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Nutrition for Dogs with Kidney Disease

Nicole Cosgrove

June 10, 2021

Kidney disease is a serious issue that plagues both dogs and humans. If you suspect your dog is experiencing kidney disease, it’s important to take your lovable pooch to the vet right away. You also need to change your dog’s diet to help slow the progression of the disease.

In this article, we are going to fully discuss what canine kidney disease is, ways to identify it, and nutrition for dogs with kidney disease. It’s important to note that you should only use this article to further your knowledge about renal failure in dogs. Always follow your veterinarian’s advice and instructions when caring for your dog.

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What Is Canine Kidney Disease?

Kidneys perform a number of bodily functions, such as regulating hydration, balancing electrolytes, releasing hormones, and removing toxins. If your dog’s kidneys do not work properly, kidney failure follows. Kidney disease roughly refers to the loss of the kidney’s functions. You may also hear kidney failure referred to as renal failure.

Acute vs. Chronic Renal Failure in Dogs

In dogs, there are two types of kidney disease: chronic renal failure and acute renal failure. Chronic kidney failure is whenever the kidneys are losing their function over a period of time. Most often, chronic renal failure is caused by old age since bodies deteriorate over time.

In contrast, acute renal failure is whenever kidney function decreases suddenly. This may happen over a span of hours or days. Most often, acute renal failure is caused by toxins or infections. Acute renal failure can often be reversed and healed if caught early enough, whereas chronic kidney failure can be managed but not reversed.

sick jack russell
Image credit: Javier Brosch, Shutterstock

Identifying Kidney Failure in Dogs

Identifying kidney failure early on is important for acute renal failure, but it can also make your dog more comfortable if it is struggling from chronic renal failure. Knowing the symptoms of kidney failure in dogs can allow you to take your pooch to the vet early for proper diagnosis.

Symptoms

The most common signs of kidney failure in dogs include the following:

  • Chemical smelling breath
  • Blood in urine
  • Drunken behavior
  • Intestinal seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Significant changes in water intake
  • Significant changes in urine volume
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Significant weight loss
  • Stumbling and other uncoordinated movements
  • Ulcers in mouth
  • Vomiting

bulldog lying on the carp_heathergunn, Pixabaye

Diagnosis

If your dog is experiencing one or more of the previous symptoms, you need to take it to the veterinarian right away. Only a veterinarian can determine if renal failure or some other issue is to blame for your dog’s symptoms.

Your vet will diagnose kidney failure through blood and urine tests. This will assess the severity of the disease. Your vet may also use X Rays, ultrasounds, and special blood tests to determine the cause of the kidney failure. Biopsies are sometimes recommended as well.

Even through these intensive tests, the cause for kidney failure is not always discovered. In some cases, such as chronic renal failure, the cause for the disease may never be found.

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Causes For Canine Kidney Disease

There are quite a few causes for canine kidney diseases. Many diseases impact the kidneys, as well as the consumption of different toxins and materials. Let’s take a look at the most common causes for kidney failure.

1. Acute Renal Failure

Acute kidney failure is almost always caused whenever a dog ingests a toxin. Chemicals such as anti-freeze, household cleaners, and bad food are common culprits for acute renal failure. Acute renal failure can also occur whenever there is a urinary obstruction within your dog’s body. If the blood flow decreases, the kidneys are less oxygenated, leading to more infection.

Acute renal failure can also occur from severe dehydration, heat strokes, snake bites, and leptospirosis, which is a bacterial infection.

2. Chronic Renal Failure

As we’ve already mentioned, chronic renal failure is most commonly seen in older dogs. The exact cause can sometimes be difficult to catch since these symptoms are slow to develop. Often, dental disease leads to chronic kidney failure. This occurs whenever bacteria build up underneath your dog’s teeth and is swallowed over time.

sick dog
Image credit: Lindsay Helms, Shutterstock

Potential Treatments for Canine Kidney Disease

There are multiple courses of action a vet may take to treat canine kidney disease. The type of kidney disease, as well as its severity, are the two main factors that will determine the course of the treatment. Other health issues may also affect the treatment selected.

1. Acute Renal Failure Treatments

Since acute renal failure is typically caused by an infection or ingested toxin, the vet typically focuses on flushing the toxins, monitoring the animal, and prescribing fluids and medications. Most often, acute kidney failure will be treated with a lot of IV fluids to restore the dog’s hydration and flush out any harmful substances.

The vet may also prescribe medications, especially if the kidney failure is caused by an infection. For example, antibiotics are often given to dogs experiencing acute renal failure.

Many dogs refuse to eat when they are experiencing the acute renal failure. To ensure that the dog is still getting the nutrients it needs, your vet may give your dog a temporary feeding tube. The food tube ensures that the dog is getting the nutrients it needs to fight through the kidney disease.

All of these treatments are paired with bodily monitoring. Blood pressure, body weight, blood tests, urine tests, and electrocardiograms are used to ensure your dog is remaining healthy through the treatment. The vet may even place a urinary catheter to measure your dog’s urine volume.

2. Chronic Renal Failure Treatments

Because chronic renal failure is simply managed, not reversed, the treatment for chronic renal failure is very different. If the kidney failure is caught too late, your vet may recommend humane euthanization to put the dog out of its pain and misery.

However, many dogs live for months and years after diagnosis if the kidney disease is caught early enough. For dogs that fall into this category, vets will typically recommend a two-step process. The first phase involves giving the dog intravenous fluids to flush out the bloodstream and kidneys.

This step is called diuresis. The purpose of the first step is to create a slightly healthier environment so that the kidneys can heal a bit more. From this first step, the kidneys may begin functioning slightly better, but this is not guaranteed. If the situation gets worse, the vet may recommend euthanization.

In the case that phase one went well, the vet will recommend moving on to phase two, which involves caring for your dog at home. Caring for your dog at home helps your dog to live a happy and healthy life for the rest of its days.

Phase two typically involves putting your dog on a special diet, home fluid therapy, medications, and more. The whole point of phase two is to keep the kidney’s functioning as long as they can.

sick german shepherd
Image Credit: Roger costa morera, Shutterstock

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What To Feed Your Dog with Kidney Disease

As we mentioned above, one of the most important parts of treating dogs with chronic renal failure is monitoring their diet so that the kidneys can function as normally as possible. The reason that nutrition matters a lot for dogs with kidney disease is that the kidney is responsible for filtering out waste from the blood to the urine. Without the right nutrients, the disease can cause a lot of problems.

In fact, treating dogs with chronic renal failure typically has four goals: control the amount of waste products in blood, create more balance between the fluid and minerals, sustain adequate nutrition, and modify or slow the progression of the disease. Paying attention to your dog’s diet can help achieve all of these goals.

If your dog is diagnosed with kidney disease, your vet will help you pick out the best dog food and nutrition for your dog. Once again, you want low protein, phosphorus, and sodium but high water and omega-3 fatty acid.

Most often, your vet will recommend a commercially available food specifically made for dogs that suffer from kidney disease. These foods will taste yummy to your dog but target their health needs. While feeding your dog this new diet, remember to provide a lot of water throughout the day too.

Chihuahua dog eating_tanyastock, Shutterstock
Image Credit: tanyastock, Shutterstock

What You Need to Change

Once your dog has been diagnosed with kidney disease, you need to change your dog’s diet immediately. You especially need to focus on the water, protein, phosphorus, sodium, and omega-3 fatty acid contents in your dog’s diet.

Starting with water, your dog will need more water than before. Because of kidney disease, your dog’s body is unable to excrete toxins, making them feel thirstier. Supply your dog with much more fresh water than before to satisfy its thirst. Wet dog food may also help with this need.

Dogs typically have a high protein diet, but decreasing the amount of protein in your dog’s diet often slows the progression of the disease. This is likely because protein requires a lot of filtration from the kidneys. Only give your dog food that is 14% to 20% protein.

You also want to make sure that your dog has a low phosphorus intake. This will slow the progression of chronic kidney disease as well. Shoot for a phosphorus range between 0.2% and 0.5%. Kidney disease makes it very difficult for the body to process sodium too. Constrict your dog’s sodium intake quite a bit. This will help your dog feel less thirsty and maintain your dog’s blood pressure.

Finally, supplement your dog’s diet with additional omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation that causes stress on the diseased kidneys. Adding omega-3 fatty acids will help slow chronic kidney disease since it reduces protein leaking through the kidneys.

Golden Retriever eating
Image Credit: chendongshan, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Kidney disease is a really serious issue in dogs that can’t go untreated. Whether your dog is suffering from acute or chronic renal failure, they need to be seen by a veterinarian right away. Acute renal failure can often be reversed if caught early enough, but chronic renal failure can only be managed.

Changing your dog’s diet can largely help to manage your dog’s kidney disease. What you feed your dog plays a big part on the kidney. Decrease the amount of protein, sodium, and phosphorus you feed your dog, but increase water and omega-3 fatty acids. Talk to your veterinarian to find specific dog food brands for your pup.


Featured Image Credit: Phuttharak, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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