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Ask a Vet: Knowing the true meaning of failure
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Words can hurt. Believe me, I know. If you’ve ever written a column and gotten some less-than-loving feedback, you understand.

Take the word failure, for example. It sounds like the definition of defeat or the embodiment of loss. Which is why I always stress to clients the meaning of a word is only the meaning you give it.

Michael Jordan was a failure at basketball in high school. He got cut from his team. But as you may know, he turned that around.

So let’s face the term renal failure. Renal means kidney, and thus the term denotes kidneys aren’t doing their job. They are still working, just not as well as we’d want.

The medical definition of renal failure in pets is an elevation of two values on blood work, accompanied by a lack of concentration in the urine. That’s all it means.

The values represent waste products the kidneys should normally remove from the blood. The urine concentration represents how well the kidneys reabsorb water from the urine to avoid dehydration.

If the blood values rise and the urine value falls, you have renal failure. It can be related to degenerative changes with age or short term after exposure to a toxin or infection. It can be sudden and cause horrible illness immediately, or it can slowly creep up and show no outward signs at all.

Renal failure does not mean the kidneys are not working, it only means they aren’t working at expected standards. If the kidneys just stop working, life isn’t sustainable for more than a few hours.

So, I understand hearing your pet is in renal failure sounds awful. I hate the words, but they are the terminology for the disease.

Early signs are often increased thirst and increased urination often in large volumes because of lack of concentration. So don’t assume lots of potty breaks mean the kidneys are fine. Often, it’s the opposite.

But don’t panic if you hear those words, even though they sound ominous. Pets can live years when properly managed. No failure is the end.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at mattsisk2003@yahoo.com.

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