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Kidney failure in Dogs Explained

Kidney failure in Dogs Explained

In today's blog our vets at West Chester Veterinary Medical Center explain some of  the causes of kidney failure in dogs, as well common symptoms pet parents should watch for, and how the condition is treated.

What is kidney failure (renal failure) in dogs?

Renal failure, commonly called kidney failure, can be caused by a number of conditions which impact the dogs kidneys and related organs. Kidneys that are working properly continually eliminate toxins from your dog's body. Your dog's kidneys also help to regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance and release hormones required to produce red blood cells. A diagnosis of kidney failure means that your pet's kidneys are no longer performing these functions as properly. 

Are there different types of kidney failure in dogs?

Kidney failure in dogs can be acute or chronic. 

Acute Kidney Failure

  • Acute Kidney Failure is characterized by a sudden decrease in kidney function, typically within a few hours or days. Acute kidney failure in dogs is often the result an infection or exposure to toxins. If acute kidney failure is diagnosed early and treated aggressively it can be cured in many cases.

Chronic Kidney Failure

  • Chronic kidney failure is characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over a period of weeks, months or even years. Although not always, chronic kidney failure is most often associated with age related degeneration, and diagnosed in senior dogs. Chronic kidney failure can be successfully managed, but not cured.

What causes kidney failure in dogs?

A range of different conditions can affect the kidneys and lead them to fail, including:

Congenital Disease

  • This category can include underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions - everything from being born without one or both kidneys, to cysts.

Bacterial Infections

  • If your dog swims in or drinks contaminated water, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can attack their system, causing the kidneys to become inflamed and renal cells to die off, leading to kidney failure.


  • If the kidneys are poisoned, this can lead to cell damage within the kidneys. Toxicosis can occur if your dog consumes drugs, toxins or poisons such as foods or substances that are harmful to pets.

Periodontal Disease

  • If bacteria is left to build up on the teeth and gums it can lead to canine periodontal disease. The bacteria can then enter the blood stream and attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the kidneys as well as other organs including the heart and liver.

Geriatric Degeneration

  • Gradually, as your dog gets older the renal cells can begin to break down and die, eventually leading to chronic kidney failure.

Symptoms of kidney failure

If your dog is experiencing kidney failure you will likely notice one or more of the following symptoms:
  • Pale gums
  • Significant weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Uncoordinated movement, or stumbling
  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Increase/decrease in thirst
  • Increase/decrease in volume of urine
  • Intestinal seizures
  • Blood in urine
  • Lethargy

If your dog is displaying any of the symptoms listed above it is essential to have them examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible in order to determine whether there is an underlying issue such as poisoning or diabetes causing your dog's symptoms.

How is kidney failure in dogs treated?

The treatment for kidney failure in dogs is determined by the underlying cause of the kidney problems and the dog's overall health.

If your pup is experiencing the symptoms of acute kidney failure, immediate and intensive treatment is required, which may include a stay in the intensive care at your animal hospital. That said. if acute kidney failure is caught in the very early stages, milder cases may be treated with fluids, antibiotics and medications on an outpatient basis. Dialysis, although costly, can also be a very effective treatment for acute kidney failure in dogs.

If your dog is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure (kidney disease), treatment will primarily focus on slowing down the progression of the disease and looking at ways to improve your pet's quality of life. Symptoms of chronic kidney failure such as nausea, fluid imbalances, and blood pressure fluctuations may be treated with medications and changes to your pup's diet.

Dogs being treated for chronic kidney failure can go on to enjoy a good quality of life for a number of years. Your vet may recommend specific nutrients, nutritional supplements or a therapeutic prescription diet to help manage your dog's kidney disease, and improve your pup's quality of life.

Can I prevent my dog from developing kidney failure?

Acute kidney failure is often caused when dogs consume toxins, tainted foods or foods they shouldn’t ingest, such as grapes or chocolate. To help prevent your dog from developing acute kidney failure, remove potential toxins such as antifreeze, medications and potentially harmful foods well out of your dog's reach.

Chronic kidney failure is typically age-related and predetermined by genetics, making it difficult to prevent. That said, regular twice yearly wellness exams gives your vet the opportunity to monitor your pet's health and spot subtle signs of chronic kidney failure early so that treatment can begin before the condition becomes more advanced.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your pup is showing symptoms of chronic kidney failure contact your West Chester vet to book an appointment. If your dog is displaying symptoms of acute kidney failure visit your vet immediately or head straight to your nearest urgent care veterinary clinic for urgent care.

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