Kidney Disease & Infections in Dogs

In today's blog, our vets at Northwest Veterinary Clinic of Stanwood share a little about the causes and treatment of kidney failure in dogs, as well as the signs and symptoms of kidney failure that dog owners should watch for.

What Is Kidney Failure In Dogs?

Kidney failure, which can also be referred to as a renal failure, can be caused by a range of conditions that impact the kidneys and related organs. When your dog's kidneys are working properly they continually eliminate toxins from your pet's body as well as regulate hydration, maintain a normal electrolyte balance, and release the hormones required to produce red blood cells. When your dog experiences kidney failure the kidneys are no longer performing their function as they should. 

Are there different types of kidney failure in dogs?

Dogs can experience one of two different types of kidney failure, acute and chronic. Acute kidney failure is characterized by a sudden decrease in kidney function (within hours or days). Acute kidney failure is typically caused by an infection or exposure to toxins or poisons. Chronic kidney failure is characterized by a gradual loss of kidney function over weeks, months, or years. Chronic kidney failure is typically caused by degeneration associated with old age.

Another key difference between acute and chronic kidney failure in dogs is that while acute kidney failure is likely reversible if diagnosed early and treated intensively, chronic kidney failure can only be managed, not cured.

What is the cause of kidney failure in dogs?

Several conditions can affect the kidneys and cause them to fail, including:

  • Congenital disease - This category can include underlying illnesses and hereditary conditions - everything from being born without one or both kidneys, to cysts.
  • Bacterial infections - If your dog swims in or drinks contaminated water, bacterial infections such as leptospirosis can attack their system, causing the kidneys to become inflamed and renal cells to die off, leading to kidney failure.
  • Toxicosis - If the kidneys are poisoned, this can lead to cell damage within the kidneys. Toxicosis can occur if your dog consumes drugs, toxins, or poisons such as foods or substances that are harmful to pets.
  • Periodontal disease - If bacteria is left to build up on the teeth and gums it can lead to advanced dental disease. The bacteria can then enter the bloodstream and attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the kidneys as well as other organs including the heart and liver.
  • Geriatric degeneration - Gradually, as your dog gets older the renal cells can begin to break down and die eventually leading to chronic kidney failure.

Symptoms of kidney failure

Dogs experiencing kidney failure will likely display one or more of the following symptoms:
  • Pale gums
  • Significant weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Uncoordinated movement, or stumbling
  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Increase/decrease in thirst
  • Increase/decrease in volume of urine
  • Intestinal seizures
  • Blood in urine
  • Lethargy

If your dog is displaying any of the symptoms listed above it is essential to have them examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible to determine whether there is an underlying issue such as poisoning or diabetes causing your dog's symptoms.

Treatment of kidney failure

Treatment for your dog's kidney failure will be determined by your pet’s overall health and the underlying cause of their kidney problems. If your pet is experiencing acute kidney failure, immediate and intensive treatment is required. Typically treatment for acute kidney failure will require a stay in the intensive care at your animal hospital. That said. if acute kidney failure is caught early, milder cases may be treated with fluids, antibiotics, and medications on an outpatient basis. Dialysis, although costly, can also be a very effective treatment for acute kidney failure.

When it comes to dogs suffering from chronic kidney failure, treatment will primarily focus on slowing down the progression of the disease and looking at ways to improve your pet's quality of life. Symptoms of the disease such as nausea, fluid imbalances, and blood pressure fluctuations will be treated with medications and changes to your pet's diet.

Many dogs being treated for chronic kidney failure go on to enjoy a good quality of life for several years (some indications are up to four years). To help manage your dog's condition, and possibly improve your dog's quality of life, your vet may recommend specific nutrients, nutritional supplements, or a therapeutic prescription diet.

Can I prevent my dog from developing kidney failure?

Acute kidney failure is often caused when dogs consume toxins, tainted foods, or foods they shouldn’t ingest, such as grapes or chocolate. To help prevent your dog from developing acute kidney failure, remove potential toxins such as antifreeze, medications, and potentially harmful foods well out of your dog's reach.

Since chronic kidney failure is typically age-related and predetermined by genetics it is much more difficult to try and prevent. Although, regular wellness exams twice yearly at your vet's office may help your vet to detect any symptoms of chronic kidney failure early so that treatment can begin before the condition becomes more advanced.

What are the benefits of regular wellness exams?

If your pet is genetically predisposed to a condition such as kidney disease, regular wellness exams allow your vet to monitor your pet's health and spot the signs of illness early.

Early diagnosis and treatment often lead to good treatment outcomes for pets with serious health conditions.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you think that your dog may be suffering from kidney failure, contact us! Our Stanwood vets are happy to help!