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Renal dysplasia is a developmental anomaly of the kidneys meaning the nephrons (urine-forming units) of the kidneys do not mature properly.

All dogs are in fact born with kidneys that are not completely functional. The nephrons mature with age. Puppies do not achieve adult levels of urine concentrating ability until they reach the age of four months or even later. This means a young pup may seem to have a kidney condition, but given time may prove to be completely healthy.

In the case of dogs with renal dysplasia de nephrons do not develop to a mature stage, and thus the kidneys are not capable of filtering the blood from toxins, fluid and electrolyte in a normal fashion. This causes strain on the whole body system and affects many other organs. Some of the nephrons within the kidneys that do not develop into mature units are replaced with fibrous tissue. In some cases this abnormal tissue represents up to 20-50% of the kidney which may be detectable using ultrasound examination. It may then be possible to reveal signs such as scarring, smaller kidneys than what is normal, irregular shape of the kidneys and defects in the collecting ducts in the renal pelvis. Slightly affected dogs are however likely to appear normal upon ultrasound examination.

X-ray examination can be another way of determining the size of the kidneys, which may be of help in making a proper diagnosis. If both kidneys are markedly reduced in size there is reason to believe that the dog does indeed suffers from renal dysplasia. The size of the affected kidneys will range from a reduction of 20 % of normal to very small, shrunken kidneys. A sample of blood may show other indications of renal failure. When the kidneys are not completely functional they can not remove waste products from the blood and these will then begin to build up in the bloodstream. A blood test will show an elevation of these waste products in the case of renal dysplasia.

Ultrasound and X-ray examination does not provide a definitive diagnosis, nor does blood testing or examination of urine samples. All of these tests might merely present clues to a proper diagnosis if there is suspicion of renal dysplasia in an individual.

Clinical signs that may be seen by owners in affected dogs are excessive thirst and volume of urine, weight loss, lack of vigour, and intermittent loss of appetite. This state may last for months or years. In many cases excessive drinking and urination are the major symptoms. The final stage is termed renal failure or uremia. At this stage vomiting, weakness, dehydration, and severe debilitation are added to the other symptoms. At this point death is the inevitable outcome.

The classical symptoms of affected dogs is unfortunately only seen in severely to moderately affected dogs. Many dogs are only mildly affected, which is why renal dysplasia is a poorly recognized disease. It is possible that only slightly affected individuals will never be detected as being sick at all. They will live a normal life with seemingly normal function of the kidneys passing the condition on to their offspring without anyone ever knowing.

It is not known exactly how renal dysplasia is inherited. In some breeds there seems to be a possible sex predisposition for renal dysplasia. In three breeds a linked DNA marker to a required genetic determinant of juvenile renal dysplasia has been detected. Other than this, not much is known except that it is imperative to keep affected animals out of the breeding programs as far as possible.

The only sure way of diagnosing renal dysplasia, is by making a biopsy of the kidneys. This is normally performed after the dog is dead. Since the disease is probably transmitted in a silent fashion until one dog finally develops a severe state of the condition it is of great importance that an autopsy is performed on dogs that die due to renal failure in order to make a correct diagnosis and make sure this disease is not transmitted any further.

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