Renal Failure in Dogs – Causes and Symptoms

3 pitbull dogs walking side by side

Symptoms of renal failure in dogs can go unnoticed at the start of the disease process. Substantial damage to the kidneys need to occur before you will see signs. Remember, you can donate one kidney (50% of your total kidney function) to someone and still live a normal life. Once owners notice the signs of kidney disease in their dog, usually about 75% of the kidney function is already lost.

The Most Common Symptoms of Renal Failure in Dogs

  1. Increased drinking – This may not be noticed initially as some dogs are sneaky about where they drink. They may go to the toilet or start drinking from puddles to satisfy their thirst.
  2. Increased peeing – This is one of the great misconceptions people have about kidney failure. They believe that because their dog is producing large amounts of urine, the kidneys are working well. The exact opposite is actually true. The job of a kidney is to maintain a proper water balance in the body; it will allow less water out when we are dehydrated, and allow more out when we are overhydrated. Dogs with renal failure have kidneys that cannot concentrate their urine properly, allowing too much water to flow out of the body.
  3. Weight loss – A number of factors cause a dog with renal failure to lose weight. Nausea, reduced appetite, and changes in hormonal and metabolic factors due to the build-up of waste products in the blood are the most common causes. Weight loss is not seen in all patients.
  4. Poor hair-coat – This is sometimes seen because of long-term dehydration.
  5. Bad breath – Breath that smells like an outhouse can be seen in the advanced stages of renal failure in dogs. This is a result of the toxins that build up in the blood.

Common Causes Of Renal Failure In Dogs

  1. Infections – Bacterial, fungal, parasitic and viral infections of the kidney can all lead to renal failure in dogs. Certain areas of the world will be more at risk for these agents.
  2. Cancer – These can be cancers that start in the kidney or have spread to the kidney from another part of the body.
  3. Mineralization – This can occur due to nutritional imbalances, most commonly improperly balanced home cooked or RAW diets.
  4. Congenital abnormalities – Kidneys that are not properly formed may not be become a problem until later in life.
  5. Immune-mediated diseases – Inflammation and protein deposition in the kidney can cause renal failure in dogs. Some breeds such as the Shar Pei and Wheaton Terrier are at increased risk.
  6. Toxins – This can include anti-freeze, grapes, rattlesnake bites, and some medications like naproxen, to name a few.

Tests For Diagnosing Renal Failure In Dogs

Initial tests for dogs with suspected renal failure includedog blood work and urine analysis,and blood pressure. Other tests can include dog x-rays, which can help look for mineralization of the kidney and can give an overall impression of the size of the kidney. Ultrasound of the kidneys allows greater detail to be seen and can identify very early mineralization of the kidneys.

Treatment of Renal Failure In Dogs

Treatment of renal failure in dogs will depend on the stage of the disease. Medications that affect the kidney are stopped, and infections of the kidney are treated with antibiotics. High blood pressure is a common problem that develops in dogs with kidney disease. If the blood pressure is not initially high, it should be routinely checked as it could rise in the future.

If your dog is physically sick because of renal failure they will be hospitalized and intravenous fluids are used. Intravenous fluids help to flush out the toxins that failing kidney cannot remove. The hope with this treatment is that there is still some kidney function that is able to filter the blood. Other medications will be given to help treat the symptoms your dog is experiencing.

Diet is the backbone of treatment of stable dogs with renal failure. A diet with a high quality protein and restricted phosphorus level are keys to this diet. Veterinary diets that focus on medicinal and optimaldog nutritionare the most helpful for these patients as they are formulated specifically for renal patients.

Prognosis For Renal Failure In Dogs

If found early and the damage is not advanced, dogs with renal failure can live for a number of years. As the damage progresses the life expectancy decreases. In some cases, they may not survive more than a few days after diagnosis.

If you think your dog has signs of renal failurecall your veterinariannow. The sooner you receive the diagnosis, the sooner you will be able to help them.

Yours in health,

Dr. Kent Morley