Kidney Disease In Dogs: What You Need To know

What is the function of the kidneys?

The kidneys serve several purposes. The main function is the cleanse and remove waste products from the bloodstream. They are also responsible for maintaining a healthy balance of minerals as such as potassium and sodium. In addition, the kidneys produce urine and conserve water. Overall, the kidneys are important in removing toxic waste and maintaining a healthy water balance in the body. Kidney failure is also known as renal failure.

Types of kidney failure

There are two separate types of kidney failure seen in dogs and humans alike, acute and chronic.

Acute kidney failure

Acute kidney failure is described as the severe, sudden decrease in kidney function over a period of hours or days. Usually, this is caused by the exposure to toxins or an infection. If it is caught early, acute kidney failure can be cured with rehabilitation to a healthy state.

Chronic kidney failure

Chronic kidney failure is a long term illness. By definition, chronic disease lasts for three months or longer and may get worse over time. Commonly, chronic kidney failure is associated with aging and affects older dogs. Although there is no cure, there are treatments that will help manage symptoms and prevent the condition of the kidneys from worsening. Treatment will depend on the stage and severity of kidney failure.

Especially with chronic kidney failure, symptoms are not always present and may exacerbate without it being known. Blood tests may be used to detect potential kidney problems and is the most effective way in determining the health of the kidneys.

Typically, 2/3 of the kidneys will be dysfunctional before symptoms and clinical signs are present.

Causes of kidney disease

Conditions or injuries may lead to kidney (renal) failure. These causes may include:

  • Dental disease: The buildup of bacteria on teeth may lead to plaque and tartar. When this occurs, bacteria may make its way through the bloodstream causing problems with the kidneys, liver and heart. The best way to prevent dental disease, is to upkeep oral hygiene with your dog.
  • Congenital disease: By definition, congenital diseases are those present at time of birth. Passed on from mother to child. Certain underlying conditions or diseases may pose a potential risk for developing kidney disease.
  • Bacterial infections: Certain bacterial infections such as leptospirosis may wreck havoc on your dog’s immune system and organs. When this happens, the inflammation may cause the renal cells to stop working and potentially die if not treated correctly and promptly.
  • Toxicosis: Some kidney damage may be attributed to the exposure to chemicals, toxins or poisons.
  • Age degeneration: Aging is a natural process of life. As your dog ages, cells become broken down and do not function as efficiently as they once did. This happens throughout the body and effects organs like the kidney, liver and heart.

How is kidney failure diagnosed?

There are two effective ways to diagnose kidney failure, or disease. This is through a urine test (urinalysis) and a blood chemistry analysis.


Urinalysis is described as the analysis of the chemical, physical and microscopical components of urine. A urine sample is commonly used to assess kidney function. Early detection is important, and one of the first indications of kidney disease is low urine specific gravity (USpG). An increased count of protein in the urine, known as proteinuria, is also a typical indication in decreased kidney function.

Blood chemistry

A blood chemistry test helps assess the function of internal organs and systems. There are two main waste products within the blood known as Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatinine (CREA). The measurement of these waste products help determine the function of kidneys. Measuring minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, sodium gives helpful insight into the severity of kidney disease and which treatment is appropriate.

Symptoms of kidney failure in dogs

Since the signs and symptoms of kidney failure may be dormant before it is potentially too late to fully cure, it is important to monitor your dogs symptoms as early as possible. These symptoms may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increase or decrease in urine volume
  • Pale gums
  • Chemical smell to breath
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Increased or decrease in water consumption
  • Blood in urine
  • Mouth sores or ulcers

If your dog is exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, it is imperative that you consult with your veterinarian for testing and potential treatment if your dog is diagnosed with kidney disease.

How to treat kidney failure in your dog

Treatment is determined by the severity, or stage in which the kidney disease has progressed as well as the underlying causes of kidney disease. If your dog is suffering from acute kidney failure, urgent treatment must take place commonly in an intensive animal hospital. If identified early, less severe cases of kidney failure may be treated with antibiotics, IV fluids and medications. In many cases, dialysis is used to restore the kidneys to a healthier state in acute kidney failure.

When treating chronic kidney failure, the main focus of treatment will be to maximize the dogs overall quality of life, and to slow the progression of disease. Symptoms may be reduced using medications and changing the dogs diet and lifestyle.

Although a diagnosis of kidney failure in your dog may come as an unpleasant surprise, there are a number of treatments such as medications, nutritional supplements, and therapeutic diets that will help your dog live out their lives as happily as possible.

Preventing your dog from acquiring kidney failure

Prevention is better than any treatment that you can give your dog.

Keep your dog away from toxic materials and chemical products

Dogs are curious and natural chewers. Due to that, it is important to understand that keeping products such as cleansers and detergents in a reachable place for your dog may pose a risk. Child-proof containers are penetrable and can easily be chewed exposing harmful chemicals. Make sure you keep products in a safe and clean space.

Keep your dog away from harmful foods

Protecting your dog from harmful foods is important. These foods may include:

  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Chocolate
  • High sodium
  • Contaminated water

Prioritize dental hygiene for your dog

Considering that dental disease can cause chronic kidney failure, it is imperative to understand the importance of dental care. The buildup of tartar and plaque can introduce bacteria into bloodstream. Consider brushing your dog’s teeth daily, and getting teeth cleaned on an annual basis.


What happens if it is not treated?

Kidney problems in dogs that are not being actively treated may be fatal. Kidney disease often leads to life threatening conditions that require intensive medical attention and remediation. If treatment is left unseen, the outcome may be fatal. If you suspect your dog has kidney disease, do not try to diagnose and treat at home. Consult with your veterinarian for diagnosis and information on potential treatment.

What is the life expectancy after diagnosis?

A kidney disease diagnosis is not a death sentence. In end stage renal failure, the chances of fatality are higher than in a beginning stage. However, there is hope and many dogs survive and live out their life for many months to years while undergoing treatment.

Bottom line

Kidney disease in dogs is caused by several factors including exposure to toxic chemicals, bacteria, or age degeneration. There are two kinds of kidney disease, acute and chronic. Treatment is determined by the severity and stage of the disease, as well as the underlying cause. Preventative measures are the most effective in treating kidney disease, and it is important to understand that it is possible to prevent this from occurring to your dog. If you suspect your dog is suffering from kidney disease, consult with your veterinarian promptly to catch it as early as possible.

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