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Signs, Symptoms & Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Our Clemmons vets explain the symptoms of both acute and chronic kidney failure. We describe symptoms, treatment methods and prevention tips for this condition.


What is kidney failure in dogs?

Kidney failure is also referred to as renal failure, and can be caused by a number of diseases that can impact the kidneys and related organs. Healthy kidneys are supposed to eliminate toxins, regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance and release hormones required to produce red blood cells.

Kidney failure technically happens when the kidneys can no longer perform their function efficiently, and in dogs there are two broad categories:

Acute renal failure

When kidney function suddenly decreases (within hours or days), this is known as acute renal failure. It is usually related to toxins or infections.

Chronic renal failure

If the loss of kidney function is gradual (over weeks, months or years), it’s referred to as chronic renal failure. It’s most commonly caused by degeneration associated with old age. All kidneys have a lifespan, but some dogs’ may deteriorate faster than others.

One clear difference between acute and chronic kidney failure is while acute kidney failure is likely reversible if treated early and aggressively, 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:

Dental disease - When bacteria build up on the teeth and gums, this can lead to advanced dental disease. The bacteria can enter the blood stream and attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the kidneys in addition to the heart and liver.

Toxicosis - When the kidneys are poisoned, this can lead to cell damage within the kidneys. It can happen when your dog consumes drugs or poisons (such as foods or substances that are toxic to them).

Geriatric degeneration - As your dog ages, cells can break down and die. This also happens in the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease.

Bacterial infections - If your dog swims or drinks in contaminated water, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can attack the system, causing the kidneys to become inflamed and renal cells to die.

Congenital disease - This category can include underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions - everything from agenesis (being born without one or both kidneys) to cysts.

Symptoms of kidney failure

  • Significant weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Drunken behavior or uncoordinated movement such as 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

The type of kidney failure your dog is experiencing, and 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 the symptoms.

How is kidney failure in dogs treated?

Like many other conditions, treatment of kidney failure will be determined by your dog’s condition and the underlying cause of his kidney problems. Acute kidney failure can make dogs very sick and may need to be treated in the hospital, in intensive care.

Your vet may be able to treat milder cases with fluids, antibiotics and medications on an outpatient schedule. Dialysis, although costly, can also be effective.

With chronic kidney failure, vets generally focus on slowing down the disease’s progression and looking at ways to improve quality of life for the patient. Nausea, fluid imbalances, blood pressure fluctuations and other symptoms will need to be treated, usually with medication and changes to diet.

Pets can occasionally enjoy a good quality of life for years (some indications are up to four years) after being diagnosed with kidney failure. Your vet may also recommend specific nutrients, nutritional supplements or a therapeutic diet to manage the condition.

How can I prevent my dog from suffering kidney failure?

Because acute kidney failure is often caused by interactions with toxins and consuming tainted foods or foods they shouldn’t ingest, such as grapes, this type is preventable in many instances.

Take inventory of your house and remove potential toxins such as antifreeze (the chemical ethylene glycol is toxic to dogs) and put medications and other foods or substances out of reach.

Sadly, chronic kidney failure is most commonly age-related and predetermined by genetics. However, keeping up with regular physical exams and annual wellness checkups will increase the chances any problems will be detected early. After that, treatment can be planned.

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

Do you suspect your dog has kidney failure? Our veterinarians are experienced in diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in pets. Contact our Clemmons animal clinic today for advice.

Kidney failure in dogs

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