Routine screening tests play a crucial role in your pet’s preventive care and can effectively detect small health changes that can be addressed before they become big or irreversible problems. While you’re likely familiar with annual parasite testing, Red Oak Animal Hospital also offers and recommends a few specific tests to assess your pet’s organ function.

One such test—known as SDMA—provides an excellent way to evaluate your pet’s kidney health and diagnose chronic kidney disease (CKD) in its earliest stages. Here are five important reasons why every pet needs and deserves this simple yearly test.

#1: Chronic kidney disease is a common threat to dogs and cats

CKD (i.e., chronic renal insufficiency) is a leading cause of death in pets—affecting 1 in 3 cats and 1 in 10 dogs at some point in their lifetimes. Risk factors, such as breed and age, can further increase the likelihood for disease, reaching as high as 25% among at-risk dog breed populations and 80% for cats older than 15. 

Kidney function in affected pets progressively deteriorates, causing toxins and waste products to accumulate in the blood. Because the kidneys are responsible for a host of duties, including maintaining internal homeostasis or balance, altered or diminished function causes widespread complications. 

#2: Early chronic kidney disease in pets is invisible

Because CKD has no cure, early diagnosis and intervention is the only way to protect your pet’s kidney health and their quality of life. Unfortunately, the initial kidney damage is subtle and slow, and signs may not be visible for months or years. And, by the time illness is noted or specific changes appear on your pet’s annual blood work, nearly 70% of the kidneys are damaged or destroyed. At this tipping point, treatment is limited to supportive care to keep the pet comfortable.

Fortunately, the SDMA screening test can provide a head-start for managing—and ideally slowing—CKD in your pet. The SDMA test screens a small blood sample for a specific amino acid—symmetric dimethylarginine—that is produced during protein breakdown and eliminated through the kidneys. This sensitive measurement can increase with as little as 25% to 40% of kidney function loss, compared with 70% with traditional blood tests.

If your pet’s results indicate elevated SDMA levels, follow-up testing (e.g., blood work, urinalysis, imaging) will be recommended to confirm kidney disease.

#3: Early diagnosis can help your pet live longer

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to kidney disease. Your Red Oak Animal Hospital veterinarian can use your pet’s SDMA results, along with additional testing, to stage your pet’s disease based on the International Renal Interest Society’s (IRIS) standardized guidelines. Staging establishes a baseline (i.e., starting point) for your pet’s condition and helps your veterinarian create a customized and targeted treatment plan to preserve their current kidney function and address any underlying problems that may be contributing to their decline. 

#4: Early intervention can slow or decrease your pet’s disease signs

Nephrons are the functional units in your pet’s kidneys that manage filtration (i.e., determining which products are wasted in the urine and which ones return to circulation). While healthy pets have hundreds of thousands of nephrons, pets with CKD experience progressive destruction and loss. As nephron numbers decrease, the kidneys cannot keep up with the body’s workload, and harmful waste products build up in the blood.

Because this progression can’t be stopped, therapies focus on slowing nephron damage by easing the kidneys’ workload, and may include:

  • Diet According to studies, pets who consume specially designed therapeutic diets live twice as long as pets on a traditional diet. These foods are typically low in sodium, phosphorus, phosphate, and contain reduced protein, which can place unnecessary strain on compromised kidneys.
  • Fluids — Poorly functioning kidneys excrete urine in large volumes, which can lead to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration, despite increased thirst and water intake. Fluid therapy (i.e., administering sterile fluids underneath the pet’s skin) can help restore appropriate balance, diurese (i.e., flush) the kidneys, and support healthy hydration.  Pets with late-stage disease often must be hospitalized for diuresis, which is similar to dialysis in people.
  • Medication — Blood pressure regulators, hormone replacers, and anti-nausea and calcium- and phosphorus-restricting medications may be necessary at different disease stages.

Learning that your pet has kidney disease is never what you want to hear, especially when they’re visibly healthy, but early diagnosis, targeted treatment, and diligent at-home care can help your pet live a relatively normal and enjoyable life for as long as possible. 

#5: SDMA can benefit previously diagnosed pets

The SDMA screening test isn’t only for undiagnosed pets. If your pet has already been diagnosed with CKD, SDMA measurement can help your veterinarian stage your pet’s condition and then use the information to confirm that your pet’s treatment plan is appropriate and will provide the best opportunity for a good quality of life.

Don’t get caught off-guard by chronic kidney disease. Expose its secrets and disable its dangers—request an annual screening test at Red Oak Animal Hospital. Contact our caring team to schedule your pet’s next appointment.