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Kidney Failure in Dogs: What You Need to Know

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The kidneys serve vital functions in your dog’s health. They help to eradicate dangerous toxins that build up in your dog’s body from normal cell function. Moreover, they also help to maintain the balance of important nutrients and minerals in the body while simultaneously stabilizing blood pressure, metabolizing calcium, and increasing the production of red blood cells.

When the kidneys fail, all of these important processes get halted in their tracks. This is a serious condition, and it will be fatal for about 60% of dogs that experience kidney failure. Of course, kidney failure takes on several forms, and if you pay attention, you might be able to notice some of the symptoms before it becomes catastrophic. In this article, we will discuss in-depth the symptoms of kidney failure, how it’s caused, how to prevent it, and how it’s treated after a diagnosis.

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Acute Versus Chronic Kidney Failure

When it comes to kidney failure in canines, there are two ways it can occur. Acute kidney failure happens very quickly, and it’s often caused by the ingestion of a toxin. Chronic kidney failure, on the other hand, is a long-term condition that takes years to completely take hold, though the early signs are often missed.

Acute Kidney Failure

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Image Credit: didesign021, Shutterstock

Acute kidney failure is a rapidly developing condition. Toxins such as household cleaning agents, spoiled food, and antifreeze can all cause acute kidney failure if consumed. Toxins are the most common culprit for acute kidney failure, there are other possible causes. Urinary obstructions, for instance, can also result in acute kidney failure as blood flow to the kidneys decreases and they lose oxygen. Furthermore, conditions such as heat stroke, bacterial infections, dehydration, and snake bites can all result in acute kidney failure.

Chronic Kidney Failure

Because chronic kidney failure takes such a long time to develop, it’s most common in older dogs. Early symptoms of chronic kidney failure are often so mild that they’re not even noticed. This condition is most commonly caused by dental disease. When your dog is eating, bacteria that have built up on its teeth get ingested with the food. Eventually, this bacteria begins to impair the kidneys since they’re designed to filter waste.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Though kidney failure is often fatal for dogs, there’s a better chance of successful treatment if you catch it early. The best way to catch kidney failure in the early stages is to know what symptoms to look for. When kidney failure starts to set in, these are likely to be some of the indicators:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Bloody urine
  • No interest in interaction or playtime
  • Decreased thirst
  • Increased thirst
  • More or less frequent urination
  • Dental disease symptoms (bad breath, ulcers in the mouth, pale gums)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Diagnosing Kidney Failure in Dogs

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If you notice your dog displaying any of the signs and symptoms of kidney failure, you’ll want to contact the vet immediately and take your dog in for assessment. Kidney failure can be diagnosed in two ways; either through a urinalysis to evaluate kidney function or a blood chemistry analysis to check the health of internal organs.

During a urinalysis, the vet will be looking for two main indicators of decreased kidney function or failure. The earliest indication of a complete kidney failure is a low urine-specific gravity. But the amount of protein in urine also increases with decreased kidney function, providing a sign of potential problems on the horizon.

A blood chemistry analysis measures the blood for concentrations of two specific waste products. High levels of blood urea nitrogen or blood creatinine are signs that the kidneys are experiencing a decrease in function. Additionally, tests will be administered to measure the levels of other important substances in the blood, including globulin, potassium, calcium, blood cell counts, and more. This information will give your vet a better idea of the overall picture of your dog’s health, allowing them to pick the course of treatment with the highest chance of success.

Treating Canine Kidney Failure

a dachshund dog looks sick lying on its owner
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Kidney failure isn’t always treatable. If your dog’s kidneys have already been severely damaged prior to a kidney failure diagnosis, it’s likely too late for anything to be done. But if you manage to catch the signs early enough, aggressive treatment can potentially prolong your dog’s life for quite some time. Often, when caught early enough, kidney disease hasn’t become full-blown kidney failure yet, making it much easier to treat.

The first step in treating kidney failure or disease is to flush the kidneys out. The blood is full of toxins that have been building up over time, and they need to be removed. This process is known as diuresis, and once completed, kidney cells that aren’t too damaged can begin proper function again. If you’re lucky, there may even be enough working cells left in the kidneys to continue normal processes and keep your dog’s body running after the toxins are removed.

Once the blood and kidneys are devoid of dangerous toxins, medications and additional treatments for disease management will need to be administered. The goal of this second treatment phase is to help the kidneys continue functioning for as long as possible. This phase will likely include changes to your dog’s diet in the form of a low protein and low phosphorous diet to help reduce metabolic toxins and protein wastes. A range of medications and fluid therapy may also be used, depending on your dog’s condition and the severity of the damage.

Thankfully, once the first phase of treatment has been completed, your dog’s quality of life should get back to the way it was before kidney failure set in. With proper care and a little bit of luck, your dog could live many happy years after dealing with kidney disease or failure.

Preventing Kidney Failure

Though kidney failure and kidney disease are sometimes manageable conditions, the best form of treatment is prevention. Granted, some factors will be out of your control, but there are many things you can do to reduce the chances of your dog experiencing kidney failure.

Remember that acute chronic failure is most often caused by the ingestion of toxins. So, to help prevent this, you’ll need to store all cleaners and chemicals in a safe place that can’t be reached by your dog. They need to be high up where your dog can’t reach or behind locked doors that your dog can’t enter.

You also need to ensure that potentially dangerous foods are also kept in places where your dog can never get to them, such as grapes or raisins. Sometimes, feeding table scraps to your dog can even unintentionally introduce a toxin to them, such as onions, garlic, and certain other seasonings.

Chronic kidney failure is most commonly caused by dental disease, so, if you want to prevent this, you’ll need to make your dog’s dental health a top priority. Make sure to brush regularly and provide your dog with treats that help clean its teeth. You can also ask your vet for more instructions on how to best provide dental care for your dog.



Kidney failure is a very serious condition that results in death more than half the time. Understanding the symptoms of kidney disease and failure can help you spot it before the kidneys shut down completely. When caught early enough, there’s a pretty good chance that your dog can live many years of healthy and happy life with proper treatment. However, if it progresses too far, then by the time it’s diagnosed, it will already be too late. Make sure to keep chemicals, cleaners, and foods that are toxic to dogs locked up or out of reach, and keep up on your dog’s dental health if you want to prevent kidney problems from ever occurring.

Featured Image Credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

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