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Kidney Failure in Guinea Pigs

In guinea pigs, kidney failure, also known as renal failure or renal disease, is a severe condition that arises when the kidneys, which are vital for filtering toxins from the bloodstream, become damaged. This damage impairs their ability to efficiently remove harmful substances, leading to various health problems and potentially resulting in fatal complications.

What role do the kidneys play?

To better understand the causes of kidney failure, it’s helpful to understand what the kidneys are and their role in the guinea pig’s body.

Guinea pig kidneys are small organs, about 2 cm (just under 1 inch) long, located in their abdomen below the spine and behind their last ribs. These kidneys play vital roles:

  • Filtering Blood: They remove toxic by-products from the body’s metabolism and eliminate extra salts.
  • Hormone Production: They produce hormones that help control blood pressure and the production of red blood cells.

When blood flows through the kidneys, they filter out water and some salts to form an early version of urine. As this liquid moves through the kidney, some water and salts are absorbed back into the body. Meanwhile, waste products, including urea and other salts, are added to the liquid.

Once processed in the kidneys, the urine travels via tubes called ureters to the urinary bladder, where it’s stored temporarily. It then exits the body through the urethra when the guinea pig pees. 

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Symptoms of kidney disease in guinea pigs

By the time symptoms of kidney disease are displayed in a guinea pig, significant and, unfortunately, irreversible damage has already taken place. Below are signs that may indicate kidney disease in these pets:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Urine scald

Kidney failure is more common in older guinea pigs. This condition means their kidneys can’t concentrate urine effectively. As a result, the urine becomes more diluted. A guinea pig with this condition may urinate more often and drink more water to balance the increased fluid loss.

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Causes of kidney disease in guinea pigs

Several factors can lead to kidney damage in guinea pigs:

  • Infections: Chronic bacterial or viral infections can wear down the kidneys over time.
  • Genetics: In some cases, hereditary factors may predispose a guinea pig to kidney disease.
  • Diet: Consumption of high-phosphorus foods has been linked to an increased risk of kidney ailments. High oxalate foods can also be a contributory factor.
  • Environmental Factors: Ochratoxin, a toxin produced by fungal organisms found in mouldy hay, can damage kidney tissues if ingested.

How kidney damage progresses

When a guinea pig’s kidneys are harmed, the pores within the kidney tissues enlarge. This enlargement allows albumin, a type of protein, to escape. As this protein loss continues, the guinea pig’s demand for protein increases. If protein loss exceeds the intake, the guinea pig will use its own body protein, mainly from muscles, resulting in weight loss.

Additionally, damaged kidneys cannot retain water efficiently. This causes an increase in urination, leading the guinea pig to drink more water to prevent dehydration. Over time, as more kidney tissue is lost, the ability to eliminate waste products, like urea from protein metabolism, diminishes. A build-up of urea in the blood can lead to poisoning, depression, and, ultimately, death.

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Diagnosing kidney failure

Identifying kidney failure can be challenging as its symptoms are similar to those of diabetes. Therefore, a definitive diagnosis requires blood and urine samples to distinguish between the conditions.

Treatment options and prognosis

Regrettably, there is no cure for kidney failure in guinea pigs, as lost kidney tissue cannot be regenerated. However, the progression of the disease can be slowed down.

Limiting phosphorous intake may slow the disease’s progression. Your veterinarian might advise altering certain foods in your guinea pig’s diet to establish a healthier balance and better manage the condition.

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