Kidney Dysfunction in Dogs

Kidney Dysfunction in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Kidney Dysfunction?

Kidney disease is also known as renal disease. Dysfunction of the kidneys may be caused by many health conditions including infection of the kidney tissues, kidney stones, a blockage, or a bacterial infection. The kidneys are vital organs that remove waste and concentrated urine.

A healthy kidney can remove substantial amounts of toxin with a small amount of water; whereas a kidney that is diseased needs much more water to excrete the same amount of toxins. The problem is when your dog cannot drink enough water for the kidneys to function, and toxin levels rise in your dog’s bloodstream.

Disease of the kidneys is common in older dogs. There are many diverse causes,  but the earlier the diagnosis, the more effective the treatment.

Symptoms of Kidney Dysfunction in Dogs

  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression 
  • You may find your dog has bad breath and may even drool 
  • Frequent straining to urinate or no urination at all
  • Physical weakness
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Diarrhea or constipation 
  • A dull coat appearance 
  • Increased thirst 
  • Vomiting often 
  • Disorientation 
  • In later stages – seizures can occur and sadly fatalities 


  • There are two types of kidney dysfunction or failure: acute and chronic 
  • Acute dysfunction is rapid and often caused by ingestion of a poison such as antifreeze, or an overwhelming bacterial infection or even worms; your dog may suffer dehydration and decreased blood flow to the kidneys
  • Acute dysfunction may also be caused by a urinary obstruction; this condition can be treated successfully in some cases, although your dog may need ongoing medication
  • Chronic kidney failure takes longer to develop taking months or even years; it is often more common in older dogs and damage can be irreversible

Causes of Kidney Dysfunction in Dogs

  • Trauma and shock to your dog may also be a cause such as a vehicle hitting your pet causing internal injury 
  • Poisons such as some plants or toxic chemicals like antifreeze 
  • Infection by bacteria, fungus or virus can be a major cause 
  • Medications for other conditions may trigger it 
  • Severe dehydration, allowing toxins to build up 
  • Breed and hereditary tendencies
  • Surgical stress 
  • Obstructed urine flow
  • Immune system defects 
  • Nutritional factors 
  • Cancer

Diagnosis of Kidney Dysfunction in Dogs

There are various tests that may be done to confirm kidney disease and provide information on how badly damaged the organ is and what has caused it. A chemistry panel test will look for conditions such a build-up in blood urea nitrogen in your dog’s blood. Creatinine levels will also be checked. A urinalysis is where a urine sample will be taken from your dog and several tests will be done to measure how concentrated the urine is. A complete blood count is useful to check if your dog is anemic and for indications of infection. Other tests include x-rays (radiography) to see the size and shape of the kidneys. Small kidneys are more common in chronic kidney disease while large kidneys may indicate an acute problem or cancer.  

An excretory urography is a specialised type of x-ray where a dye is injected into your pet’s vein and monitored through x-rays as it is filtered from the kidney. And finally, ultrasonography will be done to determine the changes in density and a biopsy taken during this procedure can determine the cause of the disease in some cases. With so many probable causes it is important to isolate the condition as much as possible to determine the correct treatment for your dog.

Treatment of Kidney Dysfunction in Dogs

Once diagnosis has been completed treatment will be administered, although in urgent cases treatment will need to begin immediately. Fluid treatment involves rehydrating your pet and maintaining that state. This is done via intravenous (IV) fluids in the veterinarian clinic so your pet can be monitored. This will start or increase the urine output but your pet may need medications such as furosemide to help the kidneys to produce urine. Antibiotics for an underlying cause such as bacterial infection will also be administered. Some veterinary clinics do have a kidney dialysis service which can be used if your dog is not responding to normal therapies. 

A change in diet may be necessary, but your veterinarian will advise you on this. To increase your pet’s appetite several small meals a day may be necessary. Supplements may also be needed depending on the severity of your dog’s condition. Kidney transplants are available if necessary. With treatment, dogs with a compromised kidney may live happily for many months to several years. It just depends on the individual case and how your dog responds to treatment. If the kidney has reached chronic kidney disease state, the condition cannot be reversed.

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Recovery of Kidney Dysfunction in Dogs

Home care will require you to follow your veterinarian’s directions regarding dietary needs and medication for your dog. Frequent follow up visits to the clinic may be needed until your pet’s health has stabilised. Depending on the condition of your dog’s kidneys, your furry friend may need a quiet place to relax and recover. Supportive care and plenty of fresh water available to him as he needs it will help.

If the condition was diagnosed in the initial stages then recovery may be quite quick. But if it is an advanced stage of disease then it may take longer for your pet to recover. Dialogue between yourself and the veterinarian needs to be ongoing, and if such a stage comes when you must decide about the quality of life your dog now has you will have all the facts and details to enable you to make an informed decision.

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