Hemodialysis and Blood Purification Unit
Welcome to the Hemodialysis and Blood Purification Unit of the Small Animal Internal Medicine Service at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Hemodialysis is an exciting and growing specialty in 'high-tech' veterinary therapeutics. With modern technology and techniques, hemodialysis is safe, effective and indispensable for the management of life-threatening uremia in dogs and cats. There is no alternative therapy as effective for animals with uremia, refractory acute renal failure, life-threatening overhydration, or acute poisoning.
Veterinarians from UC Davis were among the first in the country to perform hemodialysis on companion animals, and established the first veterinary hemodialysis facility in the country. Still today, there are very few veterinary hemodialysis centers in the United States. Two of those facilities are overseen by UC Davis - one at the VMTH and one at our satellite facility in San Diego. These state-of-the-art hemodialysis centers provide treatment options for animals suffering from kidney failure for whom conventional medical treatments have failed, and whose afflictions would otherwise be life-threatening.
Clinical Activities and Procedures
In healthy animals chemical and fluid balance is maintained and metabolic waste products are removed from the bloodstream by the kidneys. Animals with diseased kidneys cannot perform these functions such that body composition is altered and wastes accumulate as toxins, contributing to a syndrome termed uremia. Dialysis is the process whereby dissolved substances diffuse across a membrane from a solution of higher concentration to a solution of lower concentration. Hemodialysis is an advanced therapeutic application of these principles of diffusion which is performed on uremic animals to remove the accumulated toxins from the patient's blood (where they are present in high concentration) and establish normal body fluid composition. During hemodialysis, the patient's blood is circulated repeatedly through an artificial kidney composed of many tiny "straws." These straws are the semi-permeable membranes that allow toxic wastes to diffuse out of the blood but keep proteins and cells within the bloodstream. As the blood circulates, metabolic wastes and excess fluid are removed from the blood and discarded.
Applications of Hemodialysis:
Hemodialysis provides a new standard of care for a variety of diseases and clinical conditions for which there are no effective medical alternatives, including:
- Severe acute or chronic renal failure
- Acute poisoning
- Severe over hydration
- Severe electrolyte derangements
- Severe acid-base disturbances
- Conditioning for kidney transplantation
Larry Cowgill, DVM, PhD, DACVIM - Head of Unit
Carrie Palm, DVM, DACVIM
Lucy Kopecny, BVSc (Hons), DACVIM (Small Animal Internal Medicine) - Fellow
John Kirby, AHT
Sean Naylor, AHT
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is dialysis painful? Is it uncomfortable or stressful? Will my pet have to be anesthetized or sedated?
- Actually, animal patients tolerate hemodialysis therapy incredibly well. They rarely need sedation and no invasive medical procedures are performed during dialysis. Pets lie on warm, fluffy beds and are allowed to move, eat, drink and sleep as they wish. They receive constant attention, interaction and 'TLC' from all of the professional staff. We encourage owners to visit during hemodialysis sessions to see directly how their pets respond to this therapy.
- Does my pet have to stay in the hospital?
- Initially patients are hospitalized. Depending on the reason the animal requires dialysis will greatly influence the hospitalization. Once an animal is stable they can go in-between their dialysis treatments.
- Will dialysis cure my pet?
- Dialysis does not “fix the kidneys”; dialysis provides supportive care, taking the place of the kidneys. The pet would require dialysis until kidney function returns.
- How many sessions will my pet require?
- The number of sessions will vary depending on the underlying disease and the extent of the kidney injury.
- How long are the dialysis sessions?
- The dialysis sessions are usually 4-5 hours in length. The pets are dropped off in the morning and spend the day with the dialysis personnel.
- What species of animals can you treat?
- We are able to treat a variety of species. We have treated dogs, cats, horses, sheep, and reptiles.