Canine Kidney Failure

Kidney failure occurs when a dog's kidney suddenly becomes unable to eliminate harmful wastes from the bloodstream and regulate fluids. Many dogs die despite intensive therapy; those who do recover are considered cured and usually do not have kidney damage.2 Kidney failure can be acute or chronic. Acute Renal Failure (ARF) is a potentially fatal condition that can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and death. The dog produces little or no urine, refuses water, becomes very lethargic, vomits, and develops diarrhea. If you notice these signs, bring your dog to your veterinarian immediately. Chronic renal failure (CRF) occurs when both kidneys gradually cease to function. It is commonly seen in the Cocker Spaniel, Doberman Pinscher, Standard Poodle, Shih Tzu, Lhasa Apso, and Shar-Pei. The first signs are increased urination and thirst. As a side effect, the dog produces more urine; at the same time, he becomes more dehydrated due to increased fluid loss in the urine; thirsty, your dog begins to drink more and more water.2 Chronic kidney failure is one of the most common cause of illness and death in older dogs. Most dogs with chronic kidney failure are older than 10 years old. The chances of a dog getting it increase as the dog ages. In fact, most older dogs have some changes in kidney enzymes on blood tests. When caught early, the proper diet, supplements, and fluid therapy can delay and may even prevent kidney disease from becoming kidney failure.

Many factors can cause acute and chronic kidney failure:

  • Toxins, such as antifreeze, pesticides and herbicides. In case of antifreeze ingestion, treatment needs to be given early in the disease to be effective. Inducing vomiting and flushing the stomach out can be very helpful if performed within 1-2 hours of ingestion of antifreeze. Otherwise, the disease progresses very rapidly and if left untreated, results in death.
  • Drugs, including blood pressure medication, aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications, anesthetics, anti-parasite drugs, antibiotics, and NSAIDs. Nephrotoxic antibiotics may be the most common cause of acute kidney failure.6
  • Kidney tumors, such as lymphosarcoma and adenocarcinoma (cats); other types of tumors such as lymphoma and osteosarcoma
  • Heart diseases that result in poor blood supply to the kidneys and poor blood flow. The inadequate blood flow leads to the toxins buildup in the bloodstream.
  • Dehydration
  • Kidney stones may obstruct the urinary tract, impair the flow of urine, and cause damage to the kidneys if not corrected. Recently it has been suggested that impaired metabolism of zinc may be the cause of kidney stone initiation and formation.7
  • Parasites. These are transmitted by frogs, fish and earthworms. Infected dogs and cats can have blood in the urine, difficulty urinating, or urinate small amounts.
  • Viruses
  • Infectious agents that include Leptospira which cause leptospirosis disease. Leptospira organisms can cause acute kidney failure.6
  • Urolithiasis
  • Veterinary Drugs
  • Bladder Stones
  • Cystitis
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Bacteria. Some bacteria can cause acute renal failure or chronic renal failure. Symptoms include fever, depression, lack of appetite, pain, excessive thirst and urination, and weight loss. In the chronic version, sometimes there are no symptoms at all. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics for a minimum of 4 weeks, along with supportive care.

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Some toxic chemicals can come from inside the dog's own body. For example, there could be a buildup of calcium or other substances due to a disease in another part of the body. In these cases, the effects on kidney function can last from 1 to 8 weeks, depending on the chemical(s) that caused the injury.5

Veterinarians treat acute kidney failure with intravenous fluid therapy or peritoneal dialysis to decrease the blood concentration of uremic poisons. Dialysis provides extended time for kidney repair but is fraught with complications. In animals that survive or maintained by dialysis, partial kidney recovery is expected within 3-6 weeks or longer.4 3 Antibiotics and antidotes may be administered for infectious causes of poisoning. Surgical removal of any blockages or obstructions causing the kidney failure may be performed.3


  1. The Johns Hopkins Complete Home Guide to Symptoms & Remedies. Simeon Margolis, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
  2. Your Older Dog: A Complete Guide to Helping Your Dog Live a Longer and Healthier Life. Jean Callahan, Ann Marie Manning
  3. 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog. Shawn Messonnier
  4. Veterinary emergency medicine secrets. Wayne E. Wingfield
  5. The Merck/Merial manual for pet health. Cynthia M. Kahn, Scott Line
  6. Clinical biochemistry of domestic animals. Jiro J. Kaneko, John W. Harvey, Michael Bruss
  7. A Drosophila Model Identifies a Critical Role for Zinc in Mineralization for Kidney Stone Disease (2015)



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