Kidney Failure in Dogs: Everything You Need To Know

Kidney failure in dogs, also known as canine renal failure or canine kidney disease, is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the kidneys are no longer able to perform their vital functions adequately. The kidneys play a crucial role in filtering waste products from the blood, regulating fluid balance, and maintaining essential electrolyte levels in the body. When kidney function declines, harmful substances accumulate, leading to a range of health issues.

Kidney Failure in Dogs: Everything You Need To KnowKidney Failure in Dogs

Kidney failure in dogs, also known as canine renal failure or kidney disease, is a critical health condition where the kidneys lose their ability to perform essential functions adequately. The kidneys play a pivotal role in filtering waste products from the blood, maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance, and regulating blood pressure. When kidney function diminishes, harmful substances accumulate in the body, leading to a range of health problems.

Types of Kidney Failure in Dogs

  1. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): A gradual and progressive decline in kidney function over an extended period. CKD is often seen in older dogs and may result from aging, genetic predisposition, or other underlying health conditions.
  2. Acute Kidney Injury (AKI): Sudden and severe damage to the kidneys, usually caused by factors like toxins, infections, or a lack of blood flow. Unlike CKD, AKI can be reversible with prompt and appropriate treatment.

Early Stages of Kidney Disease in Dogs

Detecting kidney disease in its early stages is crucial for managing the condition and preserving a dog’s overall health. In the early stages, kidney disease may not always present obvious symptoms, but certain signs can serve as indicators that warrant attention. Here are some early signs of kidney disease in dogs:

  1. Increased Thirst and Urination: One of the earliest signs is an increase in water intake (polydipsia) and more frequent urination (polyuria). This can be an indication that the kidneys are struggling to concentrate urine.
  2. Changes in Urine Output: Changes in the color, volume, or frequency of urine may be observed. Concentrated, dark urine or the presence of blood in the urine can be early indicators.
  3. Decreased Appetite: Dogs in the early stages of kidney disease may experience a reduced appetite or a reluctance to eat.
  4. Weight Loss: Unexplained weight loss may occur as a result of decreased appetite and changes in metabolism.
  5. Lethargy and Weakness: Dogs with kidney disease may exhibit signs of lethargy, decreased energy levels, and overall weakness.
  6. Vomiting and Diarrhea: Gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can be early signs, often related to the buildup of waste products in the body.
  7. Bad Breath (Uremic Breath): An ammonia-like odor in the breath, known as uremic breath, may develop due to the accumulation of waste products.
  8. Poor Coat Condition: Changes in the coat, including dullness, dryness, or an unkempt appearance, can be indicative of underlying health issues.
  9. It’s important to note that these signs can be subtle, and some dogs may not exhibit noticeable symptoms in the early stages of kidney disease. Regular veterinary check-ups and routine blood and urine tests are crucial for early detection.

Kidney Failure in Dogs Stages

Kidney failure in dogs is often categorized into stages based on the severity of the disease. The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) has established a staging system commonly used by veterinarians to assess the progression of kidney disease in dogs. This system is based on the measurement of blood creatinine levels, which is an indicator of kidney function. The stages are as follows:

Stage 1: Early Kidney Disease (Mild)

Stage 2: Mild Kidney Disease

Stage 3: Moderate Kidney Disease

Stage 4: Severe Kidney Disease

Stage 5: End-Stage Kidney Disease

Causes of Canine Kidney FailureKID 1

Canine kidney failure, or kidney disease, can be caused by various factors, and it often develops over time. Understanding the underlying causes is crucial for managing and preventing kidney disease in dogs. Here are common causes of canine kidney failure:

  1. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): A progressive condition where the kidneys gradually lose function over an extended period.
  2. Acute Kidney Injury (AKI): Sudden and severe damage to the kidneys, often leading to a rapid decline in function.
  3. Infections: Infections affecting the kidneys can lead to inflammation and damage.
  4. Toxic Ingestion: Ingestion of substances toxic to the kidneys can cause damage.
  5. Urinary Tract Obstruction: Blockages in the urinary tract can lead to impaired kidney function.
  6. Congenital Disorders: Dogs may be born with kidney abnormalities or genetic conditions predisposing them to kidney problems.
  7. Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions where the immune system attacks the body’s tissues, including the kidneys.
  8. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Prolonged high blood pressure can contribute to kidney damage.
  9. Cancer: Certain types of cancer can affect the kidneys, leading to dysfunction.
  10. Dehydration: Prolonged dehydration can strain the kidneys and contribute to kidney disease.

Understanding and addressing the underlying cause of kidney failure are essential for effective treatment and management. Early detection, regular veterinary check-ups, and preventive measures can help identify and address potential issues before they progress to kidney disease.

What Toxins Cause Kidney Failure in Dogs

Several toxins can cause kidney failure in dogs when ingested or exposed to in sufficient quantities. Dog owners must be aware of potential hazards and take preventive measures to keep these toxins out of their pets’ reach. Here are some common toxins known to cause kidney failure in dogs:

  • Antifreeze (Ethylene Glycol): Antifreeze is highly toxic to dogs, and even small amounts can be fatal. It has a sweet taste, making it attractive to pets.
  • Grapes and Raisins: Grapes and raisins, even in small amounts, can be toxic to dogs.
  • Certain Medications: Some medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can be harmful to dogs if ingested in sufficient amounts.
  • Lilies: Certain species of lilies, such as Easter lilies and Tiger lilies, are highly toxic to cats and can also be harmful to dogs.
  • Certain Plants: Various plants, including some common household plants, can be toxic to dogs if ingested.
  • Xylitol: Xylitol is a sugar substitute often found in sugar-free gum, candy, and certain human food products.
  • Certain Cleaning Products: Some household cleaning products contain chemicals that can be toxic if ingested.
  • Certain Human Foods: Certain human foods, such as chocolate, onions, garlic, and caffeine, can be harmful to dogs.

Symptoms of Canine Kidney Disease

Here are common symptoms of canine kidney disease:

  • Increased Thirst (Polydipsia) and Urination (Polyuria): Dogs may drink more water than usual and urinate more frequently.
  • Decreased Appetite: A reduction in appetite or a reluctance to eat.
  • Weight Loss: Unexplained weight loss.
  • Lethargy and Weakness: Dogs may appear tired, lethargic, or lacking in energy.
  • Subtle Changes in Urine: Changes in urine color, volume, or frequency may be observed.
  • Vomiting and Diarrhea: Gastrointestinal symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea, may develop.
  • Bad Breath (Uremic Breath): An ammonia-like odor in the breath, known as uremic breath.
  • Mouth Ulcers and Sores: Ulcers and sores in the mouth or on the tongue can occur.
  • Poor Coat Condition: Changes in the coat, including dullness, dryness, or an unkempt appearance.
  • Changes in Behavior: Altered behavior, such as increased restlessness or irritability.
  • Severe Dehydration: Dogs may become severely dehydrated, leading to sunken eyes and dry, tacky gums.
  • Neurological Symptoms: Seizures or other neurological symptoms may occur in severe cases.
  • Fluid Retention: Fluid retention, especially in the abdomen, may be noticeable.
  • Coma and Death: In extreme cases, dogs may go into a coma, leading to death.
  • Changes in Breath Rate and Pattern: Rapid or labored breathing may be observed.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Kidney Failure in Dogs

Veterinarians use a variety of methods to diagnose kidney failure in dogs. One of the first things they will do is take a detailed medical history of the dog, including any recent changes in behavior or eating habits. They will also conduct a physical examination and perform a urinalysis, which can help identify kidney problems. In some cases, veterinarians may also order blood tests and ultrasounds to get a more detailed picture of the dog’s kidney function. In some cases, a biopsy of the kidney tissue may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis. With these tools, veterinarians can identify kidney failure and develop a treatment plan for the dog.

How to Comfort a Dog with Kidney FailureKID 2

Comforting a dog with kidney failure involves providing supportive care to manage their symptoms, maintain their well-being, and enhance their quality of life. While kidney failure is a serious condition that requires veterinary attention and treatment, there are ways to make your dog more comfortable at home. Here are some tips:

  1. Hydration: Ensure your dog has access to fresh water at all times. Maintaining hydration is crucial for dogs with kidney failure. If your dog is reluctant to drink, consider offering ice cubes or adding water to their food to increase moisture intake.
  2. Special Diet: Feed your dog a kidney-friendly diet as recommended by your veterinarian. Prescription diets designed for dogs with kidney disease are available and can help manage symptoms and support kidney function.
  3. Regular Vet Check-ups: Schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor your dog’s condition and make adjustments to the treatment plan as needed.
  4. Medication Adherence: Administer prescribed medications as directed by your veterinarian. Some medications may be essential for managing symptoms and slowing the progression of kidney disease.
  5. Comfortable Environment: Create a comfortable and quiet environment for your dog. Provide a soft bed and a quiet space where they can rest undisturbed.
  6. Gentle Exercise: Engage your dog in gentle and low-impact exercise. Short walks and gentle play can help maintain muscle tone and mental stimulation.
  7. Maintain a Routine: Keep a consistent daily routine for feeding, walks, and other activities. Dogs often find comfort in routine, and it can reduce stress.
  8. Monitor Body Weight: Keep track of your dog’s body weight. Weight loss can be a common symptom of kidney disease, and monitoring weight regularly allows you to detect changes early.
  9. Provide Affection: Spend quality time with your dog, offering comfort and affection. Grooming and gentle massage can be soothing.
  10. Consider Comfort Aids: Provide supportive aids, such as orthopedic beds for dogs with arthritis or joint pain associated with kidney disease.
  11. Manage Symptoms: If your dog experiences symptoms like nausea or vomiting, consult your veterinarian for appropriate medications to alleviate discomfort.
  12. Hospice Care Consideration: In advanced cases where curative treatments are not an option, discuss hospice care options with your veterinarian. The focus is on ensuring comfort and a good quality of life.

Diets for Dogs with Kidney Failure

Dogs with kidney failure need to follow a special diet that is low in protein and phosphorus and high in moisture. Protein-restricted diets are important because they help to reduce the amount of waste products that the kidneys have to filter. Phosphorus-restricted diets are also important, as high levels of phosphorus can be toxic to dogs with kidney failure. Additionally, dogs with kidney failure need to drink plenty of water to help flush toxins out of the body. Some veterinarians may also recommend feeding your dog canned or semi-moist food, as these foods have higher water content than dry kibble.

Which Kind of Dog Gets Kidney Disease?

Any breed of dog can develop kidney disease, but some breeds are more prone to the condition than others. Some of the breeds that are more prone to kidney disease include Yorkshire Terriers, Bull Terriers, Poodles, Maltese, and Shetland Sheepdogs. However, it’s important to remember that any dog can develop kidney disease, so it’s important to have your dog regularly checked by a veterinarian. Additionally, some common risk factors for kidney disease in dogs include age, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. If you have a dog that is at risk for kidney disease, it’s important to talk to your veterinarian.

SEE ALSO: How to Stop A Dog Nail Bleeding in a Jiffy

Treatment of Kidney Failure in DogsKID 3

The treatment of kidney failure in dogs, also known as renal disease, aims to manage symptoms, slow the progression of the disease, and improve the dog’s overall quality of life. Treatment approaches may vary based on the stage and cause of kidney failure. Here are common strategies used in the treatment of kidney failure in dogs:

Dietary Management: Specialized kidney diets designed for dogs with renal disease are available. These diets are formulated to support kidney function, manage symptoms, and maintain proper nutrition. They typically have controlled levels of protein, phosphorus, and other nutrients.

Fluid Therapy: Providing fluids, either intravenously (IV) or subcutaneously (under the skin), can help maintain hydration and support kidney function. Fluid therapy is especially important if the dog is dehydrated.

Medications: In cases of elevated phosphorus levels, phosphorus binders may be prescribed to limit absorption.

  • Anti-Hypertensive Medications: If hypertension (high blood pressure) is present, medications may be prescribed to manage blood pressure.
  • Erythropoietin (EPO): For dogs with anemia, EPO may be administered to stimulate red blood cell production.
  • Anti-Nausea Medications: If vomiting is a symptom, anti-nausea medications may be prescribed.

Monitoring and Regular Vet Check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for monitoring kidney function, adjusting treatment plans, and addressing any emerging issues.

Hospice Care: In cases where the disease is advanced and curative measures are not possible, hospice care may focus on providing comfort and maintaining quality of life.

Hemodialysis and Kidney Transplants: In some specialized veterinary centers, hemodialysis or kidney transplants may be considered as advanced treatment options. However, these interventions are not widely available and come with significant costs and considerations.

Patient Support: Providing a comfortable and stress-free environment for the dog is crucial. This includes soft bedding, a quiet space, and regular affection from the owner.

Nutritional Supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutritional supplements may be recommended to support overall health.

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Q. How do dogs act when their kidneys are failing?

A. Dogs that are experiencing kidney failure may show a variety of signs and symptoms. Common signs include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, loss of appetite, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea. In some cases, dogs may also experience seizures, lethargy, and depression. Additionally, dogs with kidney failure may have an unusual odor to their breath and may have pale or yellow gums. As the disease progresses, dogs may become very sick and may even go into a coma.

Q. What is the quality of life for a dog with kidney failure?

A. The quality of life for a dog with kidney failure can vary greatly depending on the stage of the disease and the available treatment options. In general, dogs with early-stage kidney failure can have a relatively good quality of life with proper treatment.

Q. What should dogs with kidney failure avoid?

A. Dogs with kidney failure should avoid several things, including high-protein foods, table scraps, and fatty foods. These foods can be difficult for the kidneys to process and can cause further damage. Additionally, dogs with kidney failure should avoid salt, as it can cause the body to retain excess fluid. It’s also important to avoid giving your dog any medication that is processed by the kidneys, such as NSAIDs, as these can further damage the kidneys.

Q. How long will a dog with kidney failure live?

A. The life expectancy of a dog with kidney failure varies greatly depending on the individual dog and the stage of the disease. In general, dogs with early-stage kidney failure may have a life expectancy of several months to a year or more with proper treatment.


In conclusion, kidney failure in dogs is a significant and complex health condition that requires careful attention, prompt diagnosis, and ongoing management. Early detection, proactive veterinary care, and a collaborative approach between the veterinarian and pet owner are crucial for managing kidney failure in dogs. With proper care, many dogs with kidney disease can lead fulfilling lives, and their symptoms can be effectively managed. Always consult with a veterinarian for personalized advice and treatment plans tailored to your dog’s specific needs.

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