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Kidney failure in dogs

Diagnosis and Treatment of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Have you noticed increased drinking and urination in your beloved pooch lately? Have you observed a significant reduction in their activity levels and a drastic reduction in weight? If yes, then your pet may have acute or chronic kidney failure depending on the severity of the symptoms.

Kidneys perform crucial functions in the body and play a major role in removing toxins. Normal cellular functions in the body produce toxic waste which is eliminated by the kidneys. If the kidneys fail, then the toxins start building in the body.   

Kidney failure is a serious health condition in dogs and requires medical attention. Renal sufficiency and renal failure are other common terms used to indicate kidney failure. As a dog owner, you need to be aware of the different forms of this condition and the signs that hint towards kidney disease. Here are a few things that you must know about the diagnosis and treatment of kidney failure in dogs. 

Identifying kidney failure

Identifying kidney failure

The first step is to always identify what is wrong with your pet. You need to remember that kidney failure could be the end result of any major disease that has tremendously impacted the kidneys of your pet.

The condition results when the kidneys of your dog are no longer performing their functions efficiently which is to remove toxins from the body, regulate hydration, and maintain normal electrolyte balance in the body. Kidneys also secrete hormones necessary for the production of red blood cells. 

There are two major kinds of kidney failure noted in dogs. 

  • Acute renal failure

    – This results when the kidney function declines slowly in a couple of hours or days. Acute failure is usually linked to infections and toxins.  

  • Chronic renal failure

    – When the loss of functioning is more gradual that is over weeks, months, or years, then the condition is referred to as a chronic renal failure. The most common cause of this condition is degeneration linked with geriatric decline.

    All kidneys come with their natural lifespan. However, in a few dogs with prior health conditions, the kidneys can deteriorate at a rapid pace in comparison to other dogs. 

One of the most notable differences between chronic and acute renal failure is that acute failure is reversible if treated at an earlier stage. However, chronic kidney failure can just be managed and there is no appropriate treatment to fix the condition. This is the reason why you need to keep an eye on signs that don’t seem normal. Early diagnosis is the key to providing your beloved pet with a better life.  

Causes in Kidney Failure

Causes in Kidney Failure

Failure in kidneys can result due to any health condition that can impact the kidneys. These include: 

  • Bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can get transmitted by swimming in or drinking contaminated water. This condition results in the inflammation of the kidneys and can subsequently result in the destruction of renal cells. Hence, it is necessary that you take special care of your dogs and prevent them from swimming in contaminated water. 
  • Toxicosis results in damage to kidney cells. It occurs when your dog ingests poisons such as grapes, antifreeze, or certain drugs. The Animal Poison Control Center has listed certain common household items that need to be kept out of the reach of your pet. You need to follow it if you want to prevent your beloved pet from ingesting substances that could be toxic to them.
  • Congenital disease – Genetically passed on conditions can also result in abnormal functioning of the kidneys. Cysts and agenesis are also responsible for this disease.  
  • Geriatric degeneration –As kidneys age, their cells start declining and die. Age factor is also a common reason for dogs suffering from renal failure.  

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

There are numerous symptoms that you can spot in your pet that can help you identify the signs of failure of kidneys. Here are the most common signs you will come across.  

  • The pale mucous membrane in the mouth
  • Weight lossKidney failure in dogs
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy

The severity of the symptoms linked with kidney failure varies depending on whether the condition is acute or chronic.  

Treating kidney failure in dogs

Treating kidney failure in dogs

The treatment of the condition in dogs is dependent on a variety of parameters such as the canine’s overall condition and the underlying cause. Dogs that are severely ill may require intensive care and hospitalization for proper treatment and recovery. Milder cases are usually treated with medications, fluids, and antibiotics. Dialysis is also a possibility for a few cases. 

In the case of chronic failure, the treatment focuses on slowing down the progression of the disease and improving the quality of life for the patient. Treatment of nausea, fluid imbalances, electrolyte disturbances, blood pressure alterations, and anemia can be managed through medications and diet changes. Many pets can lead a good life for several years even after the diagnosis of kidney failure.     

  • IV Fluids – The initial course of action taken for treating acute kidney failure is by administering intravenous fluids. These fluids help in restoring good hydration levels in the body and also flush out toxins that the kidneys need to be filtering from the bloodstream. Production of urine is monitored throughout the fluid therapy session as a decrease in urine levels indicates the need for other therapies. 
  • Medications – Apart from fluid treatment, medications such as antibiotics are administered to a dog if the condition is due to an infection. More medications may be required depending on the clinical status of the patient.  
  • Temporary feeding tube – As kidney failure exhausts the body’s resources, pets with the condition refuse to eat. This is the reason why a temporary feeding tube may be recommended by your pet.   
  • Careful monitoring – The clinical condition of a dog with acute kidney failure can change at a rapid pace. This is the reason why vets stress careful monitoring. This includes checking blood pressure repeatedly, monitoring body weight, blood tests, and electrocardiogram.   
  • Potassium – This electrolyte is generally found to be in low levels in the body. However, with kidney failure, the level of potassium in the body can increase to dangerous levels. This can slow down the heartbeat and eventually lead to failure of the organ. Moreover, kidney failure can shoot up the blood pressure which can cause the blood vessels in the brain or eye to burst. 
  • Fluid retention– This can occur if urine production is less despite administering intravenous fluids. It can manifest itself in the form of shortness of breath if the fluid build ups in the lungs, swollen legs, belly bloating, and an increase in body weight.  
  • Advanced therapies – Not all animals with kidney failure will respond well to intravenous fluid therapies. They may require advanced treatments such as hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis. These therapies are considered in the following cases. 
        • Fluid accumulation in the lungs
        • Dangerously high levels of potassium 
        • Lack of improvement in the results despite administering IV fluids 
  • Peritoneal Dialysis – This treatment involves placing a tube into the belly cavity directly and then pushing the fluid into the belly. This fluid is drained out later. Performing peritoneal dialysis flushes the toxins from the body that the kidneys fail to remove. The procedure initially requires careful monitoring by a vet.  
  • Hemodialysis – This condition involves placing a large IV catheter in a vein and using it to remove a certain quantity of blood. This blood is then passed through a machine for cleaning and removal of toxins. Hemodialysis treatment is effective but is quite an expensive treatment option available.     

If you are raising two or more dogs at home, you need to make sure that the other dogs are kept isolated or trained not to get aggressive with the one receiving treatment for the condition. This is because the canine patient may be either exhausted to indulge in any physical activity or require rest and isolation during the course of treatment. Hence, it is your duty as a pet parent to control the behavior of your other pets around your canine pet recovering from the condition (Lindsay, 2000)

Preventing kidney failure

Preventing kidney failure

Chronic renal failure is mostly due to age-related degeneration or due to genetics. It is not considered to be preventable. However, conducting periodic physical examinations and screening can improve the chances of your dog recovering from the condition. 

Acute renal failure is a preventable condition. Vaccination against infectious diseases such as leptospirosis can prove to be highly effective in preventing acute renal failure. You should also clear your house of toxins that can affect your beloved pooch negatively such as antifreeze, raisins, and grapes. If you cannot eliminate them entirely, you can keep them in a place that they cannot reach easily. Also, make sure to keep all human medications out of reach of your dogs. 

Understanding Your Dog’s Risk

Understanding Your Dog's Risk

The rate at which kidney degeneration is taking place is associated with a dog’s genetic makeup. Chronic renal failure can occur only at a certain stage. There are also certain health conditions in dogs that can result in renal failure. However, this can be breed-specific. 

For instance, Basenji dogs are affected by Fanconi syndrome that disrupts the electrolyte absorption process in the body.  German shepherds, Shetland sheepdogs, and Collies are affected by an autoimmune disease called Lupus which affects not just kidneys but also other organs. Bernese Mountain dogs suffer from a congenital disease called glomerulonephritis that damages the kidneys. 

It is not easy to determine which dogs will suffer from the condition. Blood tests and new tests can however help in identifying the disease at an early stage. Many veterinarians prescribe a kidney test as a part of their annual wellness screening. You just need to speak to your vet if this test is available for your dog and get it done. Taking precautionary measures can prove to be immensely beneficial in controlling the symptoms and deciding an appropriate course of treatment for your pet.  

The Role of Nutrition

The Role of Nutrition

Nutrition has for long been a mainstay in managing kidney failure in dogs. As maintaining appropriate levels of blood proteins and electrolyte balance is crucial for the proper functioning of kidneys, taking care of nutrients in your dog’s daily diet can play an important role. All dog parents need to discuss the most appropriate and therapeutic diet for their dogs with their vet. You should also ask for additional nutritional supplements that you can include in their daily diet.  

You as a dog parent have plenty of options than ever when it comes to treating and managing kidney failure. Advances in drugs and nutrition can improve the longevity of renal patients. Make sure to seek the right assistance from your vet so that your beloved pup can lead a long and healthy life.  

In summary 

Despite all the advancements in the treatment of kidney failure, it is still a serious condition and can prove to be fatal. About 60 % of dogs with this condition are either euthanized or die early because of failure to respond to supportive care. Dialysis is generally reserved for canine patients when they are not responding to initial treatment procedures. 

Almost 50 % of canine patients may recover with dialysis but this is also dependent on the underlying cause of the condition. Even if patients recover from the condition, they may require life-long care. It is best to speak to your vet and devise an appropriate treatment plan and diet chart to help your canine companion to recover from the condition.   


  1. Lindsay, S. R. (2000). Handbook of applied dog behavior and training. Iowa: Blackwell Publishing .
  2. Griffin K., (2020). Vets warning to keep mince pies away from dogs. Salisbury Journal UK.
  4. R Kushwaha, N Singh. (2008). Peritoneal dialysis in animals- A review. The Internet Journal of Veterinary Medicine. Volume 7 Number 1.
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