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What is Renal Transplant?

The kidneys perform a number of vital roles such as reclaiming water, filtering toxins out of the bloodstream, and producing urine which is voided from the body. When kidneys fail, the dog becomes very sick because of a buildup of toxins and other effects such as anemia and mineral imbalances.

Renal transplantation is a complex surgical procedure which involves harvesting a healthy kidney from a donor dog and implanting it into the dog with renal failure. This is a deep specialist procedure which is undertaken at only a few select vet hospitals. Even then, the success rates are low with the University of California at Davis citing a 40% positive outcome. 

Renal transplant is only considered for patients with severe renal failure, and then only if the patient meets with rigorous screening tests in an attempt to maximize the chances of success. 

Renal Transplant Procedure in Dogs

Both the recipient and the donor dog must be carefully screened prior to surgery. This includes checking they are free from infectious disease and parasites (including heartworm), checking their ability to clot blood, and that they are free from heart disease, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease. 

The recipient also needs to be stabilized ahead of surgery, which can include a blood transfusion to reverse renal-related anemia. 

Under the strictest aseptic conditions, a team of surgeons harvest the donor organ from a living dog under anesthetic. The donor dog is then woken and sent to recovery. 

Again under strict aseptic conditions, the recipient is given an anesthetic and their abdomen clipped and surgically scrubbed. Via a long incision in the belly, the internal organs are held aside with retractors to access the kidneys. An unhealthy kidney is removed, and the replacement kidney attached to the renal artery and vein. 

Once the surgeon is satisfied the kidney is being adequately perfused, the abdomen is closed and the patient woken and sent to recovery. 

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Efficacy of Renal Transplant in Dogs

Unfortunately, even a successful renal transplant means the dog must take immunosuppressive medications for the rest of their life (although new techniques are being pioneered). When the body doesn't reject the grafted kidney, this can be life-saving for the patient and stop them from dying prematurely from kidney failure. 

However, the success rate of 40% must be balanced against a failure rate of 60%, where the organ is rejected and the patient reverts to kidney failure and requires euthanasia. 

Alternatives to transplantation include aggressive medical management of kidney failure. This include intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, blood transfusions, erythropoietin supplements to stimulate blood cell production, phosphate binding drugs, ACE inhibitor medications, anti-nausea drugs, and prescription diets. However, once diagnosed with renal failure, dogs tend to deteriorate more rapidly than cats, even with gold standard medical care. 

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Renal Transplant Recovery in Dogs

The recipient remains on intravenous fluids after surgery, in order to support perfusion of the new kidney. Pain relief is administered, along with medications to prevent organ rejection. Close monitoring is required, via blood and urine tests, to check the function of the new organ. The skin sutures are removed after 10 to 14 days. 

If all goes well, the dog can be discharged and monitored on an outpatient basis. This includes blood tests to look at toxin levels in the bloodstream, and urine tests to help check renal function. 

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Cost of Renal Transplant in Dogs

Renal transplant is extremely costly, with centers requiring a $13,000 deposit ahead of surgery, with the operation costing upwards of $20,000. However, the cost of the operation is just the beginning, because immunosuppressive drugs are expensive, with around $11,000 per year for a large dog being representative. In addition, there will be the cost of blood and urine tests on an ongoing basis. 

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Dog Renal Transplant Considerations

There are considerable ethical dilemmas centered on the efficacy of renal transplantation in dogs. For example, there is the conundrum of harvesting a donor organ from a dog who cannot give their consent. Unlike in the human world of transplantation where patients give consent in advance and organs harvested from the brain dead, in the canine world perfectly healthy animals must donate regardless of their wishes. 

 

This also raises the question of what happens to the donor dog afterwards. Morally, it should be incumbent on the owner of the recipient to then adopt the donor, but not all dogs get along...

That aside, such major surgery needs careful consideration, especially when the success rate is relatively low. 

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Renal Transplant Prevention in Dogs

Dogs identified with cystic kidneys should not be bred from, so as to eliminate the possibility of future generations being affected. Care should also be taken to vaccinate (on a risk assessment basis) the dog from conditions such as leptospirosis which can cause kidney failure. Vigilance and supervision is also recommended, to prevent the dog drinking antifreeze or medication which could be harmful. 

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Renal Transplant Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Leo

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Beagle

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7 Days

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Appetite
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I just found out my beagle has severe kidney failure. I want to do everything I can to save him. Is a kidney transplant realistic at this point? The vet said he has weeks/months left to live

Aug. 6, 2018

Leo's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Kidney transplants in dogs are not as successful as in cats or humans due to a dog’s immune system being different; the cost and projected lifespan do not generally make kidney transplantation in dogs viable like with their feline counterparts. Depending on where you live, there may also be restrictions on animal organs (the European Union for example) which is trying to regulate the practice to prevent a market for organs. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 6, 2018

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Timber

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Poodle

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

High Protein In Urine, Less Energy,

Our dog has Juvenile Renal Disease and seems to have less energy lately. Also, just noticed an ulcer on his lip. Does the ulcer mean he is getting near end stage renal failure? Is there a list or forum to request a kidney transplant for our dog before it is too late

May 30, 2018

Timber's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Kidney transplants on dogs are not really as successful than they are in cats, the article linked below shows the median survival time for kidney transplant in dogs is 24 days. Oral ulceration is a sign of advanced kidney failure and you should be regularly monitoring kidney function with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM “Median survival was 24 days (range, 0.5 to 4014 days) with a probability of survival to 15 days of 50% and the 100‐day survival probability was 36%. Cause of death was attributed to thromboembolic disease in 8 dogs, infection in 6 dogs, and rejection in 1 dog. The only factor significantly associated with an increased likelihood of death was increasing age at time of surgery (P = .024).” https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1532-950X.2011.00924.x

May 31, 2018

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Kelso

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American Pit Bull Terrier

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1 Year

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Serious severity

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Kidney Failure

Dear Sir/Madam, I would like to ask a question regarding Kidney failure in dogs. What remedies are there to cure kidney failure? Dog just turned one years old. Do you know of any vet clinics in Europe who do kidney transplants? thanks in advance

Oct. 10, 2017

Kelso's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

In the United States there is a market for kidney transplantation of dogs and cats whilst in Europe there are ethical concerns regarding the ‘unnecessary surgical procedure on the donor animal’ regardless of a potential life that may be saved. In Europe they are trying to prevent abuse of the system where stray animals may be just harvested for their organs to participate in a money making industry. Back in the UK, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons approved kidney transplantation in cats back in 2003 but were quickly shot down by the RSPCA citing a century old piece of legislation. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Oct. 10, 2017

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