Pet Boarding & Daycare

Your Role In Spotting Signs Of Kidney Disease

Your Role In Spotting Signs Of Kidney Disease

By Jane Harrell

Did you know that more than 1 in 3 cats1 and 1 in 10 dogs2 will be impacted by kidney disease in their lifetimes? Recent studies suggest numbers might be even higher, with more than half of cats over 15 years old being afflicted.3 So, what does this mean for you? It’s another opportunity for you to add value to your clients and keep them coming back for the high–quality care and compassion you provide.


As a boarding owner or employee, you should be giving pets a daily, thorough once-over. Subtle signs of trouble may be more obvious to you, whereas small changes may be harder for your clients to notice since they see their pet every day.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the following. If you spot any of these signs, let your client know as a trip to the vet might be called for to test for things like kidney disease, thyroid disorders, and diabetes.

Dehydration can be a sign of moderate to severe kidney disease. It can also make existing kidney disease worse in both dogs and cats. Common signs of dehydration to watch for include:

More so in cats than dogs, you might notice an unkempt appearance. As kidney disease worsens, cats will often have trouble keeping up with regular grooming. Any cat whose grooming habits have changed significantly should be seen by a vet to rule out issues like dental disease, kidney problems and more.

According to Celeste Clements, DVM, DACVIM, the increased thirst and urination associated with chronic kidney disease in dogs and cats may unmask signs of urinary incontinence, especially in female dogs, or pets with lower urinary issues. This could show up during your nose-to-tail assessment as:

Pets who are experiencing discomfort around their kidneys or bladder may begin over–grooming and breaking off fur in the areas of discomfort. Of course, your clients might not understand the possible connection right away. Gently help your clients understand the relationship and recommend a vet visit if you notice these signs.

Hair matted with feces around the anus and perineum can be a sign of many things, including unhealthy kidneys. The root goes back to dehydration—as pets become dehydrated, they may also become constipated or produce more “pasty” feces that cling to the fur. This one’s easiest to see in long-haired dogs and cats, but it can impact any dog or cat.

With some pets, a trip to your facility happens more often than a trip to the vet. Similarly, some pets may have extreme coats that hide weight loss from your clients. (This goes for weight gain, too!) If you notice that one of your regulars is starting to feel a little more boney than usual, speak up. While Fluffy may just be on a diet, your clients will appreciate that you noticed, and if no diet, a trip to the vet may be in order.

Has one of your trickiest clients gotten less accurate in their nips or swats? Check out their eyes (carefully) and let their owner know if you notice any changes. Funny-looking red eyes or dilated pupils could be a sign of hypertension caused by kidney disease.


Kidney disease can be caused by an array of conditions, and the success of treatment depends on a number of factors. In general, two types of kidney disease are common in pets:

CKD is more likely to be the type of kidney disease that you might see signs of during your nose-to-tail assessment. Defined by a slow decline of kidney function, CKD can be notoriously hard to spot. However, if you notice signs, it may help in catching CKD as early as possible to give pet parents and their veterinarians the best shot at slowing or stopping the decline.

Acute kidney disease moves much faster and is more likely to be noticed by your client. Typically caused by a sudden or acute injury to the kidneys, this form usually means a sick pet who may have stopped producing urine altogether and needs emergency treatment.


Recognizing, identifying and (hopefully) treating the underlying cause of kidney disease as early as possible gives pets the best chance at happy, long lives. During your nose-to-tail assessment, be sure to help your clients understand how external things you see might flag internal issues, like kidney disease, that require a trip to the vet. By discussing this with your clients and pointing out concerning signs, you are helping them take the best care of their pets and will likely keep them coming back for years of special attention.

As Editor-in-Chief of Pet Health Network and Head of Pet Owner Communication for IDEXX Laboratories, Inc, Jane Harrell works to help pets and those who love them stay together. Jane’s worked with leading brands for over 14 years to make a difference for pets through education, advocacy and marketing. IDEXX is a leader in pet healthcare innovation, serving veterinarians around the world with a range of diagnostic and information technology-based products and services to help them provide advanced medical care, improve staff efficiency and build more economically successful practices. Headquartered in Maine, IDEXX offers products to customers in more than 175 countries.

1 Lulich JP, Osborne CA, O’Brien TD, Polzin DJ. Feline renal failure: questions, answers, questions. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet. 1992;14(2):127–153

2  Brown SA. Renal dysfunction in small animals. The Merck Veterinary Manual website. Updated October 2013. Accessed February 12, 2016.

3  Marino CL, Lascelles BD, Vaden SL, Gruen ME, Marks SL. The prevalence and classification of chronic kidney disease in cats randomly selected from four age groups and in cats recruited for degenerative joint disease studies. J Feline Med Surg. 2014;16(6):465–472.