Kidney Failure in Dogs – Causes, Signs, Treatment, and Prevention

Picture of a Pomeranian sitting on the floor

Kidney problems can affect dogs just as much as they can affect humans and a myriad of other mammals. Your Fido’s kidneys are in charge of maintaining the balance between certain substances in your pet’s blood. They filter out the body’s waste in the form of urine, and they also maintain the concentrations of salt and water in the body within normal limits. Furthermore, they play an important role when it comes to controlling blood pressure, and they also aid in sustaining phosphorus and calcium levels.

It’s easy to see that your dog’s kidneys are important and that their failure to function properly can affect a host of other physiological processes happening in your pet’s body. When your dog’s kidneys don’t work as they should, the first thing that happens is that toxins start to accumulate in the blood and the animal becomes ill.

Let’s look at some kidney failure facts, some of the most common causes, its symptoms, whether it can be treated, and what you can do to prevent it.

What Is Kidney Failure?

To understand how this disease works, we have to start with the definition. To put it simply, canine kidney failure is the inability of the organs to remove waste from the animal’s blood. This waste remains in the blood and gradually builds up, therefore resulting in uremia and as such, symptoms of kidney failure.

Kidney failure can happen gradually or can occur suddenly. That is why there are two types – acute and chronic. The acute manifestation happens suddenly and is reversible if it is diagnosed and treated in a timely fashion. On the other hand, the chronic type of kidney failure usually entails a slow decline, and unfortunately, this condition cannot be cured. It is, however, manageable thanks to medication. Chronic kidney failure is more common in dogs than acute kidney failure.

What are the causes?

Chronic kidney failure can be idiopathic, which means that it can be caused by aging. As in humans and other animals, dogs’ organs tend to become less capable as they grow older and some of their functionality might be lost. This a naturally occurring process.

Chronic kidney failure can be caused by other medical issues, however, such as cardiac pathologies, Lyme disease, as well as ureteral obstruction.

There are a host of congenital or hereditary conditions that can make your dog more prone to developing renal failure than others, and your veterinarian will let you know if this is the case upon performing a regular physical examination while your dog’s still a puppy.

Acute renal failure can be caused by the ingestion of antifreeze (ethylene glycol) and the prognosis, in this case, is poor, because most dogs don’t show symptoms until it is much too late for any treatment to be effective.

What are the symptoms?

As you might expect, some of the common signs your dog might show if he or she has kidney failure pertain to the urinary system. You might notice that your dog experiences increased urination and a couple of ‘accidents’ here and there or on the contrary, your dog might fail to urinate or might not urinate enough. Some dogs can also experience increased thirst, lethargy, as well as decreased appetite.

If you notice that your dog has bad breath (especially if it smells like ammonia), diarrhea, weight loss, and weakness, you need to take your canine buddy to the vet as soon as possible. Ammoniacal breath occurs once the urea has reached a dangerous level in your dog’s blood flow, and from then on, it’s only a matter of days or even hours before it starts building up in your dog’s lungs or worse, nervous system.

Can Kidney Failure Be Treated?

The answer to this question is that it depends on several factors. We’ve already mentioned that chronic kidney failure is not treatable – but that doesn’t mean that it is fatal (at least, not right away). Especially when it comes to an aging dog, you can successfully and conveniently handle the medical condition through the use of medication. Some of our canine friends affected by chronic renal failure can live for months and even years after being diagnosed provided that they receive the right care.

Acute kidney failure is reversible if the treatment is administered shortly after the disease was caused. For example, in cases where accidental poisoning seems to be the culprit, the dog might have to receive specific antidotes. On the other hand, if an infection is suspected (and later on, confirmed), your dog might have to receive treatment with antibiotics.

Dialysis could be performed, as well, and that’s because the procedure helps remove the toxins from the animal’s blood. Acute kidney failure can be fatal if the dog receives no treatment, and fast. That’s the difference between chronic and acute renal failure – while the first is terminal, it is not immediately fatal.


Is there something you can do to make sure that your dog never has to suffer from kidney failure? Unfortunately, one cause of the disease that you can’t prevent is aging, but there are many things that you can do to make sure that your canine friend’s kidneys are in good health at all times.

You can ensure that he or she gets plenty of water to drink, especially if it’s hot outside and even more so after physical exercise. However, we would like to advise you to give your dog water in small amounts following strenuous exercise because large quantities can cause bloat (especially in big dogs).

If your dog is over the age of eight, it is a good idea to take him or her to the vet once or even twice a year for a regular checkup. This routine can prevent the occurrence and development of many medical issues, not just renal failure.

Avoid storing antifreeze anywhere your dog might have access to it. In case you didn’t know, it is sweet and it has an unusual consistency that might appeal to some animals – that’s why the number of accidental poisonings is high in dogs.

Finally, don’t breed dogs that have a history of kidney failure, especially hereditary ones.


Kidney failure can be caused by a host of factors. The acute manifestation can be treated when it is diagnosed very fast, but it can also be fatal if the dog does not receive treatment in due time. Chronic renal failure can be managed thanks to medication, but it is a terminal disease – so it will cause your dog’s death at some point, especially if it is caused by aging.

There are some ways you can prevent this medical problem, some of which are by making sure that your dog drinks enough water, by taking him or her to the vet for regular checkups, and by avoiding storing toxic substances within your canine companion’s reach.

Because the treatment can be quite expensive, we would recommend getting pet insurance to avoid having to deal with the extreme expenses of an emergency visit to the vet’s office.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Table of Contents