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Glomerulonephritis in Dogs

Glomerulonephritis in Dogs: Definition, Symptoms, and Cause

Glomerulonephritis in dogs is inflammation of the glomeruli caused by a deposition of immune complexes. The inflamed glomeruli are unable to filter blood and produce urine, resulting in the accumulation of waste products in the body. 

Common causes of glomerulonephritis (GN) include cancer, chronic pancreatitis, ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, periodontal disease, immune-mediated diseases, pyometra, endocarditis, heartworm infections, prostatitis, and chronic skin infections. 

Weakness, ascites, changes in urination habits, increased thirst, panting, and sudden blindness are standard signs of glomerular disease in dogs. 

Diagnosing glomerulonephritis in dogs is challenging. The underlying cause is difficult to ascertain, and it is hard to distinguish between infectious and autoimmune glomerulonephritis. 

The treatment for a glomerulonephritis dog is symptomatic when the trigger is unknown. Dietary changes are recommended for long-term management. 

The prognosis for dogs with GN is grim. The glomerular disease in dogs life expectancy is limited and depends on the success of treatment. 

What is Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

Glomerulonephritis in dogs is a kidney disease manifesting with inflammation and dysfunction of the glomeruli. The condition is known as glomerular nephritis (GN). 

The kidneys filter blood, produce urine, and help remove waste products. The dog’s kidney comprises thousands of specialized cells called nephrons. 

The nephron is produced from a glomerulus and a series of tubes. The glomerulus, known as the blood filter, is a tuft of capillaries or small blood vessels. 

Glomerulonephritis in dogs occurs when antibody-antigen complexes get trapped within the glomeruli instead of being filtered out of the bloodstream. The trapping of immune complexes activates the immune system, causing further glomerular damage. 

The glomerulonephritis definition explains the condition's inflammatory component. The mode of action leading to glomerulonephritis reveals the immune system's role. 

What are the other terms for Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

The other terms for glomerulonephritis in dogs are glomerular nephritis, GN, and nephritis. The most commonly used term is the abbreviation GN. 

The condition is periodically classified under glomerular disease or glomerulopathy. The terms are broader and include various kidney problems. The harmful effect of glomerulonephritis is known as nephrosis syndrome. 

How does Glomerulonephritis in Dogs develop?

Glomerulonephritis in dogs develops when the inflamed glomeruli fail to function. The deposition and entrapment of immune complexes into the tuft of capillaries prevent the glomerulus from filtrating blood.

The kidneys compensate for the loss of functionality in the early phases. The condition slowly advances, causing nephrotic syndrome and chronic kidney disease (CKD). The ultimate stage in the development of glomerulonephritis is renal failure.  

Who is at risk of developing Glomerulonephritis in Dogs? 

Middle-aged to senior Bernese Mountain Dogs and Doberman Pinschers with underlying health conditions are at risk of developing glomerulonephritis. 

GN in dogs is prevalent in older dogs of certain breeds. Underlying conditions are a significant risk factor that triggers glomerular inflammation. 

Statistics aside, glomerulonephritis has the potential to occur in all dogs. The condition manifests suddenly or over a prolonged period. 

Are certain breeds of dogs more prone to glomerulonephritis?

Yes, certain breeds of dogs are more prone to glomerulonephritis. Familial glomerulonephritis is a specific variant of GN that occurs in certain breeds. 

Bernese Mountain Dogs and Doberman Pinschers are predisposed to glomerulonephritis. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are susceptible to glomerulonephritis caused by Lyme disease. 

 Other high-risk dog breeds include Dalmatians, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, Greyhounds, Bull Terriers, Samoyeds, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, and Cocker Spaniels. 

Golden Retrievers, Longhaired Dachshunds, and Miniature Schnauzers are known to develop GN, but it is uncertain whether this is a true breed predisposition or a result of breed popularity. 

How common is Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

Glomerulonephritis in dogs is common, with over 40% of renal disease cases in dogs presenting the disease. The condition was once considered rare. The main reason for the initial misdiagnosis was the lack of diagnostic procedures. 

Glomerulonephritis is now a widespread disease in canines. ‚ÄúGlomerular disease in the dog is not only a common form of renal disease but also an important cause of chronic renal failure,‚ÄĚ reports a study, ‚ÄúCanine Glomerulonephritis: New Thoughts on Proteinuria and Treatment‚ÄĚ published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice in 2005.¬†¬†

What does Glomerulonephritis in Dogs look like?

Glomerulonephritis in dogs looks like increased urination and thirst in its pronounced stages. The exact clinical manifestation depends on the severity and stage. 

Dogs with mild and early GN show weight loss and lethargy. The conditions go undiagnosed until routine vet checkups raise awareness of their manifestation. 

Ascites or fluid accumulation in the abdomen is visible in the advanced stages with increased urination and water intake. Panting and sudden blindness are observable in dogs with severe GN. 

What are the Causes of Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

The causes of glomerulonephritis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Cancer: Canine cancer is a widespread diagnosis that affects the dog‚Äôs entire body, including the immune system, which weakens.¬†
  • Chronic Pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is a long and painful pancreatic inflammation that causes systemic immune suppression.¬†¬†
  • Ehrlichia Infections: Ehrlichia causes ehrlichiosis, a tropical bacterial infection that attacks and destroys the immune system‚Äôs white blood cells.¬†
  • Chronic Periodontal (Dental) Disease: Periodontal disease is caused by plaque and tartar buildup and harms the dog‚Äôs quality of life.¬†
  • Lyme Disease: Lyme disease in dogs is a tick-transmitted bacterial disease that makes the immune system overreactive to triggers.¬†
  • Immune-Mediated Diseases: Immune-mediated diseases are commonly associated with GN because of the increased production of antigen-antibody complexes.¬†
  • Pyometra: Pyometra is inflammation of the uterus marked by pus accumulation. The condition is related to severe suppression of the immune system.¬†
  • Endocarditis: Endocarditis is inflammation of the heart valves, which causes high levels of free-circulating antigen-antibody complexes.¬†
  • Heartworm Infection: Heartworm infection is a parasitic disease in which the immune system reacts to the parasitic worms causing the infection.¬†
  • Prostatitis: Prostatitis is prostate inflammation and is common among intact male dogs.¬†
  • Chronically Inflamed Skin: Canine atopic dermatitis causes chronically inflamed skin and misdirected immune system reactions.¬†¬†

1. Cancer

Cancer refers to malignant tumor growths on or inside the dog’s body. Common cancers in dogs are osteosarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma, and mast cell tumors. 

Certain dog cancers weaken the dog's immune system and shield themselves from its effects. Cancer impacts the entire dog’s entire physiology. The exact clinical manifestation depends on the cancer type. 

2. Chronic Pancreatitis 

Chronic pancreatitis is an ongoing inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis in dogs is excruciating. Trauma, obesity, and poor diet are the most common causes of pancreatitis. 

Chronic pancreatitis triggers an immune response involving innate and adaptive immune cells. The reaction is profound suppression of the immune system. 

3. Ehrlichia Infection

Ehrlichia is a bacterial infection that manifests with fever and bleeding. The disease is common in tropical regions and is transmitted through ticks. The condition is medically termed ehrlichiosis. 

Ehrlichia infections attack and destroy white blood cells in dogs, which are an important part of the immune system. 

4. Chronic Periodontal (Dental) Disease

Chronic periodontal or dental disease is inflammation of the gums. The inflammation is caused by plaque and tartar buildup. Periodontal disease is more common in small-breed dogs. 

Some bacteria responsible for periodontal disease override the immune system’s defense mechanisms. The chronic form of the disease weakens immunity. 

5. Lyme Disease 

Lyme disease is an infectious condition caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks transmit the bacteria. Telltale signs of Lyme disease in dogs are fever and lameness. 

Lyme disease triggers an overreactive immune system. Immune-mediated overreactions in the body cause inflammation. 

6. Immune-mediated Diseases 

Immune-mediated diseases are conditions that depend on the immune system. A common example is lupus erythematosus. Lupus in dogs has two forms, discoid and systemic. 

The hallmark of immune-mediated diseases is increased antigen-antibody complex production. The complexes accumulate in the kidneys and cause GN. 

7. Pyometra 

Pyometra is uterine inflammation. The condition is prevalent in intact female dogs. The condition manifests with pus accumulation in the uterus, which is potentially fatal. 

Pyometra in dogs triggers a very potent inflammatory response, which is linked to severe suppression of the immune system. 

8. Endocarditis 

Endocarditis is heart valve inflammation. The mitral and aortic valves are frequently affected. Infection occurs when bacteria enter the dog’s bloodstream. 

Endocarditis manifests with high numbers of antigen-antibody complexes in the circulation. The complexes eventually accumulate in the kidneys. 

9. Heartworm Infection

Heartworm infection is a parasitic disease caused by the worm Dirofilaria immitis. Mosquito bitestransmit the worm. Heartworm disease affects the lungs and heart and is potentially deadly. 

The immune system of a dog with heartworm infection reacts to the dead worms, leading to the formation and deposition of immune complexes. 

10. Prostatitis 

Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate gland. The condition is prevalent in intact male dogs. Prostatitis occurs acutely or chronically. 

The dog’s immune system strongly responds to the bacteria causing prostatitis. The response, for unknown reasons, fails, and immune complexes build up in the kidneys. 

11. Chronically Inflamed skin

Chronically inflamed skin is the standard sign of atopic dermatitis. Canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) is a unique type of allergic skin disease. Intense itchiness is the hallmark sign of CAD. 

The immune system in dogs with CAD sends misdirected attacks to harmless substances that enter through skin pores. The attacks trigger the formation of antigen-antibody complexes that are deposited in the kidneys. 

Can autoimmune diseases cause glomerulonephritis in dogs?

Yes, autoimmune diseases can cause glomerulonephritis in dogs. Autoimmune issues provoke the immune system, and all conditions that trigger the immune system have the potential to cause glomerulonephritis. 

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is one of the most common autoimmune diseases causing GN. Kidney disease is a standard SLE complication. 

What are the Symptoms of Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

The symptoms of glomerulonephritis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Weakness: The earliest noticeable sign of GN in dogs is weakness, which occurs when waste products accumulate in the body instead of being filtered and eliminated.¬†
  • Ascites: Ascites is an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen caused by a lack of proteins in the dog‚Äôs body. Ascites manifests as abdominal enlargement.¬†
  • Changed Urination Habits: Dogs with GN produce excess amounts of urine (polyuria) and urinate very often (pollakiuria). Anuria or lack of urine production occurs in dogs with renal failure and is a life-threatening symptom.¬†¬†
  • Increased Thirst: The increased amount and frequency of urination makes dogs drink more than they usually do, which is called polydipsia¬†
  • Rapid Breathing: Protein loss through urine causes blockages in the lung blood vessels, resulting in panting and trouble breathing.¬†
  • High Blood Pressure: GN causes hypertension or high blood pressure. The increased formation of blood clots contributes to hypertension.¬†
  • Sudden Blindness: The inflammation of the glomeruli in the kidney triggers high blood pressure, which in some dogs causes sudden blindness.¬†¬†

How does glomerulonephritis affect a dog's kidneys?

Glomerulonephritis affects dogs' kidneys by causing inflammation and impaired function. The deposition and entrapment of antigen-antibody complexes in the glomeruli trigger the inflammation, which is worsened by the immune system’s activation. 

Severe forms of GN cause a so-called nephrotic syndrome. The nephrotic syndrome manifests with significant protein loss via the urine (proteinuria), high blood pressure (hypertension), and abnormal blood clotting. 

When does Glomerulonephritis in Dogs Symptoms usually occur?

Glomerulonephritis in dogs symptoms usually occurs when the condition advances. GN starts when an underlying disease starts depositing immune complexes. The glomerular inflammation then triggers the symptoms. 

The onset of GN symptoms sometimes overlaps with the symptoms of the underlying condition, making it hard to determine the exact GN onset.   

What are the Risk Factors of Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

The risk factors of glomerulonephritis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Breed: Certain breeds, such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Bull Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Dalmatians, Greyhounds, Samoyeds, Rottweilers, Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers are prone to GN.¬†¬†
  • Age: GN is prevalent among middle-aged and older dogs. The median age of onset is between 6.5 and 8.5 years, but cases are reported in puppies less than a year old and senior dogs.¬†
  • Health Conditions: Health issues triggering the dog‚Äôs immune system for a prolonged time are a risk factor for GN. Typical examples are Lyme disease, pyometra, chronic pancreatitis, and heartworm infections.¬†
  • Certain Medications: Long-term and irresponsible use of certain anti-neoplastic drugs increases the risk of glomerulonephritis in dogs.¬†

What are the complications of glomerulonephritis in dogs?

The complications of glomerulonephritis in dogs are listed below. 

  • High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure or hypertension is a common complication of GN and a frequent cause of sudden blindness.¬†
  • High Cholesterol: High blood cholesterol levels or hypercholesterolemia increases dogs' heart disease risk.¬†
  • Blood Clots: GN in dogs increases the risk of blood clots forming in the vessels in the legs and abdomen.¬†
  • Chronic Kidney Disease: Chronic kidney disease (CKD) develops in dogs with severe and unmanaged glomerulonephritis.¬†
  • Renal Failure: Kidney or renal failure is the culmination of GN and CKD in dogs and is a potentially fatal situation.¬†

Can glomerulonephritis lead to kidney failure in dogs?

Yes, glomerulonephritis can lead to kidney failure in dogs. Severe forms of GN cause chronic kidney disease (CKD). Advanced CKD culminates in kidney failure. 

Kidney failure is when one or both kidneys no longer function properly. Kidney failure in dogs is a potentially fatal condition. 

How is Glomerulonephritis in Dogs Diagnosed?

Glomerulonephritis is diagnosed through a kidney biopsy. Urine analysis leads to a presumptive diagnosis, and a kidney biopsy confirms the suspicion. 

The urine analysis shows an increased protein concentration in the urine (proteinuria).

Other tests that help the diagnostic process include complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry, blood pressure measurement, abdominal ultrasound, and X-rays. 

The blood analysis shows high levels of urine-related waste products due to inefficient filtration. The presence of nitrogenous waste products in the dog’s blood is called uremia. 

Where can you seek a diagnosis for Glomerulonephritis in dogs?

You can seek a diagnosis for glomerulonephritis in dogs at the vet’s office. Diagnosing GN is challenging. The process requires plenty of diagnostic workups. 

The general veterinary practitioner refers some dogs with suspected glomerulonephritis to a vet specializing in internal medicine. The entire diagnostic process lasts up to several weeks. 

What are the Treatments for Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

The treatments for glomerulonephritis in dogs are listed below. 

  • Cause Identification: The primary step is identifying the underlying cause and stopping the immune system from making antigen-antibody complexes that deposit in the glomeruli. Finding the cause is rarely possible, and the treatment is symptomatic.¬†
  • Medications: Medications depend on the dog‚Äôs symptoms and include low doses of anti-clotting agents, such as Aspirin. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors reduce the amount of proteins lost through the urine.¬†
  • Surgery: Surgery is indicated for dogs with glomerulonephritis caused by a tumor. Depending on the tumor‚Äôs size and location, surgical removal alone or in combination with chemotherapy or radiation is done.¬†
  • Diet Changes: Dogs with GN benefit from high-quality diets formulated with low sodium and protein levels.¬†
  • Supplements: Natural supplements like CBD oil and omega fatty acids are helpful to dogs with GN because of their anti-inflammatory properties.¬†

Is glomerulonephritis treatable in dogs?

Yes, glomerulonephritis in dogs is treatable. The success of the treatment varies widely. Treating GN requires identifying and managing the underlying cause.  

‚ÄúUnfortunately, in as many as 75-80% of glomerulonephritis cases, no underlying disease can be identified, or if one can be identified, it cannot be cured,‚ÄĚ according to a veterinary report on ‚ÄúGlomerulonephritis in Dogs‚ÄĚ by VCA Hospitals.¬†

The treatment in cases where the underlying condition is unknown or uncurable focuses on symptom management.  

What is the recovery time after treatment for Glomerulonephritis in Dogs?

The recovery time after treatment for glomerulonephritis in dogs is long and challenging. The exact length depends on the underlying condition. 

Glomerulonephritis is a severe disease and requires extensive treatment. Dogs with GN need life-long medication for symptom control. The overall prognosis is guarded and, again, is based on the cause.

Is Glomerulonephritis in Dogs Contagious?

No, glomerulonephritis in dogs is not contagious. Glomerulonephritis is caused by infectious and non-infectious problems and is fueled by a misguided immune system reaction. 

GN in dogs manifests with inflammation and dysfunction of the glomeruli. The glomerular effects are not transmissible to other dogs.