Our big, beautiful, seven-year-old German Shepherd Otto is dying. We learned this in November when he went to the vet due to excessive drinking and urinating. All the tests we ran showed very little was wrong, except his ability to concentrate urine. Otto’s kidneys are failing. To look at him then and even now, you would think nothing was wrong. He seems healthy and active. He eats well and looks in great condition. But something is very wrong.
In early December his first morning urine specific gravity was 1.030. The normal range is 1.050-1.060. The vet said at that time his kidney function was at about 25%. Since then we put him on a low protein, low sodium diet. There is very little else to be done for failing kidneys. He loves his new diet that includes lots of vegetables and senior moist food mixed with dry senior kibble. It took some searching to find a diet that didn’t aggravate Otto’s chicken allergy. After a few weeks he stopped drinking and urinating excessively. We actually thought the urine test was a fluke and he might be getting better.
I got a veterinary refractometer so I could test his urine specific gravity at home. Five days ago I checked his first morning urine and the specific gravity reading is down to 1.010. The only indication of anything being wrong is that he occasionally vomits a little. Otherwise he seems perfectly healthy. Kidney failure for Otto is an insidious process.
The vet has no real explanation for the failure. Otto could have gotten into poison, destroying the nephron cells in his kidneys. These cells do not grow back once they are killed. We have no idea where the dog could have gotten poison. He doesn’t stray far from us. The other dog, Max, goes everywhere with him. Max does not have any problem. There is a condition found in German Shepherds called chronic kidney failure. It is a genetic issue. We don’t know if this runs in Otto’s family. The breeder certainly didn’t mention it when we bought him. I suspect this may be what is causing Otto’s demise.
I plan to start administering subcutaneous fluids to help keep Otto hydrated in an effort to extend his life. Once his kidneys reach a critical stage, Otto’s health will rapidly decline and we will be forced to lay him away so he doesn’t suffer. It would be good if he could make it to spring so we can bury him in our pet cemetery. It will be a very sad time on the farm.
Feb 2 Update: Since writing this blog two days ago, I’ve had more discussion with the vet. He was interested to learn that Otto’s urine dilution had increased while his drinking and urination had decreased to nearly normal. Although Otto does not show any other real symptoms, the vet wants to check the dog for Addison’s disease. So in two days Otto will get an ACTH stimulation test. Fingers crossed that he has Addisons, the first time I’ve wished a disease on a dog. Because it is treatable with steroids and he could have a long, regular life, instead of succumbing to kidney failure.
Feb 6 Update: The ACTH Stim test was performed yesterday and the results came back completely normal. For $300+ we learned Otto does not have Addisons disease. Still no idea what is wrong. Today we are performing a urine concentration test. No water for Otto for most of the day and every few hours I collect urine and test the concentration with my refractometer. So far his urine continues very dilute.