Kidney Failure (Renal Failure) in Dogs

Kidney failure (renal failure) can be caused in dogs in a number of ways. In today's blog our vets at Stage Road Animal Hospital in Memphis explain a bit about the causes and treatment of kidney failure in dogs, as well as the signs and symptoms that could indicate that your dog is suffering from kidney failure.

What is kidney failure in dogs?

Kidney failure (also referred to as renal failure), may be caused by a number of conditions that impact the health and functioning of the kidneys and related organs.

If your dog's kidneys are healthy they work to eliminate toxins, regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance and release hormones required to produce red blood cells. On the other hand, when 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:

  • 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.

When it comes to kidney failure in dogs, the main difference between the acute and chronic conditions is that while acute kidney failure is often reversible if diagnosed early and treated intensively, chronic kidney failure cannot typically be reversed, only be managed.

Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Any disease that affects the kidneys can cause the kidneys to fail. 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 in or drinks 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 blood stream 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.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs

If your dog is experiencing acute or chronic 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

Whether your dog's kidney failure is directly related to the health of the kidneys or is being caused by an underlying condition may be determined by the type of kidney failure your dog is experiencing, the extent of loss of function in the kidneys, and the progression of the condition.

Treatment for Kidney Failure in Dogs

Treatment for kidney failure will be based upon your pet’s overall health and the underlying cause of their kidney problems.

If your dog suffers from acute kidney failure, immediate and intensive treatment will be required, often 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 be an effective way to treat acute kidney failure in dogs.

If your dog is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, your vet will primarily focus on slowing down the progression of the disease and looking at ways to improve quality of life for the your pup. 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 years (some indications are up to four years). To help manage your dog's condition your vet may recommend specific nutrients, nutritional supplements or a therapeutic diet for your pet.

Preventing Kidney Failure in Dogs

Acute kidney failure is often caused when dogs accidentally 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 be sure to remove potential toxins such as antifreeze, medications and potentially harmful foods out of your pup's reach.

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

If your dog is showing symptoms of kidney failure, contact our vets at Stage Road Animal Hospital in Memphis. Our compassionate vets have experience in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney failure in pets.

Kidney failure in dogs, Memphis Vet

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