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Kidney Failure in Dogs: What To Look Out For

Kidney failure in dogs is a serious medical condition that requires veterinary expertise to diagnose, treat, and monitor. 

Kidney failure – or renal failure – can be fatal if left unchecked, so it’s important that owners act quickly to help their pet pup. Kidney failure in dogs can be acute or chronic, and it can have a number of underlying causes. Knowing what to look out for can save your dog’s life.

In this article, we examine what kidney failure in dogs is. We also list kidney failure in dog symptoms, and explore common treatments. 

What is Kidney Failure in Dogs? 

Kidney failure in dogs is thankfully rare, but when it does strike, it can be fatal. Kidneys serve the same purpose for dogs as they do for humans, and understanding this helps us to realize just how dangerous kidney failure is. 

Kidneys are vital, as they perform the essential bodily function of removing toxins from the bloodstream. Kidneys process dangerous chemicals, substances, and toxins and allow them to be removed from the body. These dangerous toxins are expelled from the body through urine. 

Kidneys help to regulate our blood, keeping it healthy while also releasing particular hormones that are needed elsewhere. Without kidneys, we can’t stay hydrated. The kidneys, then, allow the body as a whole to function effectively. 

Kidney failure (also referred to as renal failure) occurs when the kidneys can no longer process these toxins and remove them from the body. This leads to a dangerous build-up of toxins, which is deadly if not treated. 

There are two distinct types of kidney failure in dogs that owners need to be aware of:

  • Acute kidney failure
  • Chronic kidney failure

Acute kidney failure 

Acute kidney failure occurs rapidly (acutely), with symptoms setting in over a matter of a few hours. Acute kidney failure can occur in all dogs, no matter their age, as it’s generally caused by a foreign toxin, virus, or bacteria that cause kidney function to dramatically fail (rather than through the onset of kidney disease). 

Acute kidney failure in dogs requires urgent veterinary attention, but if treated quickly, the symptoms of kidney failure in dogs can be halted. Acute kidney failure can then be reversed and treated, with minor lasting damage. If not treated, impaired kidney function can quickly lead to lasting kidney damage or death. 

Chronic kidney failure

Chronic kidney failure occurs over the course of several years, and in the vast majority of cases, is seen in older rather than younger dogs. Unfortunately, kidneys can’t keep functioning forever, and as a dog ages, they can develop chronic kidney disease, eventually leading to kidney failure. 

Dogs with chronic kidney failure can be treated when symptoms emerge, and your dog can live with the disease for many years to come if the condition is well managed by you and your vet. Ultimately, though, treatments can often only slow down the process. 

Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

So what causes kidney failure in dogs, or chronic kidney disease? There are a wide range of underlying causes, while the severity and likelihood of survival also depend on how healthy your dog is when they experience kidney failure. Let’s take a look at the causes of kidney failure in more detail.

Causes of acute kidney failure

Acute kidney failure has an underlying cause that drastically impairs the proper function of the kidneys. These include:

  • Extreme dehydration
  • Heatstroke
  • Snake bites
  • Bacterial infections (particularly leptospirosis) 
  • Toxicosis (poisoning)
  • Overdose of medication 
  • Rat poison
  • Antifreeze

In hot weather, it’s incredibly important that you keep your dog hydrated. Over exercise in hot conditions can cause rapid kidney failure, even in healthy animals.

Owners also need to beware of snake bites and any other venomous creatures that dogs may chase or be bitten by. It’s also important that you doggie proof your home. Kidney failure can be caused by many over-the-counter medicines (such as paracetamol), which your dog may accidentally ingest if left lying around, while rat poison is a huge killer of pets. 

Causes of chronic kidney failure 

Chronic kidney failure occurs gradually, with symptoms progressing if left untreated and as the dog ages. Chronic kidney failure is usually related to underlying kidney disease or a medical condition. Common causes include:

  • Dental disease - a build-up of plaque from the teeth enters the bloodstream and damages kidneys over time. 
  • Congenital diseases - rare, often hereditary conditions that can cause kidney failure. 
  • Geriatric degeneration - the kidneys essentially break down over time, leading to chronic kidney disease as the dog ages. 

Bad dental hygiene is a surprisingly common cause of chronic kidney disease, as we often overlook our dog’s teeth and gums. Make sure you have them cleaned of plaque regularly (your vet can do this) to avoid dangerous build-ups that can enter the body. You can provide your dog with dental sticks or dental chews to help with everyday hygiene. 

Congenital diseases are more difficult to manage and can include everything from a missing kidney to chronic kidney disease. These often appear early in life and can be devastating if left unmanaged. 

Degeneration, however, is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease in dogs, and it’s simply a sign of old age. Not all dogs are affected as severely as others, but the older the dog, the more likely they are to sustain kidney failure as a result of degeneration. 

Signs of Kidney Failure in Dogs 

Owners need to be on the lookout for the many kidney failure in dogs symptoms. Symptoms can vary, depending on severity and whether or not your dog is suffering acute or chronic failure. The early signs of kidney failure are going to be less pronounced than the final stages of kidney failure in dogs, too. 

Symptoms might be obvious. If your dog is clearly dehydrated or has been visibly bitten, act quickly, and you can save them from kidney failure before the symptoms become dangerous, for instance. 

If your dog is experiencing more general symptoms, however, such as your dog peeing a lot with no obvious underlying causes, then it’s good practice to seek out veterinary expertise. In any and all cases where your dog appears to be suffering, take them to the vet. 

Owners need to look out for the following symptoms:

  • Drinking more or less water than usual
  • Dehydration
  • Lots of urination (changes in frequency and volume)
  • Apathy, lethargy, and disinterest
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Peeing blood
  • Dental disease (pale gums, smelly breath, ulcers)

What are the Final Stages of Kidney Failure in Dogs? 

Early symptoms of kidney disease include increased water consumption or excessive urination. However, symptoms will become more pronounced as the disease progresses, especially if left untreated. 

Later stages of the disease include an inability to eat, sudden weight loss, continued lethargy, and vomiting and diarrhea. 

What is the Treatment for Kidney Failure in Dogs? 

Before treatment, the vet first needs to diagnose your dog with kidney failure. While symptoms are a good indication that kidney disease may be present, they need to confirm this through blood tests and urine tests. 

They may also need to take a biopsy or subject your dog to x-rays or ultrasounds to determine the underlying cause of kidney disease if this is not apparent. Once the diagnosis is complete and the underlying cause has been identified, you can begin treatment. 

Treatments vary, of course, and depend on the severity of the condition.

Common treatments include the following:

  • IV Fluids
  • Medications
  • Temporary Feeding Tube
  • Careful Monitoring

It’s important to make your dog’s recovery as smooth as possible. Ensure they finish their course of medication, keep them well fed and hydrated, and monitor their condition. A bed ramp for dogs can assist your pet in climbing up and down on the couch or getting around the home while they are recovering.

If symptoms continue to persist, or their condition worsens, then take them back to your vet immediately. 

Kidney Failure in Dogs: The Last Word 

Kidney failure in dogs is a serious condition that can quickly prove to be fatal if left untreated. Kidney failure can be acute or chronic, but if diagnosed rapidly, treatments can be very effective at reversing or slowing down the condition. 

If your dog has any of the symptoms of kidney failure, then always take them to your vet for a thorough check-up – you could save their life!

If you’re worried about your dog’s health, then bookmark our guide to kidney failure for future reference. 

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