Kidney Failure in Dogs: Signs & Causes


You probably don’t realize it, but your dog’s kidneys are much like your own kidneys. Healthy kidneys are used to dissolve, filter, and expel toxins in the body every time your dog pees. Just like your body produces toxins all day long, your dog’s body does too.

When a dog has healthy kidneys, they produce a urine that is highly concentrated. This means that copious amounts of toxins are being flushed and filtered through your dog’s kidneys, using (by comparison) a small amount of water. However, with a diseased kidney that is no longer functioning properly, increasing amounts of water are required to excrete the same amount of toxins.

When your dog seems to become overly thirsty without satiation, it can be a sign that their kidneys are damaged. Your dog’s increased thirst is because your dog is unable to keep up with drinking the amount of water needed to flush out the toxins. As a result, toxin levels elevate within the bloodstream.

Unfortunately, when your dog’s kidneys begin to fail, it means they are unable to remove waste at all. This is called renal or kidney failure. There are two forms of kidney failure dogs can suffer from, labeled acute or chronic. It is thought that about 9 in every 1,000 dogs examined suffer from chronic renal disease. It is most commonly seen in older dogs, but can still be seen in dogs of any age.

Unfortunately, when kidneys fail, it is very serious. Your dog’s kidneys help to regulate things like blood sugar, blood volume, blood pressure, blood and water composition, pH levels, and it also produces certain hormones as well as red blood cells.

However, kidney failure can happen slowly, and this can make the condition difficult to treat effectively, because by the time the symptoms have become evident, it is too late. Often a dog’s kidneys find ways to compensate for function losses, which makes it all the harder to recognize signs and symptoms early.

Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

There are many causes of kidney failure in dogs, including but not limited to:

causes of kidney failure in dogs

The most common causes of kidney disease are things such as:

  • Your pets age
  • Trauma
  • Inflammation
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • Parasites
  • Fungal, viral, and bacterial infections
  • Toxicity related to poisons or medications
  • Genetics or inherited disorders
  • Kidney stones can also cause kidney problems, infections, and more

the most common causes of kidney disease in dogs

Does Kidney Failure Affect Certain Breeds More?

Dog breeds that are most likely to experience renal failure or renal diseases are Bull Terriers, German Shepherds, English Cocker Spaniels, and Samoyeds.

what breeds are most likely to develop kidney disease

Types of Kidney Failure in Dogs

There are two types of kidney failure, labeled as acute kidney failure and chronic kidney failure. Acute kidney failure means that your pet’s kidney failure occurs suddenly. This is usually caused by severe dehydration, a urinary obstruction, or due to poison ingestion, such as ingesting human medications, anti-freeze, or toxic plants. A very strong bacterial infection can also cause kidney failure.

Sometimes a dog may have other health concerns that can cause kidney failure due to decreased blood flow to the kidneys, such as during a surgical procedure, because of heatstroke, or related to heart disease.

Chronic renal failure, on the other hand, is a slow and insidious process that usually manifests over months and sometimes even years. This is the type of failure most common in elderly dogs. Unfortunately, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is not typically reversible, especially when due to aging. By comparison, the damage done by acute kidney failure can be reversible if treated quickly enough.

types of kidney failure in dogs

chronic kidney failure

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs

As stated, your dog can suffer from acute renal failure or chronic renal failure. Some symptoms for acute renal failure are:

Symptoms come on quickly and severely, without much warning. You should treat acute renal failure as an emergency because it is life-threatening, and to save your dog’s life, quick action is necessary.

Some signs of chronic kidney failure are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Bloodied urine
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced red blood cell production, causing anemia
  • Urinating at night
  • Decreased urination
  • Increased urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dehydration
  • Bad breath
  • Ulcers of the mouth
  • Lackluster coat
  • Reluctance to move
  • A hunched posture
  • Fluid retention in the abdomen and legs
  • Painful kidneys
  • Smaller or larger than normal kidneys

Sometimes your dog may even show slight changes in their bone structure by developing a swelling along the upper jaw which is due to imbalances in their bodies.

Unlike acute kidney failure, chronic renal failure happens much more slowly, occurring over the course of months and sometimes years. This condition is typically seen in older dogs, and usually by the time the symptoms have become obvious the condition is much harder to treat.

During chronic kidney failure, your dog’s organs stop functioning optimally, leading to slow degeneration. Other signs and symptoms of kidney failure in dogs are sudden changes in your dog’s health and well-being. If your dog begins to act sick very suddenly, this could be related to kidney failure and you should see your vet immediately.

Treatments for Kidney Failure in Dogs

A staple treatment for dogs suffering from kidney failure is fluid therapy. Because of the large amount of water that is passed out of the body when a dog’s kidneys are in distress, dehydration is common. Fluids are intended to help combat the problem of dehydration.

Withholding access to clean water because your pet may feel the need to pee a lot during the night could cause more damage than you think. Your dog needs access to fresh water around the clock, but this is especially true if your dog suffers from kidney problems.

Another important aspect of treating an animal experiencing renal failure is to keep track of the food and water they consume each day. You need know if they are drinking less than normal, because if they continue to drink less and less you will need to give them fluids to ward off dehydration. Weight loss is another concern in dogs with kidney disease. Weigh your dog frequently to make sure he or she is eating properly and maintaining a healthy weight.

Another thing that’s important is feeding your dog a healthy diet. It is probably best to speak to your vet on the best way to provide this. Foods with a reduced amount of protein and lots of moisture content (avoid dry food) are important, but certain high protein foods contain phosphorus, and phosphorus levels must be carefully monitored in a dog suffering from renal failure.

Consider speaking to a holistic vet for diet and supplementation advice, as well as possible medications and therapies to help keep your dog healthy and increase quality of life. Sometimes, if your dog is suffering from renal failure because of another condition and not because the kidneys are damaged, it’s possible the problem can be entirely reversed if you treat it from the root.

For instance, if your dog suffers from a disease that is decreasing blood flow to the kidneys, or has a urinary tract obstruction, then it is possible their kidney failure is still treatable. However, if renal failure is because of kidney damage that is irreversible, there’s no coming back from that. Your dog’s kidney functions will continue to deteriorate over time. Your best recourse is to minimize your dog’s symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Sometimes your vet may add potassium to your dog’s diet or inject intravenous fluids, as a guard against heart rhythm disturbances and muscle weakness resulting from low electrolytes.

treatments for kidney failure in dogs

Can You Prevent Kidney Failure in Dogs?

Obviously, you won’t be able to prevent kidney failure in every instance. It is not always easy to understand the cause of kidney failure, and when you have trouble understanding the cause, it’s difficult to create fail safes. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t many things you can do to help keep your dog healthy and extend their lives for a long time to come.

Acute renal failure is most often triggered by your pet being poisoned. To prevent this, keep them away from toxic substances. Toxic substances include:

  • Common over-the-counter meds
  • Certain foods such as garlic and onion
  • Plants
  • Rat poison
  • Pesticides
  • Anti-freeze
  • Heavy metals

A dog who is suffering from a secondary illness such as a urinary obstruction or a bacterial infection, or some other health concern that can compromise the healthy function of your dog’s kidneys, makes it important for you to seek treatment for your dog. A vet can help you get to the root of the problem and treat the secondary illness which should help to heal your dog’s kidneys as well.

Do your best to limit things in your dog’s life like vaccines, drugs, and surgical procedures as he grows and ages. It sounds almost too easy, but doing this can vastly reduce the amount of toxins and waste your dog’s liver and kidneys will need to filter out over the long haul.

When it comes to older dogs, kidney failure is simply what happens when their organs wear out. Ergo, the less pressure you put on your dog’s kidneys, the longer they will function in a healthy and effective manner.

Remember that your dog’s diet is important, so make sure you feed your dog a balanced, well-rounded diet, with lots of whole foods. Avoid low-quality dog foods, it amounts to almost zero nutritional value.

Low-grade food simply does not possess the nutrients, the moisture content, and the protein quality that your animal needs for his body to function properly and his organs to remain healthy. Remember that you are your dog’s first line of defense, and you know your pet best. Take note of even the smallest changes in their appetite, energy levels, and behavior, and if anything is out of the norm, see your vet.

And on that note, a final word of advice is to make sure your dog sees your vet at least once or twice a year. Twice a year is best, and if you can find a vet that is willing to take an integrative and holistic approach, even better. In between those two visits, you should teach yourself to perform a wellness exam so that you can regularly assess your dog on your own, and catch any concerning health issues early, before they become insurmountable.

can you prevent kidney failure in dogs



  1. “Kidney Problems in Dogs.” WebMD, Accessed 11 May 2017.
  2. “Chronic Kidney Disease: What Does Kidney Failure in Dogs Really Mean?” Pet Health Network, Accessed 11 May 2017.
  3. “Kidney Failure (Long-Term) in Dogs.” PetMD, Accessed 11 May 2017.
  4. “Kidney Failure – Chronic in Dogs.” VCA Hospitals, Accessed 11 May 2017.
  5. “Canine Kidney Failure – Causes, Treatment and Prevention.” Healthy Pets, Accessed 11 May 2017.

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