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Kidney Failure in Dogs - Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Kidney Failure in Dogs - Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Learn about the causes and treatment options for kidney failure in dogs, as well as the signs and symptoms of kidney failure that Englewood pet owners should be aware of.


What is kidney failure in dogs?

Kidney failure (also known as renal failure) is caused by a variety of conditions affecting the kidneys and related organs. A healthy dog's kidneys work to eliminate toxins, maintain normal electrolyte balance, release hormones required for red blood cell production, and regulate hydration.

If your dog experiences kidney failure, this vital organ will no longer function efficiently. 

Are there different types of kidney failure in dogs?

There are two general categories of kidney failure in dogs:

  • Acute Renal Failure - Acute renal failure occurs when kidney function declines suddenly (within hours or days). Toxin exposure or infection are the most common causes of this type of kidney failure.
  • Chronic Renal Failure - Chronic renal failure is defined as progressive loss of kidney function (over weeks, months, or years) and is typically caused by age-related degeneration. Every kidney has a lifespan, and some dogs' kidneys deteriorate faster than others. 

The primary distinction between acute and chronic kidney failure in dogs is that while acute kidney failure is likely reversible if detected early and aggressively treated, chronic kidney failure can only be managed.

What causes kidney failure in dogs?

Any disease that affects the kidneys can cause the kidneys to fail. These conditions can include:

  • Congenital disease - This category can include underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions - everything from agenesis (being born without one or both kidneys) to cysts.
  • Bacterial infections - If your dog swims or drinks contaminated water, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can attack their system, inflaming the kidneys and causing renal cells to die.
  • Toxicosis - Poisoning the kidneys can result in cell damage within the kidneys. It can occur if your dog consumes drugs or poisons (such as foods or substances that are toxic to them).
  • Dental disease - Bacteria accumulation on the teeth and gums can lead to advanced dental disease. The bacteria can enter the bloodstream and attack multiple organs, including the kidneys, as well as the heart and liver, causing irreversible damage.
  • Geriatric degeneration - As your dog ages, cells can break down and die. This also happens in the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease.

Symptoms of kidney failure

If your dog is suffering from kidney failure you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
  • Significant weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Uncoordinated movement, or stumbling
  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Increase or decrease in water consumption
  • Increase or decrease in volume of urine
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Blood in urine
  • Lethargy
  • Intestinal seizures

Any of these may be a veterinary emergency. The type of kidney failure your dog is experiencing, the extent of loss of function in the kidneys, the progression of the condition, and the underlying cause can indicate whether kidney issues or another problem such as diabetes mellitus are causing your dog's symptoms.

How is kidney failure in dogs treated?

Your dog's treatment for kidney failure, like many other conditions, will be determined by your pet's overall health and the underlying cause of their kidney problems. If your dog has acute kidney failure, he or she will require immediate and intensive treatment. Typically, in your animal hospital's intensive care unit. Milder cases of kidney failure, if detected early, can be treated on an outpatient basis with fluids, antibiotics, and medications. Dialysis, while expensive, can also be effective.

If your dog is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, your veterinarian will primarily focus on slowing the disease's progression and looking for ways to improve your pup's quality of life. Medication and dietary changes will be used to treat nausea, fluid imbalances, blood pressure fluctuations, and other symptoms in your dog.

In many cases, dogs treated for kidney failure can live for years with a high quality of life (some indications are up to four years). Your veterinarian may recommend specific nutrients, nutritional supplements, or a therapeutic diet to help manage your dog's condition and possibly improve your dog's quality of life.

Can I prevent my dog from suffering kidney failure?

Toxins, tainted foods, or foods that dogs should not consume, such as grapes or chocolate, are common causes of acute kidney failure. Take inventory of your home and remove potential toxins such as antifreeze, medications, and potentially harmful foods from your dog's reach to help prevent acute kidney failure.

Chronic kidney failure is typically age-related and genetically determined, making prevention much more difficult. However, regular wellness exams at your veterinarian's office twice a year will help to increase the chances of detecting symptoms early, allowing treatment to begin before the condition worsens.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets.

Do you think your dog may be suffering from kidney failure? Contact your vet for assistance. We also take referrals from primary care veterinarians and treat existing clients' pets in emergencies. Contact us today for 24/7 emergency veterinary care. 

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VRCC Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in Englewood is always accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to Denver Metro area pets.

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