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What is Renal Cortical Hypoplasia (RCH) in Dogs?

Renal Cortical Hypoplasia (RCH) is the incorrect development of the outer layer of the kidneys, or the cortex. RCH is also referred to as Renal Dysplasia (RD).

Is Renal Cortical Hypoplasia genetic/inherited?

RCH is considered to be genetic. Studies have shown that RCH’s mode of inheritance is dominant with incomplete penetrace. This means that a dog that carries the genetic mutation for RCH may or may not show symptoms of the illness, but they are still able to pass the gene for RCH on to their offspring.

What causes Renal Cortical Hypoplasia in dogs?
The incomplete development of the renal cortex (the outer portion of the kidney). There are also cases where a condition similar to congenital RCH is acquired from infections (such as those based in the urinary tract), viruses (such as canine herpes virus) and nutritional deficiencies.

Which breeds are most likely to get Renal Cortical Hypoplasia?
Perhaps the most widely recognized is the Shih Tzu.  Although RCH can be observed in any breed, the most common:

What are symptoms of Renal Cortical Hypoplasia?

The most common symptoms are profoundly high thirst, as well as urine output (medically referred to as polyuria and polydypsia, respectively).

Other symptoms can include:

  • blood in the urine
  • lethargy
  • reduction or loss of appetite
  • poor growth in puppies
  • anemia
  • unthrifty hair/coat
  • dehydration
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • generalized discomfort

How is Renal Cortical Hypoplasia diagnosed?
The gold standard for diagnosis is renal biopsy. Other diagnostics that can be useful for diagnosis include full panel blood work, urinalysis, x-rays and ultrasound.

When should an owner consult an Expert or a Vet?

The earlier the better as the illness is progressive. The sooner the diagnosis is made, the faster the pet can be treated to slow progression of the illness.

How is Renal Cortical Hypoplasia treated?

Dogs with RCH should visit their veterinarian every 6-12 months for full panel bloodwork and urinalysis to monitor the progression of the illness. Many dogs will be placed on a sodium restricted diet to avoid fluid retention and others still will be placed on a low protein diet. As some will develop RCH as puppies, working with a nutritionist may be required to meet protein requirements as the pet grows and develops. There are currently no home remedies.

How much can Renal Cortical Hypoplasia treatment cost?

Diagnostics expenses can easily reach a few thousand dollars. As well, in some cases a kidney transplant may be an option.

Cost for annual monitoring, diet and medications to slow the progress of the illness can run a few hundred to a few thousand per year.

What is the prognosis for a dog with Renal Cortical Hypoplasia?

Some dogs will have only one dysfunctional kidney and may live a life that is fairly normal so long as the illness is closely monitored. Unfortunately, most dogs do tend to have bilateral RCH and, thus, the prognosis is generally poor. The illness is progressive and will eventually result in renal failure. Once the pet is in renal failure, death is imminent. 

One should expect that the prognosis is poor for a dog with RCH, but it does appear that those who are diagnosed as a middle-aged or older dog will live longer with the illness than those diagnosed as puppies and young adults. It is imperative to work closely with your veterinarian with regular checkups and diagnostics to ensure that all is being done to aid a pet who has RCH.

How to prevent getting a dog or puppy with Renal Cortical Hypoplasia?
A genetic test is available at this time to determine if a dog carries the gene. Thus, breeders should be screening their adults for the RCH mutation prior to breeding. Those considering adopting or purchasing puppies from breeders can also request that an RCH test be performed where, ideally, a clear result will be obtained. If the test reads otherwise, the pet should have annual blood work performed to monitor values and a renal biopsy should also be considered. Studies have shown that although a dog may not be showing outward signs of kidney disease, a biopsy will reveal if RCH is present even before symptoms are displayed.


About the Author:

Dr. Sami Mieir has been an Expert on JustAnswer since February 2008 with over 3,500 satisfied customers.

Dr. Sami Mieir, Veterinary Expert

Sami Mieir is an active member of her local community, involved in both veterinary medicine as a career field and full time volunteer rescue work. She has worked in Oklahoma for the last 15 years, where she also completed her education. Her career and rescue focuses include feline heart conditions, especially in purebred cats, and gastrointestinal afflictions in both dogs and cats. She prides herself in never having shied away from a tough medical case and has spent a great deal of time learning about more uncommon medical afflictions due to owner surrender with her rescue. Her favorite cases are always those that leave most people frustrated and scratching their head. In her spare time, she enjoys activities with her dogs, crafts such as knitting and traveling.

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