Dialysis for dogs is not used very often, but it is a viable treatment option for severe kidney failure. Most dogs with mild to moderate, or beginning stages, of kidney failure are not candidates for the procedure. In order to understand how dialysis works and the benefits that it can bring to a terminally ill dog, it is first important to understand the purpose behind employing dialysis in dogs.
Kidney Function and Failure
The main purpose of the kidneys is to filter waste products and excrete them appropriately. When the kidneys are no longer able to complete those functions, due to primary or secondary health issues, a dog is identified as having kidney failure. However, there are different levels of kidney failure, and the current condition and function of the kidneys are important factors in determining candidacy for dialysis.
Sometimes a dog may present with symptoms of kidney failure, such as excessive thirst and excessive urination, but may not actually have failing kidneys. Blood testing and a urinalysis can help to identify if excessive levels of protein are present in the body, often indicating a deficiency of the kidneys to excrete. While higher-than-normal levels of protein may be present, the kidneys may simply be reacting to a high-protein diet that is not appropriate for that individual dog. That would not be a true case of kidney failure, but rather a case of a protein-sensitive dog. So, a true diagnosis of kidney failure and the progression of kidney failure need to be identified before dialysis can be considered as a treatment option.
Dialysis for kidney failure treatment, medically known as hemodialysis, is a procedure carried out by a machine which takes the place of the failed kidneys by performing their functions for them. With an implanted catheter, the dialysis machine is able to withdraw blood from the dog’s body, mix it with a solution called dialysate, which eliminates toxins from the blood, and then pump the clean, filtered blood back into the dog’s body.
Each dialysis procedure averages between 3 and 5 hours, which can be difficult for some dogs to withstand. In those instances, sedation may be needed so that the dialysis procedure can be done without complications. Depending on the stage of kidney failure, some dogs may need treatment only once a week, while others may need treatment three or four days out of the week. If a dog is in end-stage kidney failure, a catheter may be inserted underneath the skin to make repetitive procedures easier.
Choosing Dialysis for Treatment
There are two large deterrents from dialysis for most dog owners: the cost and the availability. While the overall ideology of caring for a dog is met with the best of intentions, many dog owners just cannot afford the cost of dialysis. The initial set-up charge is roughly $3,000, including catheter insertion and one round of treatment. After that, each dialysis session costs around $500.
Availability is another large concern for dogs needing dialysis. Human dialysis machines and canine dialysis machines are not interchangeable in their use, namely because the blood capacity of human dialysis machines is much more than is needed for a dog. Because the equipment is so costly, it is not feasible for many local veterinarians to provide dialysis treatments.