Kidney Failure in Dogs

Laura Russell, DVM, MBA, DABVP
By Laura Russell, DVM, MBA, DABVP on Jun. 21, 2023
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In This Article


What Is Kidney Failure in Dogs?

The primary job of the kidneys is to filter the blood by removing waste products and controlling the amount of fluid and nutrients kept in the body and how much is passed in urine.

With any type of kidney failure, this filtering isn’t working well, so waste products are not properly removed from the bloodstream and too much fluid is passed in urine along with proteins and electrolytes. As waste products build up in the blood and tissues, dogs can get ulcerations (tears) in the lining of their digestive tract as well.

Kidney failure may also be referred to by terms listed below. The word renal refers to all things related to kidneys, and is often used interchangeably. Failure, insufficiency, and disease are commonly used to describe similar issues with the kidneys.

  • Renal failure

  • Renal insufficiency

  • Kidney disease

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

Kidney disease is often divided into categories based on how long it has been affecting the dog. Acute renal failure occurs in a very short time frame, and is often caused by eating or drinking a toxin or getting a severe infection that harms the kidneys. Chronic kidney disease refers to a process with a more gradual onset or one that has been happening for a longer period of time.

Changes that can occur with an aging pet are often caused by chronic kidney disease, but if a dog’s kidneys were damaged by eating a toxic item several months ago and he now has renal failure because of this, it is also known as chronic kidney disease.

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Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs

  • Drinking more water (polydipsia)

  • More frequent urination (polyuria)

  • Urinary accidents in house-trained pets

  • Lack of energy

  • Refusing to eat

  • Vomiting

  • Drooling

  • Changes in defecation (either diarrhea or constipation)

  • Weight loss

  • Mouth sores

  • Bad breath

  • Weakness

Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Kidney failure can occur because of an acute event, such as a toxin ingestion or infection that harms the kidneys; degenerative (worsening) changes over time; or an underlying medical condition that damages renal tissues, which can occur due to genetic predispositions in some dog breeds.

Specific causes include:

Breeds that are prone to inherited renal failure include:

How Veterinarians Diagnose Kidney Failure in Dogs

Your veterinarian will want to run several tests, in addition to a physical exam, to diagnose kidney failure, such as:

  • Complete blood count

  • Chemistry panel

  • Urinalysis with culture

  • Abdominal ultrasound

Treatment of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Treatment of kidney failure is based on the severity of the disease and whether it is acute or chronic.

  • Acute kidney disease is treated with hospitalization and IV fluid therapy to support the kidneys and help them remove wastes. Depending on the cause of the disease, decontamination medications, toxin-binding medications, antibiotics, or medications to support the gastrointestinal tract may be given. In extreme cases, renal dialysis can help the kidneys. This last procedure is rare, only available at some university or veterinary specialty hospitals.

  • Chronic kidney disease requires careful management of dogs at home. They need to have access to water at all times and be encouraged to drink water. Many dogs have improvements with a prescription kidney diet. Some dogs need to be on medications to control high blood pressure or to protect their stomach. Pets with chronic kidney disease need to see their veterinarian often so that their renal values can be checked. Some dogs with kidney disease need to receive injectable fluids at home or may even need to be hospitalized at times to help their fluid needs.

Recovery and Management of Kidney Failure in Dogs

With acute kidney failure, prognosis is variable depending upon the cause of the disease, how severe the disease is, how damaged the kidneys are, the speed and aggressiveness of treatment, and the dog’s response.

For chronic renal failure, long-term prognosis is not good. Most dogs die or are euthanized within a year because of poor quality of life.

The families of dogs with kidney disease should expect to watch them closely and will need to see their veterinarian often, especially as their pet’s kidney function gets worse. These dogs will be easily dehydrated, as their kidneys are not able to keep water in their bodies. Any infection, vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite or activity could severely dehydrate the pet and worsen the disease.

Kidney Failure in Dogs FAQs

How does kidney failure differ from kidney disease?

Kidney disease is a broader term that includes any problem with the kidneys. Kidney failure is a specific term that means the kidneys can’t keep up with filtering waste products and managing fluid levels.

Is kidney failure fatal in dogs?

Depending on the severity and progression of the disease, kidney failure can be fatal.

Laura Russell, DVM, MBA, DABVP


Laura Russell, DVM, MBA, DABVP


Dr. Russell is a 2003 graduate of the University of Missouri. She is board certified in Canine and Feline Practice, certified in canine...

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