumption in dogs. Therefore, it is unlikely to do harm, and might be worth trying as part of a vet-approved treatment regime for kidney disease.
Many pet owners turn to CBD for help in managing symptoms of chronic diseases. A recent study reported that vets observe the most beneficial effects of CBD were on pain management, reduction of seizures and relieving anxiety. There are no studies examining the use of CBD in the treatment of kidney disease in dogs, however, CBD could potentially help in managing some aspects of the condition.
CBD might help to manage any pain associated with kidney disease
If your dog appears to be in pain as a result of kidney disease, CBD might be able to mediate the symptoms. There is some evidence that CBD can help with pain management of chronic kidney disease in humans. However, there is no scientific literature related to dogs.
That being said, with the research suggesting CBD could be used for pain management in other canine diseases, it could be worth exploring this as an additional way to make your dog feel more comfortable.
CBD might stimulate your dog’s appetite
There is some evidence suggesting that cannabinoids can stimulate appetite. This can be effective if your dog is struggling to eat, which is a common symptom of chronic illnesses such as kidney disease. Helping with their appetite can improve their overall health and quality of life. It is important to note that studies into appetite stimulation effects of CBD in dogs have not been carried out, and evidence is largely anecdotal.
General health benefits and improvement to quality of life
Despite the lack of direct evidence highlighting beneficial effects of CBD on kidney disease, some pet owners have reported general health benefits of CBD in dogs. Such anecdotal evidence could be confirmed with more scientific methodology once the research community catches up with the recent interest in therapeutic benefits of CBD products.
Such general health benefits might reduce your pet’s anxiety and improve their mood, allow for better rest and overall better health, improving your pet’s quality of life and ability to enjoy life in spite of their illness.
How can I give my dog CBD?
CBD is commercially available in a variety of different ways. This includes treats, oils, supplements, dental sticks and diffusers. The decision of which delivery method to use might be down to trial and error and will depend on the personal preferences of you and your four-legged friend.
The outlook for a dog with kidney disease
Kidney disease is relatively common in older dogs, and its complex symptoms are often not picked up on until kidney function has deteriorated substantially. Kidney degeneration is irreversible, but steps can be taken to slow the progression of the disease and treat its symptoms.
The manifestation and progression of kidney disease in dogs is highly variable and dependent on multiple factors. This means that predicting a life expectancy and quality for your dog living with kidney disease is tricky.
If your dog is in the end stages of kidney disease, keeping them comfortable is highly important. This can include providing them with a comfortable place to rest with their favourite blanket or toys, and spending lots of time with them. CBD can also be incorporated into a treatment or care plan to relax your dog and ease their pain living with chronic kidney disease.