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Renal (Kidney) Failure in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

Written by aslmad.yaz

Renal or kidney failure in dogs happens when the kidneys are no longer able to properly filter nitrogen and other waste from the bloodstream. It’s imperative to learn the signs of kidney dysfunction, along with the causes and treatments, in order to know how best to help your dog if they begin showing any symptoms. An early diagnosis can be key in protecting your pup’s long-term outcome.

Acute versus chronic kidney failure

Kidney failure can be an acute condition that appears suddenly with severe symptoms or it can be a chronic condition that appears over time. In the latter case, symptoms may be mild and gradually worsen until they are noticeable. Whereas, in acute renal failure, a dog’s symptoms tend to progress quickly. This form of the condition can be the result of exposure to toxins, severe kidney infection, or other causes.

On the other hand, chronic renal failure in dogs (CRF) can be caused by kidney disease, a urinary blockage, genetics, and other factors. If you see the signs of acute or chronic kidney failure in your dog, then you must get to a veterinarian right away for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Accordingly, we’ve compiled what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for both acute and chronic kidney failure in dogs.

Symptoms of renal failure in dogs

Goldendoodle dog acting lethargic, lying on wood floor, sad, depressed, and with an empty water bowl from extreme thirst.
(Photo credit: Oscar Wong / Getty Images)

The symptoms of acute and chronic renal failure in dogs are similar in nature, though they vary in both severity and how quickly the onset of symptoms present.

Dogs who suffer from chronic renal failure may not show any signs or symptoms may be so mild that they’re unnoticeable at first. Over time, signs of kidney dysfunction gradually get worse as the condition progresses.

Conversely, symptoms of acute renal failure come on suddenly and severely, are very noticeable, and require immediate emergency treatment.

If you see any of the following signs of kidney failure in your dog, then get to your veterinarian immediately:

Causes of renal failure in dogs

A male driver wearing gloves pours antifreeze into the tank to spray the windshield during a snowstorm.
(Photo credit: SimpleImages / Getty Images)

There are several possible causes of acute and chronic renal failure in dogs.

Acute renal failure often happens when dogs are exposed to poison or toxins. This is especially true during winter months when dogs have access to antifreeze, increasing their odds of suffering from ethylene glycol toxicity and uremia. Toxic foods, certain drugs, poisonous plants, other chemicals, and snake or insect bites — as well as stings — are also potential causes of poisoning that can lead to acute renal failure.

Acute renal failure can be caused by severe infection, especially one stemming from the Leptospira bacteria, which is acquired from drinking water contaminated by infected animals.

Anaphylactic shock, injury, heart failure, blood clots, Addison’s disease, pancreatitis, liver failure, high or low blood pressure, Lyme disease, urinary tract rupture, or several other conditions may also cause acute renal failure in dogs. Anything that decreases blood flow through the kidneys is a potential cause.

Chronic renal failure in dogs can be caused by multiple instances of acute renal failure. Albeit, sometimes the condition is just a consequence of age, as the kidneys suffer from usual wear and tear. Oftentimes, it results from kidney disease, a blockage of the urinary tract such as bladder or kidney stones, use of certain prescription medications, or genetic factors.

Some breeds have a predisposition to chronic renal failure, including Bull Terriers, Cairn Terriers, English Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, and Samoyeds.

Treatments for renal failure in dogs

Sick, golden colored small dog lying on exam room table receiving IV fluids after presenting with signs for kidney dysfunction and renal failure
(Photo credit: chinaface / Getty Images)

Treatment for acute renal failure and chronic renal failure in dogs usually begins with intravenous fluids to help remove toxic waste from the blood, improve hydration, and slow progression of the condition.

Dogs who don’t respond to intravenous fluids may also need dialysis or hemodialysis. The veterinarian may temporarily put in a feeding tube for dogs who suffer from extreme loss of appetite.

Antacids such as famotidine, ranitidine, or omeprazole may be given to dogs to help with diarrhea and vomiting. If it is suspected that the condition is the result of toxin ingestion, then activated charcoal may be given to bind the substance and help to remove it from the body through feces, urine, or vomit.

Generally, dogs who go through renal failure need dietary changes so they consume less protein, phosphorus, and sodium. They may need elevated levels of potassium and fatty acids added to their diets.

The prognosis for dogs with diagnosed kidney failure

The prognosis for treatment varies, as does the extent of treatment. Both are dependent upon the cause of your dog’s renal failure and the severity of their condition. Moreover, your dog and their health, temperament, will to survive, and overall resilience are just as important in predicting your pup’s outcome. Once you notice signs of kidney dysfunction in your dog, it’s important to act swiftly — preventing or minimizing potential further damage to your dog’s renal system. Your vet will prescribe the best course of action based on your dog’s specific needs.

Remember, your proactive response and unwavering support of your furry friend can help ensure they are able to adapt to any necessary life changes. In doing so, you can give your pup the best odds of being able to enjoy a long, healthy life by your side.

Be sure to bone up on other causes of kidney disease in dogs — including Fanconi Syndrome — as well as how the disease can cause proteinuria, or excess protein in your pup’s urine. It’s also important to understand how to adjust your dog’s diet after they are diagnosed. Lastly, safeguard against other potential dangers to your pooch by learning about hidden toxins in your home.


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