Can Dogs Live with One Kidney?

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Introduction

You're probably well aware that humans are more than capable of living with just one healthy kidney — this is obviously how it's possible for people to donate a kidney to a loved one. But if your dog is suffering from kidney problems and you're assessing the treatment options, you may be wondering what would happen if one of your pet's kidneys was damaged beyond repair. Would your dog be able to survive?

The answer is yes! Provided that the other kidney is in good shape, dogs can live a normal life with just one kidney. Keep reading to find out how kidneys work, the reasons why your dog might need to have a kidney removed, and what you can do to help your pet adapt to life with one kidney.

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Problems in Dogs

From filtering toxins out of the bloodstream to producing urine, the kidneys perform many important roles. However, because they're designed with plenty of spare capacity to keep on functioning even while a significant amount of tissue has been damaged, you usually won't notice any symptoms in the early stages of kidney disease. 

It's only once approximately two-thirds of kidney tissue has been destroyed that you'll usually start to recognize some of the telltale signs.
If you've noticed your pet needing to urinate more frequently than usual, perhaps needing to head outside during the night or even having accidents inside, this is the most common early indicator of kidney problems. 

If the kidneys aren't functioning at full effectiveness to filter the blood, the body responds by pumping more blood through the kidneys in the hope of removing more toxins from the body. This leads to the increased production of urine, which, in turn, leads to dehydration and an increased thirst for affected pooches.

More specifically, cancer of the kidney is one of the most common reasons a dog might need to have a kidney removed. If your dog has developed a kidney tumor, as well as increased thirst and urination you may also notice bloody urine, an abdominal mass, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, and signs of pain.

If this is the case, book your dog in for a veterinary check-up to get to the bottom of the problem.

Body Language

Keep a close watch on your dog's body language for any telltale indicators that they may be suffering from kidney problems, such as:
  • Weakness
  • Low tail carriage
  • Dropped Ears

Other Signs

Other signs you should keep an eye out for include:
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Bloody urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Bas breath

The Science Behind Dogs Living with One Kidney

The role they play may be overshadowed by some of the other vital organs, but healthy kidneys are still essential to the normal functioning of your dog's body. The kidneys have a long list of important duties to perform, including:
  • Filtering the blood to remove toxins and waste
  • Producing a hormone crucial to the production of red blood cells
  • Maintaining the correct balance of water, salts, and minerals in the body
  • Producing urine

Like us, dogs have two kidneys and these organs are located in the abdomen along the side of the spine. Each kidney is connected to the bladder by a ureter, a tube with the job of transporting urine.

Dealing with Kidney Removal

There are several reasons why a dog may need to have one of its kidneys surgically removed. These include kidney cancer, a persistent infection affecting one kidney, genetic abnormalities or simply trauma to the kidney or ureter. For example, surgical removal may be recommended as the best course of action to stop kidney cancer spreading to other parts of the body, or as the most effective way to alleviate the health problems associated with a persistent kidney infection.

Kidney cancer could take the form of cancer that originates in the kidney, or that spreads there from another part of the body. Tumors that originate in the kidney include renal carcinomas, renal adenocarcinomas, transitional cell carcinomas and nephroblastomas. Although malignant renal tumors are relatively rare in dogs, treatment typically requires the removal of the affected kidney.

The formal term used to describe the surgical removal of a kidney is nephrectomy. Before this procedure is recommended for your dog, however, several steps will need to be taken. One of the most important is the assessment of the health of your pet's other kidney — is it functioning normally and will your dog be able to rely on it to perform its many life-sustaining tasks?

Other steps that will need to be taken pre-surgery vary depending on the condition being treated. For example, in cancer cases, your vet will need to determine whether the cancer has spread to any other parts of the body, whereas in cases of acute trauma the procedure will often be performed immediately.

Kidney removal is a serious and invasive procedure that needs to be performed under general anesthetic. During surgery, the kidney is removed from the tissue that separates it from the rest of the abdomen and the renal artery, vein and ureter are all tied off and cut. The kidney and ureter are then removed.

Pain medication is essential to help your dog recover from the procedure, and a trip back to the vet a couple of weeks later will allow the sutures to be removed. Your pet will also require regular monitoring to not only check for any complications but also assess the level of kidney function.

The prognosis for your dog after surgery depends on their overall health and the health of their remaining kidney. If both of these are in good shape, your dog will be able to live normally with just the one kidney. However, speak to your vet for expert advice on the best treatment option for your dog.

How to Promote Good Kidney Health:

  • The most common form of kidney problem in dogs is kidney disease, which is usually caused by the wearing out of kidney tissue over time.
  • Recognize the early signs of kidney disease, such as increased thirst and urination, and get them checked out by your vet.
  • Take your dog for regular veterinary check-ups so that health problems can be detected early.
  • Feed a high-quality, balanced diet and make sure your pet always has access to plenty of fresh water.

Tell Us About Your Dog's Life with One Kidney!