Kidney Problems in Dogs

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on September 04, 2023
4 min read

Even though dogs are a different species, their bodies function very similarly to human bodies. Dogs have kidneys to balance nutrients in their bodies and filter out waste. 

Kidneys also help control blood pressure, increase red blood cell production, and help calcium metabolize.

If kidney function is impaired, it can cause a domino effect of health problems for your pet. Know the signs of kidney disease in dogs and what you can do to prevent and treat their condition.

Kidney problems in dogs can be acute or chronic. Acute kidney failure happens quickly over several days, while chronic kidney failure happens slowly over time.

Causes of Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney problems are most frequently attributed to your dog ingesting a toxin. It may be a chemical like antifreeze, household cleaners, or bad food.

Problems also occur due to a urinary obstruction in your pet’s body. When blood flow decreases, it leaves your dog’s kidneys less oxygenated and more prone to infection.

Kidney issues may also result from:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Heat strokes
  • Snake Bites
  • Leptospirosis (a bacterial infection)

Causes of Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney disease is most common in older dogs, and the exact cause is often difficult to pinpoint because of its slow onset. Early symptoms of chronic kidney disease are easily overlooked or dismissed because they are mild in nature.

Dental disease is a leading cause of chronic kidney failure in older dogs. Bacteria build up on your dog’s teeth and enter the digestive system when eating and drinking. While your dog’s kidneys are designed to filter waste, bacteria can lessen kidney function over time.

A few signs to watch for include:

  • Drinking more or less water
  • Change in volume and frequency of urination
  • Loss of interest in playing or interacting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blood in urine
  • Signs of dental disease like pale gums, smelly breath, mouth ulcers

Keep Your Dog Away From Chemicals

Kidney disease doesn’t have to be a problem for your dog. Keep your dog safe by taking preventative measures to ensure they don’t have access to household chemicals and cleaners.

It is important to keep in mind that dogs are chewers by nature, so keeping chemicals in a closed cabinet isn’t enough. You may also have false assurance that “child-proof” seals will keep your dog safe, but they won’t. 

Dogs can easily chew through plastic bottles and drink dangerous chemicals. Make sure bottles are kept in locked cabinets or up high where dogs cannot reach them.

Avoid Exposure to Medications and Other Harmful Substances

In addition to keeping your dog away from dangerous household cleaners and chemicals, it may also be important to avoid having your pet near medications, food, and other substances.

These could include:

  • Raisins
  • Prescription and over-the-counter drugs, like ibuprofen
  • Grapes
  • Contaminated water sources

Dental Hygiene

Since chronic kidney disease can occur from poor dental hygiene, keeping your dog’s teeth clean is crucial for long-term health. 

Talk to your vet about how often you should have your dog’s teeth cleaned and ask about food and treats that may help with dental hygiene in dogs.

While damage from acute kidney problems is more easily treated, damage to your dog’s organs from chronic kidney disease is irreversible unless caught early. 

Since some damage is irreversible, preventative measures listed above are essential for your dog.

If kidney disease or kidney failure is diagnosed in your dog, treatment will depend on the severity of his condition. Your vet will begin by addressing issues related to underlying conditions like chemical poisoning, dehydration, or infection. 

Your dog’s treatment plan may also include:

  • Medicines that encourage production of urine
  • Fluid therapy via an IV
  • Addition of electrolytes to balance out blood levels
  • Medicine to reduce vomiting
  • Medication to ease gastrointestinal problems
  • Dialysis
  • Recommendations for changes in diet
  • Medicine for anemia
  • Management of blood pressure

While you may be tempted to create a DIY home-cooked diet for your dog, that may not be best. Dog food has the correct balance of nutrients your dog needs to stay healthy. 

Your veterinarian may suggest a specific type of dog food with additional nutrients your dog needs for his condition.

You may be tempted to feed your dog from your plate, but some foods can hurt your dog and/or contribute to kidney issues, like:

  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate, coffee, and caffeine
  • Coconut
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Macadamia and other nuts
  • Milk and dairy
  • Onions, garlic, chives
  • Raw or undercooked meat and eggs
  • Salty/processed snack foods
  • Xylitol
  • Yeast dough

Kidney problems in dogs that go untreated can be life-threatening. If you suspect your dog has kidney failure, don’t try to self-diagnose and treat the condition at home. 

Kidney problems often lead to life-threatening conditions that require immediate hospitalization and treatment. If left untreated, end-stage kidney failure may occur, leading to a fatal outcome.

Talk to your vet or take your dog to an after-hours emergency clinic for a diagnosis and treatment.