Does My Dog Have Kidney Disease?

And how to help ❤️

kidney disease in dogs

Kidneys are vital organs (for you and your pup!) which is why you want to keep them healthy.

But if your dog develops kidney disease, it’s important to know how it could affect him and what you can do to help.

Sometimes kidney disease can be serious enough that it becomes kidney failure. But luckily, there are ways for your pup to have a happy, healthy life even with kidney disease.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian on staff with Pumpkin Pet Insurance, and Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and veterinary consultant for Five Barks, to find out everything you need to know about kidney disease in dogs.

What kinds of kidney problems can dogs have?

Kidney disease is a pretty common problem for dogs to have, and there are so many different ways it can affect your pup.

“Kidney disease refers to any disease that negatively impacts the kidney, either by causing inflammation of kidney tissue, destroying kidney tissue, or by impairing or destroying the tiny filters that exist within the kidney,” Dr. Wooten told The Dodo.

Kidney disease basically means your dog’s kidneys can’t do all the crucial things they’re supposed to do because they’ve been damaged in some way.

“A dog’s kidneys have several purposes, including filtering the blood of toxins and converting waste into urine,” Dr. Simon told The Dodo. “When something goes wrong with the kidneys, a dog can become very unwell as kidneys need to be working optimally for a dog to be healthy.”

There are two different types of kidney disease: acute and chronic.

“Kidney disease is then further categorized depending on what part of the kidney is affected and the cause of the kidney disease,” Dr. Wooten said.

And if kidney disease is serious enough, it could even be considered kidney failure.

Acute kidney disease in dogs

Acute kidney disease happens when your dog’s issues occur suddenly — sometimes seemingly out of nowhere.

“​​Younger dogs tend to be affected and are usually in good condition and become unwell within a matter of days,” Dr. Simon said.

Your pup’s ability to recover depends on a couple things, like how severely his kidneys are affected and whether or not your vet can diagnose the cause.

“This type of kidney disease can be reversible if diagnosed and treated early,” Dr. Simon said.

Chronic kidney disease in dogs

Chronic kidney disease is something that your dog has struggled with for a long time and doesn’t just pop up overnight.

“Chronic kidney disease is more often seen in older animals,” Dr. Simon said. Certain breeds, like shar-peis and bull terriers, can also be predisposed to chronic kidney disease.

Kidney failure in dogs

When your dog has kidney disease, it’s because the organs are damaged. And if your dog has kidney failure, that damage can’t be repaired.

“Kidney tissue does not regenerate once it is destroyed, which is why kidneys have a large amount of reserve capacity,” Dr. Wooten said. “Once enough damage has been done to the kidneys, then they start to show signs of kidney failure.”

Kidney failure is so bad that your pup’s kidneys stop functioning entirely.

What causes kidney disease in dogs?

Your dog’s kidney disease can be caused by a whole bunch of things, depending on whether he’s dealing with acute or chronic problems.

Since acute kidney disease comes on so quickly, it’s usually caused by your pup eating something he shouldn’t or developing a sudden condition that messes with his organs.

“Acute kidney disease can occur due to a toxin ingestion, an infection or blockage within the urinary tract,” Dr. Simon said.

Because chronic kidney disease is something that affects your dog for quite a while, it can often be the result of another long-term illness.

“There are several potential causes, including cancer and autoimmune disease,” Dr. Simon said.

Sometimes the issue causing your dog’s disease is happening directly to his kidneys, but other times it’s an issue that originated in another part of his body. “Veterinarians will also determine whether the problem is caused by a primary kidney issue, or if disease elsewhere in the body is impacting the kidneys,” Dr. Wooten said.

In addition to toxins, infections, blockages, cancer and autoimmune disease, kidney disease can be caused by things like:

- Congenital causes (aka your dog is born with a kidney problem)
- Inflammation and damage to the tubules, which filter the blood
- Cancer (like kidney tumors)
- Blood loss from trauma
- Heatstroke
- Adrenal insufficiency (aka Addison’s disease)
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Excessively long anesthesia
- Pancreatitis or other systemic inflammatory disorders

What are the symptoms of kidney disease in dogs?

If your dog has kidney disease, symptoms can be difficult to spot early on. A lot of the time, your dog’s kidneys will need to be in super rough shape before he’ll start showing signs that something’s wrong.

“Interestingly, kidneys can be damaged and a dog may not show signs of kidney issues,” Dr. Simon said. “In fact, the nephrons within the kidneys need to be about 75 percent damaged before the kidney enzymes begin to noticeably rise in the blood.”

If your pup does show symptoms of kidney disease, they’ll vary based on a few factors.

“Signs depend on what part of the kidney is damaged, how severe the damage is and what the underlying cause of kidney damage is,” Dr. Wooten said.

A dog showing signs of kidney disease might experience symptoms like:

  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Nausea
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss

“In the later stages of kidney disease, we can see severe muscle wasting and emaciation,” Dr. Simon said.

Take your dog to the vet the second you notice any of these symptoms, because kidney disease is far easier to treat the earlier it’s caught.

What are the symptoms of kidney failure in dogs?

In addition to the signs mentioned above, symptoms of kidney failure in dogs also include:

  • Bloody urine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad breath
  • Not urinating
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Energy loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen paws, legs or abdomen

Bring your dog to the vet ASAP if you spot any of these symptoms, because kidney failure is super serious.

What’s the best treatment for kidney disease in dogs?

When it comes to kidney disease, a multimodal treatment (using more than one method) is the most effective approach. And treating the cause and symptoms at the same time is going to be the best option for your pup, especially when it comes to acute kidney disease.

“Treatment is usually aimed at supportive care (nursing care, intravenous fluid therapy), maintaining normal urine output and treating or removing the underlying cause if possible,” Dr. Wooten said. “Surgery may be indicated in some instances. In other cases, medications may be prescribed.”

Because acute kidney disease is often caused by blockages or ingested toxins, your dog will need some intense treatment to keep things from getting even more serious.

“Treatment will usually consist of hospitalization, high-rate fluid therapy and medication such as anti-nausea drugs and antacids,” Dr. Simon said.

Treating chronic kidney disease is all about easing your pup’s symptoms, since there’s really no way to reverse such a long-term illness.

“While there is no cure for chronic kidney disease, dogs can be managed with a prescription diet and medication,” Dr. Simon said.

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And while kidney failure is pretty dire, it doesn’t always mean hope is lost.

“Kidney failure may be treatable in dogs if it is caught early enough, before permanent damage (scarring) is done to the tubules and glomerulus (the tiny filters in the kidney),” Dr. Wooten said. “Treatment may require hospitalization for several days, intravenous fluid therapy and monitoring urine output by veterinary staff. Dialysis and/or a blood transfusion may be required in some cases.”

How can you prevent kidney disease in dogs?

A big way to prevent kidney disease in dogs is to keep your pup hydrated, since that’ll make your dog regularly flush out those toxins when he pees, keeping his kidneys at the top of their game.

“​​Water and hydration status are very important when it comes to caring for kidneys,” Dr. Simon said. “The more we can ‘flush them through,’ the better.”

There are a few things you can do to get your dog to drink more water.

“We can encourage water drinking in all dogs by offering canned food, adding water to meals and giving dog-safe ice lollies and ice cubes,” Dr. Simon said. “We should also feed dogs a high-quality diet that is correctly balanced and contains the right amount of protein for their life stage.”

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And believe it or not, a lifetime of poor dental hygiene could end up causing chronic kidney disease. So, staying on top of your pup’s oral health is a crucial part of prevention.

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Kidney disease can be pretty scary, but now that you know what sort of things can cause it, what symptoms to watch out for and how to treat it, you’ll know how to help your pup if he ever develops any issues with those vital organs.

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