Kidneys: What purpose do they serve? Why are they so important that pets need two? How do they work? Is there more than one task relegated to them? How can I protect my pet’s kidneys and make them last a lifetime?
The kidney is an amazingly complicated, interesting organ. Its foremost task is filtering: It filters the blood, and that’s a big job. In 24 hours, your pet’s entire blood supply passes through the kidneys numerous times. Substances in the blood that need to be removed are sifted out and sent into the urine.
Important proteins and minerals (including potassium and sodium) are retained (and sometimes excreted, too), depending on the body’s particular needs at that moment. Excess water is lost; if necessary, water can be kept from leaving the body in situations of need (low blood pressure, dehydration).
The kidney also produces hormones that regulate calcium levels, cause increases in red blood cell production and fine-tune blood pressure.
What causes kidney damage?
Many different events can cause damage to these organs. Some drugs, toxic substances, physical injury, infections and many other things can damage kidney tissue.
Once the tiny functional units of the kidney die, they can never be regrown. The remaining units get larger and work harder to handle the workload. When they can no longer manage, the kidneys start to fail, leading to signs of illness and sometimes to death.
Transplants for pets?
In humans, kidney transplants are no longer rare events. Some veterinary teaching hospitals are transplanting cat kidneys (one requirement is often that the owner adopt the shelter cat that donates), but this is still a very long way from being a common solution to kidney failure.
Ask your veterinarian what you can do to keep your pet’s vital organs humming along.