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Renal Failure in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Renal failure (kidney failure) in dogs can have numerous causes. In this post, our Flat Rock vets share some facts about causes, symptoms and treatment of renal failure in dogs.

What is renal failure in dogs?

Renal failure (also referred to as kidney failure) can be caused by many conditions that negatively affect the health and functioning of the kidneys and its related organs.

A healthy dog’s kidneys work to regulate hydration, release hormones required to produce red blood cells, remove toxins and maintain a normal balance of electrolytes. If a dog experiences kidney failure, the kidneys no longer perform these functions efficiently.

While kidney problems can be concerning for any pet owner, don’t lose hope if your veterinarian has diagnosed your pup with a kidney issue that may lead to kidney failure. Depending on the circumstances, there may be measures you and your veterinarian can take to prolong your pet’s life. Here’s what you should know.

There are two types of renal failure in dogs:

Acute Renal Failure

Most commonly associated with toxins or infections, acute renal failure causes kidney function to suddenly decline (in hours or days).

Chronic Renal Failure

This type of kidney failure involves more gradual loss of kidney function (over weeks, months or years). Degeneration associated with geriatric decline is often to blame. While all kidneys have a natural lifespan, some dogs’ kidneys will, unfortunately, deteriorate more quickly than others.

Causes of Kidney Failure

Any disease that impacts the kidneys can cause kidney failure. These conditions include:

Geriatric Degeneration

Cells in ageing kidneys often decline and die. This is the most common cause of kidney

disease in dogs.

Congenital Disease

From abnormal development and cysts to agenesis (being born without one or both kidneys) there are a number of inherited conditions that can lead to abnormal kidney function.

Bacterial Infections

These can be transmitted by swimming in or drinking contaminated water. This type of infection can cause the kidneys to become inflamed and renal cells to be destroyed.


Also referred to as kidney poisoning, toxicosis can damage the kidneys’ cells and happens when your dog ingests poisons (such as chocolate or antifreeze) or drugs (such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen). These are just some of the many common household items that should be kept out of the reach of your dog’s curious paws.

Any condition that causes the kidneys to stop functioning properly is referred to as kidney or renal disease in dogs, and may vary significantly in severity. While damage is in progress, there is still functional tissue left. Renal failure is far more serious, as the kidneys have stopped working altogether.

Stages of Renal Failure in Dogs

The elevation of blood waste product and abnormalities in urine, including the presence of protein, can indicate the severity of chronic kidney disease.

According to the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS), stages of chronic renal disease are numbered 1 through 4 (with four being the most severe). The higher the stage number, the more symptoms you’ll often see in your pet. It’s best if some treatments are started when the pet is at a specific stage of chronic kidney disease.

Median survival time for dogs in Stage 1 is more than 400 days, while Stage 2 ranged from 200 to 400 days and Stage 3 ranged from 110 to 200 days.

End-Stage Renal Disease in Dogs

Chronic kidney disease is progressive, and there is no cure. By the time an animal shows signs of the disease, damage is severe. The nephrons (microscopic units in the kidneys) that remain are working hard to compensate for the nephrons lost to damage or age. In time, these remaining nephrons will also fail.

As the disease progresses prognosis worsens and survival time decreases with each stage. Median survival time for Stage 4 kidney disease ranges from 14 to 80 days, according to IRIS.

Symptoms of Renal Disease & Renal Failure in Dogs

As noted above, chronic kidney disease is kidney disease that has been present for months or years. Signs of chronic disease in dogs can vary from subtle and slowly progressive to severe. They may sometimes appear suddenly and commonly include:

  • Drinking too much and producing large volumes of urine
  • General depression associated with elevation of waste products in blood
  • Overall weakness caused by low potassium in the blood
  • Increased volume of urine in the bladder

By the time a dog experiences renal failure, the disease has advanced and you may notice such signs as:

  • Blood in urine
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Intestinal seizures
  • Significant weight loss
  • Drunken behavior or uncoordinated movement such as stumbling
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Vomiting

By the time a dog experiences renal failure, the disease has advanced and you may notice Your vet can examine your dog to determine whether kidney issues or other problems such as diabetes mellitus are causing the symptoms. Factors to be considered may include the type of renal failure your dog may be experiencing, the extend of loss of function in the kidneys, progression of the condition and its underlying causes.

Treatment & Prognosis for Renal Failure in Dogs

Your veterinarian will perform diagnostic blood and urine tests to detect the presence of any abnormalities. While a diagnosis of renal disease or failure can usually be made based on physical examination, in addition to the blood and urine tests. Other tests may also be performed to check for underlying causes for renal disease and/or to discover which stage of renal disease your dog is experiencing.

Severity of symptoms will determine appropriate treatments, which may include IV fluids, though if the disease is extremely severe your pooch may not respond to treatment. Aggressive treatments may include hospitalization for fluid therapy, dialysis or a kidney transplant.

Keep in mind that chronic renal disease cannot be cured. Prognosis is associated with severity of disease. As your dog progresses through stages of renal disease, survival time is likely to grow shorter.

The treatments are intended to reduce the work the kidneys are required to perform, to replace substances such as potassium and to reduce accumulating wastes. Your dog’s initial response to conservative therapy may be relatively slow — it may take weeks or months to see progress. Your vet may also suggest changes in diet to improve your pet’s quality of life and potentially limit the progression of disease, leading to a longer lifespan.

Can a dog recover from renal failure?

There are some significant differences between acute and chronic kidney failure. While many instances of acute kidney failure can be reversed if treated early and aggressively, chronic kidney failure can only be managed with consistent veterinary care.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Both urinary tract infections and feline lower urinary tract infections require immediate veterinary care. Contact our Flat Rock vets at Western Carolina Regional Animal Hospital & Veterinary Emergency Hospital today to book an appointment for your cat.

Renal Failure in Dogs, Flat Rock Vet

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