Signs, Symptoms & Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Our Charlotte vets describe symptoms and causes of both acute and chronic kidney failure. Plus, we explain treatment methods and give prevention tips for this condition. 


Kidney Failure in Dogs

Also referred to as renal failure, kidney failure can be caused by a number of diseases that may affect the kidneys and related organs. Healthy kidneys regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance, release hormones needed to produce red blood cells, and remove toxins.

When the kidneys are no longer able to function efficiently, kidney failure occurs. In dogs, there are two broad categories of this condition:

Chronic Renal Failure

Chronic renal failure occurs when the kidneys lose function gradually (over a period of weeks, months, or years). It’s most commonly caused by degeneration related to old age. While all kidneys have a lifespan, some dogs’ may deteriorate faster than others.

Acute Renal Failure

Kidney function may suddenly decrease within hours or days. This is known as acute renal failure and is usually associated with consuming toxins or contracting infections.

One thing that differentiates chronic renal failure from acute renal failure is the fact that acute kidney failure can likely be reversed if treated early and aggressively, but chronic kidney failure can only be managed.

What are common causes of kidney failure in dogs?

Any disease that impacts the kidneys may cause the kidneys to fail, such as:

Congenital Disease: This category is comprised of hereditary conditions and underlying illnesses - everything from cysts to agenesis (being born missing one or both kidneys).

Dental Disease: Advanced dental disease can result from the buildup of bacteria on teeth and gums. The bacteria accumulates here, then enters the bloodstream to attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to kidneys, along with the liver and heart.

Bacterial Infections: Drinking or swimming in contaminated water is a hazard, as the system becomes susceptible to bacterial infections including leptospirosis. This can result in inflamed kidneys and renal cells being killed.

Toxicosis: If the kidneys are poisoned, this can cause cells within the kidneys to become damaged. This can happen if your dog consumes drugs or poisons (including substances or foods that are toxic to them).

Geriatric Degeneration: Cells within the kidneys may break down and die as your dog ages, which can lead to kidney disease.

What are signs of kidney failure in dogs?

Watch for these common symptoms of kidney failure:

  • Lethargy
  • Significant weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Increase or decrease in water intake
  • Increase or decrease in urine volume
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Drunken behavior or uncoordinated movement such as stumbling
  • Blood in urine
  • Intestinal seizures

A few factors can indicate whether kidney problems or other issues such as diabetes mellitus are causing the symptoms, such as: the type of kidney failure your dog may be experiencing, the extent of loss of function in the kidneys, progression of the condition and its underlying causes.

How is kidney failure in dogs treated?

Similar to many other conditions, how your dog’s kidney failure is treated will be determined by the condition and underlying cause of her kidney issues. Acute kidney failure can make dogs very ill. They may require treatment in intensive care in a hospital.

Milder cases may be treatable with antibiotics, fluids and medications on an outpatient basis. Although costly, dialysis can also be effective.

Vets generally plan to tackle chronic kidney failure by focusing on slowing down the disease’s progression and considering ways to improve the patient’s quality of life. Fluid imbalances, nausea, fluctuations in blood pressure and other symptoms will require treatment, typically with changes to diet and medication.

It’s possible for pets to enjoy a good quality of life for years (some indications state up to four years) after being diagnosed with kidney failure. Your veterinarian may also recommend therapeutic diet, nutritional supplements or specific nutrients to manage the condition.

How can I prevent my dog from suffering kidney failure?

Since acute kidney failure is commonly caused by consuming tainted foods, foods they shouldn’t ingest (including grapes), or interactions with toxins, in many instances dog owners can prevent this type.

Look at your house through your dog’s eyes and remove potential toxins such as antifreeze made from ethylene glycol (which is toxic to dogs) and store medications or other dangerous-for-dogs foods or substances out of reach of their curious nose.

Unfortunately, chronic kidney failure is most often age-related and predetermined by genetics. However, bringing your dog in for regular physical exams and annual wellness checkups will increase the opportunity to detect these problems early. After that, your vet may be able to develop a treatment plan.

With your veterinarian’s assistance, your dog’s kidney failure can be diagnosed and potentially treated to give her an opportunity to live a long, contented life. If you think your dog may be experiencing chronic or acute kidney failure, it’s time for an appointment.

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

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