Signs of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Our dogs play such an important part in our lives, and we want to make sure they’re happy and healthy for as long as possible.

Unfortunately, like humans, their organs can fail for a variety of reasons and they may need a medical intervention just like humans. One of the more common conditions dogs can suffer from is kidney failure, and the cause of this can be from a variety of things.

Most of us don’t want to imagine our dog is going through kidney failure, so we might not even know what to look for to start to treat it. Here’s what you need to know about kidney failure, and what to do to help your dog if you believe they might have this condition.

Signs of Kidney Failure in Dogs

So, what exactly is kidney disease?

Just like in humans, kidneys in dogs are responsible for filtering out toxins from the blood and remove them from the body via urine. The kidneys, when functioning normally, also help to regulate the levels of blood pressure and blood acidity, and balance a healthy metabolism.

Any condition or situation that prevents the kidneys from working properly may be referred to as renal, or kidney, disease. The consequences can range in severity depending on the condition causing the kidneys to stop working properly, and if it’s temporary or permanent.

In the rare situations of renal failure, the kidneys have completely stopped working and it is a very serious – potentially fatal – condition for your dog.

When it comes to renal disease, there are two levels: acute and chronic.

Acute Renal Disease

This kind of kidney disease can be contributed to a complication of another disease, like kidney stones or if your dog has consumed something toxic to the body.

When it’s acute, the symptoms will be severe and appear suddenly, but often they can be treated easily without any long-term or permanent consequences.


Chronic Renal Disease

When a kidney disease is chronic it means it’s a long-term condition with irreversible symptoms. This kind of kidney disease will progress slowly and over time.

In dogs, however, they have much more kidney tissue than humans so chronic renal disease can – sometimes – appear suddenly as the symptoms will only be apparent when sever damage has been done.

There isn’t a permanent cure or treatment for chronic renal disease, but there are treatments that can minimize the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease causing it.


What causes kidney disease in dogs?

Like humans, there isn’t just one specific cause of kidney disease or kidney failure. Some dogs can be born with deficiencies or malformed kidneys that don’t function properly, and they may live with this for their whole life.

With other dogs, and certain breeds especially, may just be more susceptible to developing issues with their kidneys due to years of breeding practices and genetics.

For other dogs, it might happen in the later years as they age and their body starts to wear out. Diseases like cancer can be associated with renal failure in dogs, too.

Additionally, specific environmental factors like chemicals or toxic foods can cause temporary issues with kidney function.  In short, there are a number of factors that can cause issues with kidney function or even complete kidney failure so keeping in mind your dog’s overall health can help ensure their kidney’s function properly.


What signs of kidney disease should you look for?

Like many other conditions with dogs, the symptoms of kidney disease can vary from dog to dog depending on a variety of factors. The kidneys are responsible for so many functions within the body and this is why the symptoms can vary so dramatically.

Here are some of the symptoms that may present in your dog if they are experiencing kidney disease or failure.

  • Excessive drinking (more than normal for your dog)
  • Frequent urination (again, more than normal for your dog)
    • This can include accidents in your home when your dog is mostly house trained and doesn’t have accidents normally
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weaker than normal appetite
  • Weight loss (due to lack of appetite)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pale gums
  • Sudden onset blindness (usually due to high blood pressure)

It’s important to note that the symptoms listed here can be caused by other illness or conditions, so having them isn’t necessarily a sign for sure that your dog has troubles with their kidneys.

What is important, though, is if your dog presents with any of these symptoms or a combination of them it’s important to make an appointment with your vet to get them in to have it checked out.

Dog in vet clinic

How are dogs diagnosed with kidney disease?

There are a few tests – urine and blood – that your vet will use to determine how your dog’s kidneys are functioning. These tests are used because both will so abnormalities that have been shown to be linked to issues with their kidneys.

The downside is that sometimes it can take a lot of damage to the kidneys before the tests will show the abnormalities. Fortunately, though, there have been improvements on these tests and newer ones are getting better are earlier detection.

While these tests are available, you’ll have to discuss with your vet which tests they use and how the detect the abnormalities.

Dogs with kidney disease more often than not also have elevated blood pressure so this is a helpful indication that your dog might have this condition. Additionally, X-rays or ultrasounds can be used by your vet to look at your dog’s kidneys to see if they are enlarged or determine if there are any visible factors that your dog is suffering from renal failure.

Once the diagnosis is made, your vet will assess your dog’s blood to determine how the condition has developed and then how best to treat your dog. The development can be assessed anywhere from a Stage I – where there are symptoms present but kidneys are still functioning – to Stage IV – where your dog is visibly sick and suffering from symptoms.

How are dogs with kidney disease treated?

There are many factors that go into determining how your dog will receive treatment for their kidney disease, and your vet will take into account all of this when prescribing a course of action for your dog.


Since kidneys perform such vital functions in the body, their function will need to be restored and this can be done – or partially done – with medication.

Sometimes supplements are used to replace vitamins vital to the body and medication is used to reduce the effects of kidney disease – like blindness or high blood pressure.


Your vet may prescribe changes to the diet your dog is currently eating to ensure your dog gets what they need. There are specifically designed diets for dogs with kidney issues. Diets for kidney disease often have less protein than regular dog diets, so this might be less appealing for your dog. As such, it’s important to keep your dog eating regularly. Additionally, make sure your dog is well hydrated with access to fresh water.


In cases where the kidney disease has progressed, some dogs may be prescribed dialysis. This kind of treatment is very similar to human dialysis where a machine takes the blood out of the body and cleans it before pumping it back into the body.

This kind of treatment is not common for dogs with kidney failure as it’s very expensive and not many vets can offer it.


Can kidney disease in dogs be prevented?

The short answer to this is, sometimes. Since kidney disease is one that can be inherited from parents or transferred through genetics sometimes it really can’t be prevented – no matter how much you try to keep your dog healthy or how active you are with them.

Most acute cases of kidney issues that come from toxins or environmental factors can be prevented by keeping pets away from these toxic substances (commonly found in rodent poison or antifreeze).

Additionally, leptospirosis can cause issues with kidney functions so ensuring your dog is up to date on the vaccine for this can help with prevention.

On the other hand, chronic kidney disease – which is slow progressing – is likely to be inherited so there may not be any kind of prevention for this.

If you’re concerned about your dog’s health, making sure your dog eats an appropriate diet. This can be confirmed with your vet. Further, regular check ups with your vet will help to catch any issues or concerns early so they can be treated.

If your dog is exhibiting signs of kidney issues – like excessive drinking or urination – make sure you call your vet immediately to schedule an appointment. If you have concerns about your dog’s overall health, you can make a regular appointment for a check up.

Keeping an eye on your dog’s health will be key in catching any issues early, which is the best for full recovery from treatment. Symptoms of kidney issues can also be symptoms of other conditions, so it’s important to consult with your vet and express your concerns of your dog’s condition.

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