How can you tell if a dog has kidney problems? What to Know

What are common causes of kidney failure in dogs?

Any disease that impacts the kidneys may cause the kidneys to fail, such as:

Congenital Disease: This category is comprised of hereditary conditions and underlying illnesses – everything from cysts to agenesis (being born missing one or both kidneys).

Dental Disease: Advanced dental disease can result from the buildup of bacteria on teeth and gums. The bacteria accumulates here, then enters the bloodstream to attack multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to kidneys, along with the liver and heart.

Bacterial Infections: Drinking or swimming in contaminated water is a hazard, as the system becomes susceptible to bacterial infections including leptospirosis. This can result in inflamed kidneys and renal cells being killed.

Toxicosis: If the kidneys are poisoned, this can cause cells within the kidneys to become damaged. This can happen if your dog consumes drugs or poisons (including substances or foods that are toxic to them).

Geriatric Degeneration: Cells within the kidneys may break down and die as your dog ages, which can lead to kidney disease.

What are signs of kidney failure in dogs?

Watch for these common symptoms of kidney failure:

  • Lethargy
  • Significant weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Breath that smells like chemicals
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Increase or decrease in water intake
  • Increase or decrease in urine volume
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Drunken behavior or uncoordinated movement such as stumbling
  • Blood in urine
  • Intestinal seizures
  • A few factors can indicate whether kidney problems or other issues such as diabetes mellitus are causing the symptoms, such as: the type of kidney failure your dog may be experiencing, the extent of loss of function in the kidneys, progression of the condition and its underlying causes.

    Causes of Kidney Disease in Dogs

    Broadly speaking, kidney disease means something is hampering the organs ability to do their job—removing waste from the blood, producing urine—says Alicen Tracey, DVM and a member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.

    Sometimes, the causes of kidney disease in dogs just isnt known, Washington State University veterinarians write. But a younger dog with congenital kidney disease likely has some kind of birth defect that causes the kidney trouble, Tracey says. She adds that sometimes kidney disease can be caused by an acute injury that harms the organ—like if your dog consumes grapes or raisins.

    Chronic kidney disease can also be connected to another chronic disease that affects the kidneys, WSU writes. It can also be caused by high blood pressure.

    How to Recognize the Signs & Symptoms of Canine Kidney Disease

    Renal (kidney) disease can be divided into two broad categories: acute and chronic. Acute renal disease develops over the course of days and usually has a single cause, such as antifreeze poisoning or a kidney infection. Chronic renal disease comes on much more slowly and is typically diagnosed in older dogs. It is the result of the gradual loss of kidney function. Most often, a cause is never identified.

    The kidneys can’t regenerate themselves. When functional renal tissue is damaged beyond repair it is gone forever. The signs of renal disease start to become evident once two-thirds to three-quarters of kidney function has been lost. : Csehak Szabolcs / ShutterstockChanges in Urination

    The kidneys play a vital role in keeping water where it is needed—inside the body. Producing large amounts of dilute urine is one of the first signs of renal disease in dogs. This can result in more frequent trips outside and accidents in the house.

    On the other hand, dogs with severe acute renal disease often produce less urine than normal and as the condition progresses, may ultimately produce none at all. Their kidneys have completely shut down. : Halfpoint / ThinkstockIncreased Thirst

    When water is being lost from the body in the form of large amounts of dilute urine, dogs with renal disease become dehydrated and thirsty. At the beginning, they can compensate by drinking more water, but eventually they can’t drink enough to replace what is being lost. : Lindsay Helms / ShutterstockLethargy

    Dehydration makes dogs feel bad. They lose energy and may simply want to rest rather than take part in the activities they used to love.

    Healthy kidneys are also responsible for filtering waste products out of the bloodstream and putting them into urine to be eliminated from the body. Renal disease compromises this important kidney function, which results in increased blood levels of metabolic waste products like blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. This also makes dogs feel sick.

    Finally, in cases of chronic renal disease, the kidneys no longer produce enough of the hormone (erythropoietin) that stimulates the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. The result is anemia and worsening lethargy. : Dorottya Mathe / ThinkstockPoor Appetite

    All of the metabolic changes that produce lethargy in dogs with renal disease can also make them feel bad enough that they lose their appetite. Dogs with chronic renal disease often have had a poor appetite for such a long time that they lose significant amounts of weight.

    Dogs with renal disease are also at higher than average risk for developing gastrointestinal irritation and ulcers. These conditions cause nausea and abdominal pain (especially after a meal), making affected dogs even less likely to eat. : Barbara Helgason / ThinkstockGastrointestinal Signs

    Dogs with advancing renal disease will often start to vomit as a result of the irritation and/or develop ulcers within their gastrointestinal tract, along with other metabolic changes. Some dogs also develop diarrhea, but if dehydration becomes severe enough, constipation may result. : TatyanaGl / ThinkstockSigns of Advanced Renal Disease

    The kidneys are vital to normal body function. When a dog has advanced renal failure, the following symptoms may become evident:

    As is the case with most serious canine diseases, the sooner dogs receive appropriate treatment for renal disease the better their prognosis. Some cases of acute renal disease can be cured, and these lucky dogs will go on to live happy, healthy, and, hopefully, long lives.

    Chronic renal disease is not curable, but some cases can be managed in such a way that dogs enjoy an excellent quality of life for an extended period of time.