Kidney Failure in Dogs

14 min read


Treatment for Kidney Failure


In human medicine, dialysis and kidney transplantation are the main methods of dealing with advanced kidney failure. These methods are also employed in treating dogs but impose heavy financial and time burdens on the pet owner and some stress on the patient who is already stressed by the disease. 


Unfortunately, once the diagnosis of kidney failure is made, most patients are so sick that response to treatment is unrewarding and slow. You may need to consider euthanasia in order to prevent the long, slow, and agonizing death that comes from complete renal shutdown. 


In very extreme and special circumstances, a kidney transplant may be an animal's only hope of long term existence.  Kidney transplantation is a controversial topic but the science and success rate in cats and dogs has advanced greatly in recent years.


Treating kidney failure is one of the most consistently discouraging aspects of veterinary medical practice. The difficulty stems from the fact that once a dog or cat has lost 75 percent of total renal function, the ability to remove metabolic waste products is outweighed by the buildup of those toxins. The animal is simply not able to keep up with the "housecleaning"  and as a result gradually becomes increasingly more toxic. Body chemistry swings more and more acidic, important chemicals and nutrients are lost from the body and the animal comes gradually closer and closer to a fatal uremic poisoning. In some cases, gradual kidney tissue loss can be present for years before the patient becomes critical and actual "renal failure" is diagnosed.


The goal of treatment is to allow the patient to live as close to a normal life as possible under the circumstances. Since the kidneys do not heal or regenerate new and functioning tissue, the remaining functional tissue carries the entire burden normally handled by two healthy kidneys.  Intravenous and subcutaneous fluids can be administered for varying lengths of time to try to correct acid-base imbalances.


Vomiting can be controlled. Anti-ulcer medication can be given. Bicarbonate may be administered either orally or intravenously to assist in neutralizing acid buildup. B-vitamins are provided. Antibiotics are employed if there is an infection present anywhere in the body... taking into consideration that some antibiotics will also build up in the patient if renal function is compromised. Phosphate binders and Omega Fatty acids in correct amounts and proportions may be temporarily beneficial for the Chronic Renal Failure patient. High quality, low protein diets have been proven to be helpful in lessening the metabolic tasks that must be performed by the kidneys once end stage kidney disease is present.


Dietary Considerations


Contrary to popular myth, there is no evidence that feeding dogs diets rich in or "high" in protein actually causes kidney damage or disease (though it most certainly isn't ideal for animals already suffering from kidney issues). In fact, there is ample research and well documented studies that prove that dogs and cats thrive on diets with levels of protein consistent with a meat-eater's (carnivore) natural prey selection. Read more about protein in dog diets here.


Image: bigbirdz / via Flickr