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Kidney Failure in Dogs - Signs, Symptoms & Causes

While relatively uncommon, kidney or renal failure is a condition that could affect your dog. Today our vets in Crystal Lake discuss the signs and symptoms of kidney failure in dogs, as well as what the most common causes and treatments are.

What is kidney failure in dogs and how does it happen?

Kidney failure (also referred to as renal failure), can potentially be caused by a number of conditions that not only affect the kidneys but also the other related organs. Healthy kidneys work to eliminate toxins from your dog's body, regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance and release hormones required to produce red blood cells. When your dog experiences kidney failure their body is no longer able to function properly.

What are the different types of kidney failure in dogs?

If a dog experiences kidney failure it will fall into one of these categories:

  • 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 main difference between acute and chronic kidney failure in dogs is that while it is possible for acute kidney failure to be reversible if diagnosed early and treated intensively, it is only possible for chronic kidney failure to be managed.

What are the usual causes of kidney failure in dogs?

It is possible for any disease that affects the kidneys to cause failure. 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 bloodstream 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.

Common symptoms of kidney failure

Some of the symptoms that your dog may experience if suffering from kidney failure are:
  • 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, 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.

What are the treatment options for kidney failure in dogs?

As with many other conditions, the potential treatment for kidney failure in your dog will be dependent on your pet’s overall health and the underlying cause of kidney failure as well as the type of kidney failure they are experiencing. If your dog suffers from acute kidney failure, immediate and intensive 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 it is chronic kidney failure that your dog is experiencing, your vet will most likely focus on slowing down the disease’s progression and look at ways to ensure that your dog continues to live comfortably while managing this condition. 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 potentially up to 4 more years after diagnosis. 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.

Is there any way to prevent my dog from suffering kidney failure?

One of the most common causes of acute kidney failure is due to dogs consuming toxins, tainted foods or foods they shouldn’t ingest, such as grapes or chocolate. In order to help prevent your dog from developing acute kidney failure, be sure to take a look around 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 of 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 are concerned that your dog may be experiencing kidney failure, contact your vet for assistance. If you are unable to reach your regular vet for whatever reason, our emergency veterinary team is here to help. Contact our Crystal Lake veterinarians today for emergency veterinary care.

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Companion Animal Specialty and Emergency Hospital is accepting new patients! Our specialists and experienced emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to animal companions in Crystal Lake.

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