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What You Should Know About Kidney Disease
by Dr. Anne Downes

As many rabbit owners are aware, pet rabbits can experience many of the same health problems as people and other animals. The subject of today's article is kidney disease. I will discuss the various causes of kidney disease in rabbits and describe some of the signs of illness that you might notice at home if your own rabbit is affected with this disorder. I will also outline some of the diagnostic tests and treatments which may be recommended to you by your veterinarian.
One of the main functions of the kidney is to regulate the amount of water retained in the body. The kidneys do this by changing the amount of water excreted in the urine. If the body has too much water the kidneys will produce lots of watery (dilute) urine. If the body is slightly dehydrated the kidneys will save water and produce concentrated urine. When the kidneys malfunction or are diseased they may lose their ability to save water and pass large amounts of dilute urine. If a lot of water is lost in the urine your rabbit will try to make up for this by drinking more. These signs of increased urination and thirst could be the first sings of kidney disease noticed at home.
The other major function of the kidneys is to get rid of wastes and toxins from the body. When the kidneys are not working properly these substances accumulate and cause your rabbit to feel depressed, lose interest in food and eventually lose weight.
If the kidneys are inflamed or infected blood may appear in your pet's urine.
Kidney disease can have many causes. Some the more common causes include old age, cancer, parasites (especially a protozoan called E.cuniculi). viral or bacterial infections, excess calcium in the diet leading to kidney stones or exposure to poisons such as antifreeze.
Although there are many different causes of kidney diseases the end result is that the kidneys malfunction and you will notice some of the clinical signs discussed above. Your veterinarian should be consulted as soon as any of these sings are noticed as the sooner a diagnosis is made the greater the chance of being able to successfully treat your rabbit.
The first step will be for your vet to carry out a thorough physical examination as clues can often be found as to what the cause of the problem might be. For example in the case of a rabbit with the parasite E.cuncili abnormalities of the nervous system may be detected. In the case of kidney stones or infection discomfort and palpation of the kidneys may be detected.
The second step will likely involve blood and urine tests and possibly x-rays. These tests will supply your vet with a lot of information and will help narrow down the possible causes of your rabbit's disorder. In some cases specialized tests may be required in order to reach a diagnosis.
If the cause can be determined treatment will be directed towards trying to cure the disease as well as giving supportive care. For example, if your rabbit is diagnosed with a kidney infection then antibiotics will be prescribed. While the antibiotics are working it many be recommended that your rabbit receive "fluid therapy" in the hospital in order to flush the kidneys and decrease the level of wastes and toxins in the body while giving the kidneys an opportunity to recuperate as much as possible. If the kidneys are severely damaged then complete cure many not be possible and long term fluid therapy may be required. You can readily learn how to give fluids under the skin at home which will make your pet feel better and extend his or her lifespan. Your veterinarian may make other suggestions such as changes in your pet's diet which may also help slow the progression of kidney disease.
At Carling Animal Hospital one of the most common inquires we receive from rabbit owners is regarding the appearance of their pet's urine. The reason for this is because rabbit urine can have a wide variation in colour. Usually the urine is clear and yellow, however the colour can range from cloudy white to reddish brown. The white colour comes from the presence of calcium in the urine. If the urine is cloudy white most of the time it may mean that your rabbit has too much calcium in its diet, this can increase the chances of development of bladder or kidney stones. Consult with your veterinarian before making any major changes in your rabbit's diet. If the urine is a reddish brown colour this may just be due to pigment in the urine which is harmless however, it can easily be confused with blood in the urine which could be a sign of a significant problem. Your veterinarian can analyze the urine and determine whether there is any need for concern.
Hopefully your rabbit will never have the misfortune to experience kidney problems. However, should you notice any of the signs described in this article please consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible in order to determine the best treatment for you pet.

Dr. Anne Downes of Carling Animal Hospital in Ottawa, Canada, specializes in the treatment of rabbits.






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