Today, the vets on our internal medicine team at our Phoenix veterinary center explain some of the causes of and treatments for kidney failure in dogs, as well as the signs and symptoms of kidney failure in pets that dog owners should look out for.
What is kidney failure in dogs?
Kidney failure—also called renal failure—can have its root cause in a number of different conditions that may impact your dog's kidneys and their related organs. When healthy, your dog's kidneys work to effectively process and eliminate toxins from your pet's body, maintaining the balance of their electrolytes, and release hormones that promote the production of red blood cells.
If your dog experiences a failure of the kidneys, these important internal organs are not longer performing their duties properly.
Are there different types of kidney failure in dogs?
There are two broad categories of kidney failure found in dogs:
- Chronic renal failure - This describes when a kidney slowly loses function over a period of weeks, months or years. Chronic kidney failure is generally caused by the bodily degeneration associated with old age. All kidneys have a lifespan to them at which point they cease to work properly, so some dogs may experience this deterioration quicker than others.
- Acute renal failure - When kidney function suddenly decreases (within hours or days), this is known as acute renal failure. Typically this form of kidney failure is caused by an infection or exposure to toxins.
The main difference between chronic and acute kidney failure in dogs is that while acute kidney failure may reversible if it is diagnosed and treated early, chronic kidney failure cannot be cured and may only be managed for the rest of your dog's life.
What causes kidney failure in dogs?
Any disease that affects your dog's kidneys may cause them to fail. This can include:
- Toxicosis - When the kidneys are poisoned, this can lead to cell damage within the kidneys. It can happen when your dog consumes drugs or poisons (such as foods or substances that are toxic to them).
- Bacterial infections - If your dog swims or drinks in contaminated water, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can attack their system, causing the kidneys to become inflamed and renal cells to die off.
- Geriatric degeneration - As your dog ages, cells can break down and die. This also happens in the kidneys and can lead to kidney disease.
- Dental disease - When bacteria build up on the teeth and gums, this can lead to advanced dental disease. The bacteria can enter the bloodstream and attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the kidneys in addition to the heart and liver.
- Congenital disease - This category can include underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions - everything from agenesis (being born without one or both kidneys) to cysts.
Symptoms of kidney failure
If your dog is suffering from kidney failure, you may also notice one of more of the following symptoms:
- Significant weight loss
- Pale gums
- Significant decrease in appetite
- Breath that smells like chemicals
- Intestinal seizures
- Uncoordinated movement, or stumbling
- Blood in urine
- Increase or decrease in volume of urine
- Increase or decrease in water consumption
- Ulcers in the mouth
The kind of kidney failure your dog experiences as well as the extent of their kidneys' loss of function and the progression speed of their condition may all indicate whether or not their kidney issues stem from another problem altogether, like diabetes mellitus.
How is kidney failure in dogs treated?
As with many other conditions, your dog's treatment for their kidney failure at our specialty clinic will be determined by your pet's overall health and well-being as well as any underlying causes of the kidney issues they are experiencing. If your dog suffers from acute kidney failure, they will require immediate and intensive treatment. Generally speaking, this kind of treatment will occur at an emergency vet hospital like Phoenix Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center.
If your dog is diagnosed with chronic kidney failure, your vet will primarily focus on slowing down the disease’s progression and looking at ways to improve the quality of life for your pup. Nausea, fluid imbalances, blood pressure fluctuations and other symptoms will be treated with medications and changes to your dog's diet.
In many instances, dogs being treated for failure affecting their kidneys will be able to go on and enjoy a high quality of like for up to four years frmo diagnosis. In order to help manage your pup's condition and improve the quality of their life, our vets may also recommend that your dog's diet include nutritional supplements, specific nutrients or be tailored to be therapeutic to their condition in some other way.
Can I prevent my dog from suffering kidney failure?
Dogs eating toxins, tainted foods, or food that are bad for their health like chocolate and grapes are often at the root cause of acute kidney failure. In order to help prevent your dog from developing acute kidney failure, make sure to take inventory of your home and remove any potentially toxic substances or foods from your dog's reach, including antifreeze or medications.
Chronic kidney failure is generally related to your dog's age and is determined by their genetics, making it far more difficult to try and prevent. That being said, routine wellness exams twice per year at your vet's office will help to increase your chances of having your pup's symptoms detected early. That way treatment can begin before the condition becomes more severe.