Signs of Organ Failure in Dogs

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Organ failure can happen for several reasons ranging from medications to life-threatening events (such as trauma that a dog has sustained).

In today’s article, we’re looking at some of the symptoms that can be expected in case of organ failure and breaking them down depending on each organ in part.

Why Does Organ Failure Happen in Dogs?

Organ failure can be caused by specific diseases, such as leptospirosis, parvo, or other infectious viral or bacterial conditions. But it can also be caused by shock, incidents such as being hit by a car, insect or snake bites, very severe allergic reactions, and other such factors.

Organ failure also puts a dog’s life at risk, and if they do not receive veterinary assistance right away, they will die.

The therapy for organ failure involves using specific medication that can sustain that organ’s function for as long as possible. In some cases, the animal might have to be ventilated or receive food through an IV. Cats and dogs diagnosed with any kind of organ failure are kept under observation at the animal hospital for at least several days (if not weeks), so having pet insurance can be pretty helpful in this case.

Liver failure

A dog’s liver is an extremely important organ not only for their digestion but also for filtering out any toxins that the animal might have accidentally ingested.

Signs of liver failure can range from vomiting and diarrhea to weight loss, icterus (jaundice), and severe dehydration.

Unfortunately, liver failure is one of the most common types that dogs can develop as a result of being given certain medications. Some drugs have serious side effects, and a dog can develop hepatitis or liver failure after being administered antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications such as glucocorticoids.

Since everything basically goes through the liver, every toxic substance that your dog might have eaten can cause liver failure.

Kidney failure

The kidneys are two organs that also filter out what goes into your dog’s body, so that’s why they can suffer severely when your pooch accidentally eats something poisonous.

Kidney failure is different compared to other types in that it has two forms – acute and chronic. The acute one is usually dangerous because the dog can lose their life if they are not treated for it, and it causes symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, and changes in urination and water intake.

The chronic form is something that develops over time, but this can also be quite dangerous as, by the time it has reached its worse state, the condition might be impossible to treat. In this case, the dog would show symptoms such as weight loss, changes in their drinking and urinating habits, and a different breath smell (like acetone or another chemical substance).

Although the term kidney failure automatically makes you think of something very severe and potentially impossible to treat (and that’s true to some extent since once the functioning unit of the kidney, the glomerulus, is affected, the organ becomes useless), it actually depends on each dog in part.

If a dog loses the function of only one kidney, but the other one is perfectly healthy (it’s rare, but it can happen), they can live with kidney failure for many years to come.

Heart failure

If your dog’s suffering from a serious heart condition (and most are, since we only have one heart), the most common symptoms that they’ll experience are mostly related to their respiratory system.

It might sound weird since people can expect their dogs to show other signs, but the truth is that heart failure is typically associated with edema, and lung edema is the most common one. If your dog’s lungs become filled with fluids, they are going to express some sort of respiratory distress.

Other dogs can be feeble as a result of having low blood pressure. After all, the heart becomes incapable of pumping enough blood, which means that it’s logical for the blood pressure levels to drop.

There are some medications that your veterinarian can recommend depending on the exact heart issue that your dog has developed. If you have a senior dog, you should take them to the vet at least twice a year to make sure they don’t develop heart failure.

Pancreatic failure

The pancreas is perhaps one of the most underrated organs in a dog’s body. But the truth is that pancreatic failure is also deadly since there is no other organ that has the same functions as this one.

The pancreas plays two roles – an exocrine and an endocrine one. The exocrine part of the organ secretes digestive enzymes that make it possible for your dog’s body to absorb nutrients from their food and release any waste that results from the process. Although the pancreas produces several enzymes, they’re generally known as ‘pancreatin’.

The endocrine pancreas is involved in the production of insulin. Actually, it is the only organ that produces insulin, so therefore, the only organ that effectively regulates your dog’s blood sugar levels.

In terms of the signs that a pet can show when they have pancreatic failure, they can be varied. The dog might experience nausea, might vomit, or might suffer from diarrhea, and might also experience severe pain in the center of the abdomen – this is because the pancreas is located in the middle of the intestines.

Severe pancreatic failure is oftentimes incompatible with life in both animals and humans, so getting early treatment is extremely important.

Lung failure

Although it is not necessarily known by this name, lung failure can also happen in dogs. The more common term would be ARDS, as in Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.

ARDS can be caused by infections, pancreatitis, or pneumonia, but it can also be the consequence of the dog having gone through an accident where one of their lungs was pierced by a blunt object, for example.

When a dog develops lung failure, they might show symptoms such as the following:

  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Color changes of the visible mucous membranes (gums, conjunctiva) – they turn blue as a result of the lack of oxygen in the bloodstream
  • Coughing or other types of respiratory distress

Take your dog to the vet right away if you notice any of these signs.


Most of these potentially life-threatening conditions can be prevented if you make a habit of taking your canine friend to the vet clinic every year. Adults have to be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year, but seniors are more likely to develop chronic diseases that can quickly and radically become more severe, so they have to be examined more frequently (every 3 to 6 months).



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