Kidney Failure in Dogs

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Kidney Failure in Dogs

All dogs and cats should have 2 kidneys, just like people. The kidneys play a vital role by eliminating waste products that build up in the body, keeping good products in the body, and managing electrolyte levels and red blood cell production. Kidney failure, also called renal failure, occurs when these jobs are no longer being performed. Continue reading to learn about the types of kidney failure, signs of kidney failure in dogs, and available treatment options.

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Types of Kidney Failure in Dogs

There are two types of kidney failure in dogs - acute kidney failure and chronic kidney failure.

Acute kidney failure occurs when there is a sudden decline in kidney function (within hours or days) as a result of toxin exposure (such as antifreeze, raisins, grapes, and some human medications) and bacterial infection.

On the other hand, chronic kidney failure involves a gradual but progressive loss of kidney function. The problem can take weeks, months, or years to develop. Age-related issues are the topmost reasons for kidney failure in dogs. Deterioration of organ structure and function inevitably occur from years of wear and tear.

The size of the dog has been found to influence the age of onset of chronic kidney disease. Early signs of kidney disease in smaller dog breeds may be exhibited when they’re about 10-14 years of age. On the other hand, larger breeds, which are known to have shorter life spans than their smaller counterparts, may develop kidney failure as early as seven years old.

Acute Kidney Failure in Dogs

Signs of Acute Kidney Failure

Dogs with acute kidney failure typically show signs of severe lethargy, vomiting, and reduced appetite. They may be drinking and urinating a lot or not at all.

Causes of Acute Kidney Failure

  • One of the most common causes of acute kidney failure in dogs is ingestion of toxins, such as antifreeze, rodenticides, or some human medications (such as ibuprofen). Dogs are such curious creatures and this trait can increase their risks for toxin exposures.
  • Infection with a bacterial organism called Leptospirosis can lead to kidney failure in pets and people.
  • Various drugs can also cause kidney failure in certain pets.
  • Severe infections or illnesses like sepsis or pancreatitis can also lead to acute kidney failure.
  • Obstruction of the urinary tract caused by kidney stones or bladder stones that restricts urine flow.
  • Anything that decreases the flow of blood through the kidneys, including dehydration, heatstroke, bee stings, or snake bites.

Treatment of Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure is a serious condition. Aggressive and quick treatment to support the kidneys and manage the underlying cause can be lifesaving. Treatment typically consists of hospitalizing your dog and keeping them on IV fluids, administering anti-nausea medications, administering antibiotics if needed, and ensuring they receive proper nutrition. The treatment may take days to weeks. Rechecking blood work and urine tests will help your vet monitor your dog’s response to treatment.

Acute kidney failure can be fatal in over half the cases, even with treatment. Approximately 20% will recover and have chronic kidney disease as a result of the damage and 20% will recover and regain normal kidney function.

Chronic Kidney Failure in Dogs

Older cats are more prone to developing chronic kidney failure compared to dogs, but dogs can also develop this condition. Since this is a slow, progressive process, your dog may not show symptoms immediately. You may notice weight loss or muscle mass loss even though your dog is eating well. You might also notice your dog drinking and urinating more than usual. It’s important to note that diabetes can cause similar symptoms.

Diagnosing Chronic Kidney Failure

Early stages of chronic kidney disease can be diagnosed with routine yearly blood work and urine tests before clinical symptoms even develop. If your vet suspects kidney failure, they will recommend basic blood work, urinalysis (urine test), and blood pressure measurements to help diagnose kidney failure, stage the kidney failure, and discuss proper treatments and supportive care.

Kidney failure is staged in 4 levels, with Stage 1 being the mildest and Stage 4 being the most severe.

Treatment for Chronic Kidney Failure

Once your vet has diagnosed and staged your dog’s kidney failure, treatment will be discussed. Options can range from medications that lower blood pressure, treatment to reduce protein loss in the urine, intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, potassium replacement, medications to help improve red blood cell levels, and dietary changes.

There are a variety of prescription kidney supportive diets available. These diets can help your dog feel better and live longer, often for years, depending on the stage of kidney failure your dog is experiencing. Since some dogs can be picky eaters, you may need to try a variety of diets to find one they enjoy, so don’t be discouraged if they refuse a few types!

Encouraging your dog to drink more water will also help support the kidneys. Canned foods contain more fluids compared to dry kibble, so feeding your dog canned food and eliminating the kibble may be recommended. Adding water or low sodium chicken broth (avoid onions and garlic) to the food can also encourage more water intake. Having multiple water bowls around the house will make it easier for your senior dog to take a drink when they want to.

Home Care for Dogs with Kidney Failure

If your dog has been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, here are some ways to help your dog have a better and longer life:

  • Prescribed medications should be administered exactly as instructed by your veterinarian.
  • Keep a close eye on your dog’s diet and food intake. If your pet is on a prescription diet, avoid feeding extra treats or snacks.
  • Divide your dog’s daily ration into several smaller meals given at regular intervals throughout the day.
  • Fresh food should always be offered during each mealtime.
  • Fresh clean water should be available to the dog at all times.
  • If your dog has a poor appetite, try warming the food to just below body temperature. Warming can enhance the taste and flavor of the food and encourage your pet to eat.
  • Regular monitoring is very important. Don’t skip your pet’s appointments with your veterinarian for follow-up exams and lab work

Read more:

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in Dogs

Canine Hormone-Responsive Urinary Incontinence

My dog has Cushing’s disease. What does this mean?

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Published: 10/17/2020
Last updated: 4/28/2022

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