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Kidney Failure in Dogs

What Is Kidney Failure in Dogs?

Kidney failure in dogs occurs when the kidneys, responsible for filtering waste products and regulating fluid and nutrient levels, are unable to perform their functions adequately. This leads to a buildup of waste in the bloodstream and excessive passing of fluid, proteins, and electrolytes in urine. Consequently, dogs may develop ulcerations in their digestive tract due to the accumulation of waste products in their blood and tissues.

The condition may be referred to using various terms such as renal failure, renal insufficiency, kidney disease, or chronic kidney disease (CKD). Chronic kidney disease is often characterized by a gradual onset or a prolonged period of kidney dysfunction, whereas acute renal failure occurs suddenly, often triggered by toxin ingestion or severe infections.

While changes associated with aging pets are commonly attributed to chronic kidney disease, it’s important to note that kidney damage from past toxic exposure can also lead to chronic kidney disease later on.


Symptoms of kidney failure in dogs include increased water intake (polydipsia), more frequent urination (polyuria), urinary accidents in house-trained pets, decreased energy levels, refusal to eat, vomiting, drooling, changes in bowel movements (diarrhea or constipation), weight loss, mouth sores, bad breath, and weakness.


Causes of kidney failure in dogs can stem from various factors. It may result from acute events such as toxin ingestion or infections damaging the kidneys, progressive degenerative changes over time, or underlying medical conditions that harm renal tissues, possibly influenced by genetic predispositions in certain dog breeds.

Specific causes encompass:

  • Ingested toxins:
      • Ethylene glycol (found in antifreeze)
      • Grapes or raisins
      • Human medications like ibuprofen or naproxen
      • Overdose of canine medications such as carprofen or meloxicam
  • Metabolic diseases:
      • Fanconi syndrome
      • Diabetes mellitus
      • Diabetes insipidus
      • Hypertension
  • Kidney infections:
      • Lyme disease
      • Leptospirosis
  • Autoimmune diseases:
      • Lupus
      • Immune-mediated glomerulonephritis
  • Cancers:
    • Lymphoma
    • Renal adenocarcinoma

Certain breeds have a predisposition to inherited renal failure, including:

  • Bull Terriers
  • English Cocker Spaniels
  • Cairn Terriers
  • German Shepherds
  • Samoyeds
  • Shih Tzus
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Alaskan Malamutes


To diagnose kidney failure in dogs, veterinarians typically conduct various tests alongside a physical examination, including:

  • Complete blood count
  • Chemistry panel
  • Urinalysis with culture
  • Abdominal ultrasound


Treatment for kidney failure in dogs depends on the severity of the condition and whether it is acute or chronic. For acute kidney disease, hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy are typically administered to support the kidneys in eliminating waste products. Depending on the cause, medications for decontamination, toxin-binding, antibiotics, or gastrointestinal support may be prescribed. In severe cases, renal dialysis, although rare and available only in specialized veterinary facilities, may be necessary to aid the kidneys.

Chronic kidney disease necessitates careful home management. Dogs should have constant access to water and be encouraged to drink. Many benefit from a prescription kidney diet. Some may require medications to regulate high blood pressure or protect the stomach. Regular veterinary visits are crucial for monitoring renal function. Some dogs may need injectable fluids at home or periodic hospitalization to manage fluid balance.

Living and Management

Recovery and management of kidney failure in dogs vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. For acute kidney failure, prognosis depends on factors such as the cause, disease severity, extent of kidney damage, treatment effectiveness, and the dog’s response to therapy. It can range from favorable to guarded.

In cases of chronic renal failure, long-term prognosis is generally poor. Most dogs succumb to the disease or are euthanized within a year due to compromised quality of life.

Families of dogs with kidney disease should anticipate close monitoring and frequent veterinary visits, especially as the condition progresses. These dogs are prone to dehydration as their kidneys struggle to maintain water balance. Any signs of infection, vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite or activity should be promptly addressed to prevent worsening of the disease.

Kidney Failure in Dogs FAQs

How does kidney failure differ from kidney disease?

Kidney disease is a general term encompassing any issue affecting the kidneys. Kidney failure specifically refers to a condition where the kidneys are unable to adequately filter waste products and regulate fluid levels.

Is kidney failure fatal in dogs?

The outcome of kidney failure in dogs varies depending on the severity and advancement of the condition.

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