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Kidney Failure in Dogs - Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Kidney Failure in Dogs - Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Today our vets at Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem explain a little about the causes and treatment of kidney failure in dogs, as well as the signs and symptoms of kidney failure that pet parents should look out for.

What is kidney failure in dogs?

Kidney failure (also referred to as renal failure), may be caused by a number of conditions that impact the kidneys and related organs. When your dog's kidneys are healthy they work to eliminate toxins, regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance and release hormones required to produce red blood cells. If your dog experiences kidney failure the kidneys are no longer performing their function efficiently. 

Are there different types of kidney failure in dogs?

There are two broad categories of kidney failure seen in dogs:

  • Acute renal failure - When kidney function suddenly decreases (within hours or days), this is known as acute renal failure. Typically this form of kidney failure is caused by an infection or exposure to toxins.
  • Chronic renal failure - When the loss of kidney function is gradual (over weeks, months or years), it’s referred to as chronic renal failure. Chronic kidney failure is typically caused by degeneration associated with old age. All kidneys have a lifespan however, some dogs’ experience deterioration faster than others.

The primary difference between acute and chronic kidney failure in dogs is that while acute kidney failure is likely reversible if diagnosed early and treated intensively, chronic kidney failure can only be managed.

What causes kidney failure in dogs?

Any disease that affects the kidneys can cause the kidneys to fail. These conditions can include:

  • Congenital disease - This category can include underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions - everything from agenesis (being born without one or both kidneys) to cysts.
  • Bacterial infections - If your dog swims or drinks in contaminated water, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can attack their system, causing the kidneys to become inflamed and renal cells to die off.
  • Toxicosis - When the kidneys are poisoned, this can lead to cell damage within the kidneys. It can happen when your dog consumes drugs or poisons (such as foods or substances that are toxic to them).
  • Dental disease - When bacteria build up on the teeth and gums, this can lead to advanced dental disease. The bacteria can enter the blood stream and attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the kidneys in addition to the heart and liver.
  • Geriatric degeneration - As your dog ages, cells can break down and die. This also happens in the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease.

Symptoms of kidney failure

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

The type of kidney failure your dog is experiencing, and the extent of loss of function in the kidneys, the progression of the condition and the underlying cause can indicate whether kidney issues or another problem such as diabetes mellitus are causing your dog's symptoms.

How is kidney failure in dogs treated?

As with many other conditions, your dog's treatment for kidney failure will be determined by your pet’s overall health and the underlying cause of their kidney problems. If your dog suffers from acute kidney failure, immediate and intensive treatment will be required. Typically in the in intensive care at your animal hospital. If caught early, milder cases of kidney failure may be treated with fluids, antibiotics and medications on an outpatient schedule. Dialysis, although costly, can also be effective.

If your dog is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, your vet will primarily focus on slowing down the disease’s progression and looking at ways to improve quality of life for the your pup. Nausea, fluid imbalances, blood pressure fluctuations and other symptoms will be treated with medications and changes to your dog's diet.

In many cases dogs being treated for kidney failure can go on to enjoy a good quality of life for years (some indications are up to four years). To help manage your dog's condition, and possibly improve your dog's quality of life, your vet may recommend specific nutrients, nutritional supplements or a therapeutic diet .

Can I prevent my dog from suffering 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, take inventory of your house and remove potential toxins such as antifreeze, medications and potentially harmful foods out of your pup's reach.

Chronic kidney failure is typically age-related and predetermined by genetics, making it much more difficult to try and prevent. That said, regular wellness exams twice yearly at your vet's office will help to increase the chances detecting symptoms early so that treatment can begin before the condition becomes more severe.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets.

If you think that your dog may be suffering from kidney failure, contact your vet for assistance. Any time you are unable to reach your primary care veterinarian - including late nights, weekends, and holidays - we are here to help. Contact Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem today for emergency veterinary care.

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