The kidneys play a vital, life-sustaining role for our furry friends. They remove waste products from the bloodstream, regulate the levels of key nutrients in the body and produce urine.
So if you've just been told that your dog has kidney failure, this can be very alarming news indeed. However, you might be surprised that kidney failure is actually quite common in older dogs and, while serious, doesn't necessarily spell doom and gloom for your pet.
If kidney failure is detected in its early stages and is managed carefully, your pet can still maintain a good quality of life for several years. Keep reading to find out what kidney failure is, the signs and symptoms of kidney problems and what you can do to care for your pet.
Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs
When you hear the words kidney failure, it's natural to assume that a dog's kidneys will have completely stopped working and will, therefore, have stopped producing urine. However, the reality is that most dogs with kidney failure actually produce large quantities of urine, but their kidneys aren't effectively moving waste products from the body.
As a result, one of the first signs of kidney problems that many owners notice is that their dog is urinating more frequently. This often means increased bathroom visits at all hours of the day and night, as well as the occasional accident in and around the house. The increased fluid loss from all that peeing leads to an increased thirst to combat dehydration, and this is the other most common early sign of kidney failure.
However, these are only the early signs of kidney failure. Once approximately two-thirds or even more of the kidney tissue has been destroyed, dogs will start to show the much more serious symptoms of severe disease. These can include a loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, depression and lethargy, weight loss, very bad breath and mouth ulcers.
To give your dog the best possible chance of a positive prognosis, it's important that kidney failure is diagnosed and treated/managed as soon as possible. If you notice the early kidney failure signs of increased thirst and urination, which, it's worth pointing out, can also be caused by a wide range of other medical issues, get your pet checked out by a vet so you can get to the bottom of the problem as soon as possible.
The Science of Kidney Failure in Dogs
Your dog's kidneys are classified as vital organs for a very good reason — they perform a crucial role to ensure the overall health of your pet. So, what exactly do healthy kidneys do? They perform several functions, including:
- Filtering the blood
- Removing metabolic waste products from your dog's bloodstream
- Producing urine
- Conserving water
- Regulating levels of important nutrients like potassium and sodium
Kidney failure, also known as renal failure, refers to the inability of the kidneys to effectively filter waste products out of the blood. However, because the symptoms of kidney disease often don't present until at least two-thirds of kidney tissue has been destroyed, most cases can cause damage to a dog's kidneys over a period of months or even years. As a result, kidney failure is most commonly seen in older animals, typically from 10 to 14 years of age for small dogs and from seven years of age onward for larger breeds.
In fact, the biggest contributing factor to kidney disease is simply age — over time, the kidney tissues wear out and function gradually reduces. However, kidney failure can also be caused by a urinary blockage, some prescription medications, lymphoma, diabetes and genetic factors. Certain breeds, including the German Shepherd, English Cocker Spaniel, and Bull Terrier, are more likely to suffer from chronic kidney failure.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Kidney Failure
Get any symptoms of kidney disease investigated by your vet as soon as possible. If they suspect that kidney failure may be the cause of your dog's health problems, there are two tests they can use to make an accurate diagnosis:
- A complete urinalysis to assess how well the kidneys are functioning.
- A blood test to determine the levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatinine, two waste products, in the blood.
However, it's worth pointing out that these tests can only be used to diagnose kidney failure, not predict it, as a dog with reduced kidney function may still produce normal blood test results.
In some cases, the kidneys are simply too far gone to respond to treatment. However, in many cases, aggressive treatment can see dogs live happily for months or even several years. The first phase of treatment typically involves large amounts of IV fluids to flush out the kidneys and effectively re-start them. This process is called diuresis and is designed to help the kidney cells function normally once again.
Depending on the severity of the condition, some dogs will require hospitalization while others will be able to be treated at home. Your vet will also be able to recommend any supportive care that may be required, like using fluid therapy to replace electrolytes such as potassium, feeding a diet designed to promote and support kidney health, and giving medication to control vomiting and diarrhea.
There's no accurate way to predict how your dog will respond to treatment, but even dogs that have severe kidney failure may respond well to treatment and may be able to return to a normal quality of life. Speak to your vet to find out exactly what treatment involves and what you can do to help manage your pet's health as effectively as possible.
Written by a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/16/2018, edited: 04/06/2020