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Kidney Failure in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Kidney Failure in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Causes

What are the signs and symptoms of kidney failure that you should watch for? In this post, our Lacey vets share some answers and list causes and treatment options for kidney failure in dogs. 

What is kidney failure in dogs?

A number of conditions can cause kidney failure (also known as renal failure) in dogs. These conditions can impact the kidneys and associated organs. Healthy kidneys work to remove toxins, maintain a normal balance of electrolytes, regulate hydration and release hormones needed to produce red blood cells. If your dog experiences kidney failure, their kidneys will no longer perform these functions efficiently. 

What are the different types of kidney failure in dogs?

There are two broad types of kidney failure that dogs can suffer from:

  • Acute renal failure - When the function of the kidneys suddenly decreases (within hours or days), we refer to this as acute renal failure. This form of kidney failure is usually caused by infection or exposure to toxins. 
  • Chronic renal failure - Gradual loss of kidney function (over weeks, months or years), this is known as chronic renal failure. Chronic kidney failure is most often caused by degeneration related to old age. While all kidneys have a lifespan, some dogs experience deterioration faster than others. 

The main difference between acute and chronic kidney failure in dogs is that while acute kidney failure can likely be reversed if diagnosed early and treated intensively, chronic kidney failure may 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 emergency treatment will be required. Typically in the 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.

Do you think your dog might 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 Olympia Pet Emergency in Lacey today for emergency veterinary care.

Walk-in Patients Welcome

At Olympia Pet Emergency, you can always access our full complement of emergency services without an appointment. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

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