Canine Kidney Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Canine Kidney Disease
Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

“Starting when your dog is about six years old he should get a senior check-up each year
which should include a check of his urine and blood. This should help detect any
problems with his kidneys before kidney disease becomes advanced.”

Canine kidney disease may be either acute or chronic. In either case the kidneys are unable to properly remove waste products from the blood.

Overview/Snapshot of Disease or Condition

When waste products are not removed from the dog’s blood, this causes a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream which results in uremic poisoning. When kidney failure appears suddenly is it called acute kidney failure.

When the symptoms appear gradually, sometimes over months, it is called chronic kidney failure. Gradual or chronic kidney failure is more common.

Kidney failure is often caused by inflammation of the kidneys (nephritis) or damage to the kidneys which affects their function (nephrosis).

Canine Kidney Disease – Symptoms

Canine Kidney DiseaseSymptoms of kidney disease in dogs usually include the following:

  • Dog has increased thirst and drinks more water
  • Dog urinates more than usual
  • Dog may have accidents in the house
  • Dog may become dehydrated
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dry coat
  • Brown-coated tongue
  • Breath may smell like ammonia
  • Decreased urination
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Edema or swelling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding — blood in the stool or urine
  • Coma

When the dog’s kidney function begins to decrease he will begin to retain ammonia, acids, nitrogen and other waste matter in his blood and tissue, which results in uremia. Uremia is measure by your veterinarian when he or she measures serum blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels, creatinine, and electrolytes for your dog.


Canine kidney disease can be caused by a wide range of dog health problems, though the results are all similar. In most cases of kidney failure the signs of uremia, or the buildup of toxins in the bloodstream, will not manifest until approximately 75 percent of your dog’s kidney tissue has stopped functioning.

Causes of kidney disease in dogs can include the following:

  • Congestive heart failure which results in low blood pressure and reduced blood supply to the kidneys
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Rupture of your dog’s bladder or urethra
  • Shock, which allows inadequate blood flow to the kidneys
  • Toxins — poisons such as antifreeze
  • Urinary tract obstruction, such as an obstruction caused by a stone

Treatment for Canine Kidney Disease

Once you notice symptoms of canine kidney disease in your dog you will need to take your dog to the veterinarian for diagnosis. A change in diet is usually prescribed.

There are special dog foods made for dogs with canine kidney disease. These foods are generally lower in salt and phosphorus than regular dog foods. Restricting salt and phosphorus is necessary for treating kidney disease in dogs.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe medications to help your dog lower his phosphorus levels. You should also talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate level of protein to feed your dog since there is some controversy about the proper level to feed a dog with kidney disease. Some people advocate feeding a diet that has a reduced level of protein while other people suggest feeding a normal or higher level of protein as long as it is of high quality. Ask your veterinarian.

Your dog will need to have fresh water available at all times since he will be urinating a lot. Some dogs may occasionally need extra fluids supplied subcutaneously. Your vet can show you how to do this if necessary.

In some cases, if your dog has an acute case of kidney failure, your dog may make a full recovery. However, chronic kidney disease is more common and your dog will likely have some long term loss of kidney function. You will need to manage your dog’s symptoms and control the disease throughout his lifetime.

In extreme cases, dialysis is an option. Peritoneal dialysis is often used for short-term kidney problems, such as for dogs who are suffering from antifreeze poisoning. Hemodialysis can also be used but it is only offered at a few veterinary referral centers in the United States. The dog’s blood is circulated through a dialysis machine which filters it, trying to duplicate the task of healthy kidneys.

A kidney transplant is also an option in some extreme cases, though it is only offered in a few places and it’s very expensive. There is also the chance of organ rejection.


It is difficult to prevent kidney disease in dogs since it is often a secondary problem that results from other canine health problems. Try to keep your dog in good health and have any infections or diseases treated immediately. If you suspect that your dog is displaying any of the symptoms of canine kidney disease you should take your dog to the veterinarian right away for a diagnosis.

It’s also important for you to take your dog to the veterinarian annually for a check-up. Starting when your dog is about six years old he should get a senior check-up each year which should include a check of his urine and blood. This should help detect any problems with his kidneys before kidney disease becomes advanced.

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