The word "failure" is not one you ever want to hear in connection with any of your dog's vital organs. Unfortunately, renal failure, which is perhaps more widely known as kidney failure, is a common problem in aging pooches.
As our pets grow older and head into their senior years, their kidneys can sometimes start to show the effects of many years of hard work. However, while renal failure is undoubtedly a serious concern for any dog, it's not all doom and gloom.
Dogs can live for several years with kidney failure and enjoy a good quality of life at the same time, so read on to find out everything you need to know about caring for a dog with renal failure.
Signs and Symptoms of Renal Failure in Dogs
Kidney failure in dogs is a serious condition that develops over time. While kidney tissue can't regenerate over time, canine kidneys have enough spare capacity to continue functioning normally for some time after damage first occurs. It's only once approximately two-thirds of the kidneys are dysfunctional that some of the telltale signs of kidney problems start to appear.
The most common symptom noticed first by owners is increased thirst and urination. As damaged kidneys become less effective at filtering toxins from the blood, the body increases the supply of blood flowing through the kidneys in an effort to remove those toxins. This results in a rise in urine production, which is why you may notice your pooch needing to go to the bathroom much more frequently than usual. This, in turn, leads to the risk of dehydration, so a dog with kidney failure will also have an increased thirst and drink more than usual.
While increased thirst and urination can be symptoms of many medical problems and don't necessarily indicate kidney failure, they should be checked out by your vet as soon as possible.
As the condition progresses, renal failure starts to produce several, more serious symptoms. These include a loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea, depression, lethargy, mouth ulcers and bad breath.
The sooner kidney failure is diagnosed and treated, the better, so book your pet in for a check-up if you have any concerns.
The Science of Renal Failure in Dogs
You're probably well aware of just how important your own kidneys are to your body's ability to function normally, and they perform a similarly vital role for your dog. The kidneys perform many important jobs to help your pet sustain life, but their primary roles are to filter metabolic waste from the bloodstream, to maintain adequate levels of essential nutrients (such as potassium and sodium), conserve water and salt levels, and produce urine.
When they hear the term renal failure, many owners assume that their dog's kidneys have stopped working completely and are unable to produce urine. However, as evidenced by increased urine production being a common early sign of kidney failure, this is not the case.
If your dog has renal failure, this means their kidneys are unable to efficiently filter the blood and remove metabolic waste products. In most cases, the condition is simply a result of aging. As dogs enter their senior years — usually 10 years and over for smaller breeds but any time from the age of 7 on for larger dogs — their kidneys may start to wear out.
However, there can be a few other causes of kidney problems, including kidney stones that cause a blockage, kidney infections, leptospirosis, and even cancer. So if you notice any symptoms of renal failure, take your pet to the vet as soon as possible — your vet will be able to determine the cause of the problem ad work out the best course of action.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Renal Failure
If your vet suspects kidney failure is the cause of your dog's health problems, he or she will be able to use a couple of different tests to diagnose the condition:
- A urinalysis to determine the level at which the kidneys are functioning.
- A blood test to determine the levels of waste products, specifically blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatinine, in the blood.
In some tragic cases, the kidneys have simply suffered too much damage to respond to treatment. However, for many other dogs, treatment can greatly improve their quality of life and see them live for a few more years. Some dogs will be able to undergo the bulk of their treatment at home, but dogs with more severe kidney failure may need to be hospitalized.
Treatment starts with diuresis, which involves using IV fluids to flush out the kidneys and help them get back to normal function again — think of it like rebooting your computer after it freezes.
Supportive care also has an important role to play when treating kidney failure. For example, proper nutrition can help lessen the load on the kidneys, so feeding a prescription diet designed to promote kidney health may be essential. Fluid therapy to replace essential electrolytes, along with drugs to control vomiting and diarrhea, may also be required.
If you Google the average life expectancy for dogs with renal failure, you may be alarmed to see some relatively small figures quoted. However, this is more due to the fact that kidney failure most commonly occurs in older dogs, so even without any kidney failure, they could only have expected a limited lifespan.
In most cases, treatment is recommended and can greatly improve your pet's quality of life, so speak to your vet about the best treatment and care for your pet.
By a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Published: 05/23/2018, edited: 04/06/2020