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Signs, Symptoms & Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Our specialist vets at Veterinary Medical And Surgical Group in Orange County have experience in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney failure in dogs. Today we explain a little about kidney failure, including the signs that pet parents should watch for, and a few of the causes of this potentially life threatening condition.

Kidney Failure (also called Renal Failure)

Kidney failure (also referred to as renal failure), may be caused by a number of conditions that impact the kidneys and related organs. When your dog's kidneys are healthy they work to eliminate toxins, regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance and release hormones to produce red blood cells. If your dog experiences kidney failure the kidneys are no longer performing their function efficiently. 

Types of Kidney Failure Seen in Dogs

There are two broad categories of kidney failure seen in dogs:

Chronic renal failure

  • A gradual loss of kidney function (over weeks, months or years), is referred to as chronic renal failure. Chronic kidney failure in dogs is typically caused by degeneration associated with aging. While every dog's kidneys have a lifespan, some dogs’ experience deterioration faster than others. While it is unlikely that your pet will fully recover from chronic renal failure, this condition can often be managed successfully for a number of months or years.

Acute Renal Failure

  • If your dog's kidney function suddenly decreases (within hours or days), it is known as acute renal failure. Typically this form of kidney failure is caused by an infection or exposure to toxins. When diagnosed and treated early this form of kidney failure can often cured.

Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Any condition that affects the kidneys can lead to renal failure including:

  • Congenital disease - This category includes underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions such as agenesis (being born without one or both kidneys) and 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 - The ingestion of poisons or toxins can lead to cell damage within the dog's kidneys.
  • Dental disease - If bacteria builds up on the teeth and gums it may lead to advanced dental disease. At that point bacteria can make its way into the blood stream and attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the kidneys as well as the dog's heart and liver.
  • Geriatric degeneration - As your dog ages, cells can break down and die. This happens all over the body, including the kidneys where it can lead to kidney disease and renal failure.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

If your dog is suffering from kidney failure you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
  • 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

A fast and accurate diagnosis is essential for achieving good treatment outcomes. If your dog is displaying any of the above symptoms make an appointment to see your vet immediately.

When diagnosing whether your dog's symptoms are related to kidney failure or another disease such as diabetes mellitus, your vet will consider the extent of loss of kidney function, the progression of the condition, and the severity of your dog's symptoms.

Treatment for Dogs with Kidney Failure

As with many other conditions, your dog's treatment for kidney failure will be determined by your pet’s overall health and the underlying cause of their kidney problems.

If your pet is suffering from acute kidney failure, urgent and intensive treatment will be required, often in intensive care at your animal hospital. When spotted early, milder cases of acute renal failure may be treated with fluids, antibiotics and medications on an outpatient schedule. Dialysis, although costly, can also be an effective treatment for acute renal failure in dogs.

Treatment for dogs diagnosed with chronic kidney failure will primarily focus on slowing the progression of the disease and looking at ways to improve quality of life for the your dog. Symptoms of chronic kidney disease including nausea, fluid imbalances, and blood pressure fluctuations may be treated with medications and/or changes to your dog's diet.

Dogs being treated successfully for chronic kidney failure can go on to enjoy a good quality of life for years (some indications are up to four years). To help manage your dog's condition, and improve your dog's quality of life, specific nutrients, nutritional supplements or a therapeutic diet may be recommended.

Preventing Kidney Failure in Dogs

Acute kidney failure is often caused when dogs consume toxins, tainted foods or foods they shouldn’t ingest, such as grapes or chocolate. To help prevent your dog from developing acute kidney failure, pay particular attention to the products in your home that are potentially poisonous to your dog. Keep toxic substances such as antifreeze, medications and potentially harmful foods well out of your dog's reach.

Chronic kidney failure is typically age-related and predetermined by genetics, making it much more difficult to prevent. That said, regular wellness exams twice yearly at your primary care veterinarian's office will help to increase the chances detecting symptoms early so that treatment can begin before the condition becomes more severe.

If you think that your dog may be suffering from kidney failure, contact your vet for immediate assistance. Any time you are unable to reach your primary care veterinarian contact Veterinary Medical And Surgical Group–OC (VMSG-OC) in Orange County for emergency veterinary care. We are here to offer urgent veterinary care to your pet 24/7.

New Patients Welcome

Veterinary Medical And Surgical Group–OC (VMSG-OC) accepts new clients to our specialty services and 24/7 emergency services.

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Contact (949) 201-4100