Kidney Failure in Dogs

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The kidney is a vital organ that regulates blood pressure, blood volume, blood sugar, pH levels, and water composition in the blood. Kidney disease, also referred to as chronic renal failure (CRF), occurs when the kidneys are no longer functioning correctly.

Healthy kidneys dissolve, filter, and expel toxins from the body through urination. When the kidneys aren’t functioning the way they should, it takes an increasing amount of water to excrete the same amount of toxins; when they begin to fail, it means they are unable to remove waste at all.

Dogs can experience two types of kidney failure—acute or chronic. Kidney failure can happen slowly, making it difficult to treat it effectively. A dog’s kidneys can find ways to compensate for function loss, which makes it difficult to recognize signs and symptoms early on. In many cases, by the time the symptoms present themselves, the kidneys are in a state of decline.

Chronic kidney failure cannot be cured or reversed so early detection is vital. There are treatments for dogs with kidney disease or long-term kidney failure. Your veterinarian will be able to run tests to determine what your dog is facing and the best treatment options.

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Failure

There are many signs and symptoms that may indicate your dog is experiencing kidney failure.

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Depression
  • Seizures or coma
  • Blindness

Not all of the signs and symptoms may present themselves, so it’s important to contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any change in your dog’s wellbeing.

There are two types of kidney failure, acute and chronic; symptoms and prognosis vary for each.

Acute Renal Failure: Acute renal failure happens suddenly and can be caused by a variety of reasons. Severe dehydration, a strong bacterial infection, a urinary obstruction, or ingesting something poisonous like human medication, toxic plants, or anti-freeze can bring on this type of kidney failure. Decreased blood flow to the kidneys, which can happen during a surgical procedure, a heatstroke, or heart-related diseases can also cause acute renal failure. If caught and treated reasonably quickly, acute renal failure can be reversed.

Chronic Renal Failure: This is a slower, more gradual process that may take months or even years to present itself. Chronic renal failure is most often found in older dogs and is not reversible due to age.

What Causes Kidney Failure in Dogs?

Different factors can contribute to kidney failure in dogs. Some are more common than others.

  • Age
  • Trauma
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Inflammation
  • Cancer
  • Parasites
  • Genetics or inherited disorders
  • Fungal, viral, or bacterial infections
  • Parasites
  • Toxicity related to ingestion of poisons or medications
  • Urinary blockages
  • Certain medications
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Lymphoma

Diagnosing Kidney Failure in Dogs

To determine kidney failure in dogs, a complete blood profile, a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis will be done. The urinalysis offers a full study of kidney function. A low urine specific gravity (USpG) is an early indication of kidney failure. An increase of protein in the urine is another indicator of decreased kidney function. If a urinary tract infection is suspected, a urine culture will also be performed.

The blood biochemistry analysis determines the function of various internal organs. The levels of specific protein enzymes and chemicals such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatine (CREA) will be high with kidney failure. Other tests to measure the blood levels of other substances include albumin, globulin, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and calcium, as well as the red and white blood cell counts. These tests will determine the extent of failure and can aid with figuring out the best course of treatment.

Another indicator of chronic kidney failure is when the urine is dilute, which is a sign of the kidneys’ inability to process the urine correctly. Abnormally small kidneys is another effect of the disease; an X-ray or ultrasound can be performed to see the size and shape of the dog’s kidneys and determine any abnormalities.

Treating Your Dog for Kidney Failure

While there is no cure for chronic kidney failure, symptoms can be minimized, and the disease’s progression can be slowed down. Treatment depends on test results.

Maintaining hydration is extremely important in dogs with kidney failure. Dehydration occurs when the kidneys are in distress due to the amount of water that is passed out of the body. Along with providing your dog around-the-clock access to fresh drinking water, fluids may also need to be administered subcutaneously, a process that can be done at home. By rehydrating through fluids, you are essentially “restarting” the kidneys and aiding in the removal of toxic metabolites. Fluid therapy also includes the replacement of various electrolytes, especially potassium. With this “first phase” of treatment, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. The kidneys will resume functioning and continue to do so, whether it be a few weeks to a few years.
  2. The kidneys will resume functioning during treatment but will fail again once treatments stop.
  3. Kidney function will not return at all.

If fluid therapy is successful, the next phase is to help keep the kidneys functioning as usual and for as long as possible. Depending on the situation, this can be accomplished in a few ways:

  • Diet – Feed your dog a kidney-friendly diet low in protein and sodium and high in omega fatty acids. Reducing the amount of protein wastes or “metabolic” toxins will not only make your pup feel better, but it will also help to keep the blood tests as close to normal as possible. If kidney failure is in the advanced stages, feeding less protein will help to decrease the workload on the kidneys.
  • A phosphate binder – Filtration removes phosphorus from the body, but once that process is impaired, it accumulates in the blood and may be one of the reasons why your dog is feeling lethargic and has a lack of appetite. Certain drugs will bind excess phosphates in the intestinal tract so they don’t make their way into the bloodstream, thus resulting in lower levels of phosphorous.
  • A potassium supplement – Low levels of potassium have been shown to reduce kidney function and are lost when a dog urinates more frequently than usual. To help replace the nutrients lost and maintain kidney function, your veterinarian may prescribe a potassium supplement.
  • Combat high blood pressure – Because many dogs with kidney failure have high blood pressure, your veterinarian may prescribe a drug to combat this problem.
  • Treatment of secondary gastric ulcers and gastritis – Excess stomach acid often causes nausea, which leads to a decrease in appetite. Medications may be given to help treat the ulcers and/or gastritis to help increase appetite.

Is There a Cure for Kidney Failure?

There is no cure for chronic kidney failure, as it is a progressive disease. The prognosis and course of treatment depend on the severity and stage of the disease.

If treated quickly enough, acute renal failure can be reserved.

Is Kidney Failure Contagious for Humans or Other Pets?

Kidney failure, whether acute or chronic, is not contagious to other animals or humans.

What Is the Cost of Treating Kidney Failure?

The cost of treating kidney failure in dogs can vary based on the prognosis. Costs can range from several hundred dollars a month for supportive care (special foods, hydration therapy done at home) to thousands of dollars for dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Recovery and Management of Kidney Failure

The best way to manage the disease is to follow through with the treatments that the veterinarian prescribes. Monitor your dog on an ongoing basis, and schedule frequent checkups to ensure that the medications, diet, and treatment plan are working to help maintain a good quality of life.

Preventing Kidney Failure

While it’s impossible to avoid kidney failure, there are measures to take to help keep your dog healthy and safe, ensuring a good quality of life.

A healthy, well-rounded, balanced diet is essential, so make sure to feed only high-quality foods containing the necessary nutrients, moisture content, and protein quality that’s needed for the body to function. Your vet will be able to guide you when it comes to your dog’s dietary needs.

Be careful where you leave certain products — consuming toxic substances often triggers acute renal failure. Secondary illnesses can also contribute to kidney failure, so it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible to avoid any additional problems.

Kidney failure can happen to dogs as they age. Therefore, the less pressure put on a dog’s kidneys in the later stage of their life, the longer the kidneys will work in a healthy and effective manner.

And lastly, routine vet visits to ensure your pup is healthy and there are no underlying issues that can contribute to the onset of kidney disease.

Is there a vaccine for kidney failure?

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent kidney failure from developing.


Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are no longer functioning correctly. There are two different types – acute and chronic kidney failure. Acute kidney failure happens suddenly, and if caught and treated quickly, can be reversed. While there is no cure for chronic kidney failure, symptoms can be minimized with fluid therapy and diet changes.

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