23 January, 2018

Kidney Disease in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and More

Kidney Disease in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and MoreKidney disease in dogs, sounds scary right? Has your dog been diagnosed with kidney disease? 

Kidney disease in dogs is a generalized term that talks about the various diseases and metabolic problems that may disrupt the normal functioning of your dogs’ kidneys.

So, if you’ve got a pooch with any kind of “kidney” problems then this article is just for you! Here we will cover all you need to know about kidney disease in dogs.

Canine Kidney Disease Explained

Both dogs and cats can be at risk for chronic renal failure. In particular, it is estimated that 15% of dogs over the age of 0 years may experience kidney damage. But, if you’ve got a cat, then studies showed that 30% of cats over the age of 15 years are at risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

Kidney disease in dogs sounds quite complicated, right? It definitely is a relatively difficult topic to understand especially if you don’t have a medical background.

A x-ray of a dog's anatomy highlighting dog urogenital system causing kidney failure in dogs

Here is a little anatomy and physiology lesson 101! Kidneys have four main functions in our dog’s body, this includes:

  • The kidney function as a filtration system
  • Reabsorption of substances and helpful molecules back into the blood
  • Secretion of waste products
  • The kidney function as a waste disposal system. That is the kidney excretes waste products out of the body.

Now, if we were to zoom into the kidneys of a dog we would see this structures called nephrons.

Nephrons are a single unit that consists of things like the Bowman’s capsule, glomerulus, and renal tubules.

To keep it simple, on a microscopic level the kidney consists of millions of tiny little nephrons, these nephrons are what filters in and out substances which means toxins will begin to build up in their blood.

Chronic Kidney Failure: What Does it Mean for Your Pet

Kidney failure is a disease that occurs when the nephrons of the kidney are no longer able to filter toxins and substances from the blood.

Kidney failure can be part of the normal aging process, this means that chronic kidney failure is more likely to occur in our geriatric dogs.

Unfortunately, dogs with kidney failure will slowly lose the total functioning of their kidney. Gradually, your dog will begin to get worse as the stages of kidney failure advance. Remember, to do your dogs blood chemistry on a regular basis in order to see what stage your dog’s kidney failure is at.

There are 4 stages of kidney disease in dogs and this is how it will look on your dog’s blood test:

Stage 1 Creatine concentration levels are often less than 1.4 mg/dL

Stage 2 Creatine concentration levels will be between 1.4-2.0 mg/dL. At this point, clinical signs may not be noticed yet! but you may notice your dog drinking or be urinating more.

Stage 3 Creatine concentrations may jump anywhere from 2.1 to 5.0. Clinical signs associated with kidney disease become more severe and prevalent.

Stage 4 Creatine concentrations that exceed 5.0 mg/dL. Can indicate that only 10% of the nephrons are now functioning. This is often termed as end-stage kidney disease.

Taken from the small animal internal medicine veterinary textbook

6 Possible Causes of Kidney Disease in Dogs

There may be many causes of kidney disease in dogs. Listed below are just some of the common causes of kidney disease in dogs.

  • Cushing’s Disease is a disease that affects the adrenal gland of a dog. When a dog has Cushing’s disease they will begin to produce an excessive amount of glucocorticoids. The result? Increased blood flow through the renal arteries and thus damage to the nephrons (more specifically the glomerulus of nephrons).
  • Addison’s disease is a disease that occurs as a result of poorly active adrenal glands. Addisons disease often affects the balance of other important solutes for the kidneys such as potassium, water, and sodium. Thus, kidney function may be compromised if Addison’s is left untreated.
  • Age and genetics seem to be the most common causes of chronic renal failure. Sometimes, over the years a dogs kidney can undergo stress such as increased amounts of toxin, protein etc. So, eventually, kidneys do wear out and lose their function.
  • Renal hypertension can also cause chronic renal failure in dogs and cats. Renal hypertension simply means that the renal arteries are under high blood pressure. High blood pressure or uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to kidney disease.
  • Kidney stones may be a cause of acute kidney failure. There are many causes of kidney stones in dogs, this can include increased levels of calcium, urine with high pH and infections.
  • Pyelonephritis is simply an upper urinary tract infection that may be caused by bacterial infections.
  • Dogs that ingest toxic substances and foods may be at risk of acute kidney failure. For example, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), medications, grapes, etc are all toxic to dogs and can damage your dog’s kidneys.

Why It’s Important to Know the Signs of Kidney Disease in Dogs

Canine kidney disease can be a dangerous disease, which can take the life of your pet.

Once you notice your dog is showing mild signs such as increased thirst and increased urination, then it is important to take them to the vet so that you can get a blood test and urinalysis done.

Renal failure in dogs is a progressive disease; a dog may be asymptomatic during stage 1 or stage 2 of kidney failure. So, most pet parents often don’t catch kidney failure until their beloved pooch has reached stage 3 or stage 4.

Once your dog has reached their senior age it’s important to consider doing regular blood tests in order to catch early kidney disease.

What Happens When Kidney Problems are Left Untreated

Unfortunately, if you leave your dogs’ kidney problems untreated then this can be very dangerous.

Not only is it unethical, but it can be quite troubling for your dog.

Dogs left untreated for kidney problems will not live longer than a few weeks to maybe a few months. As a result, they will need to be euthanized.

List of Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Dogs:

Now the symptoms of kidney disease in dogs can be quite easily identifiable. Some common clinical signs of kidney disease include:

  • Polydypsia: Excessive thirst
  • Polyuria: Excessive urination
  • Azotemia
  • Halitosis: Bad breath
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Blood tests can show anemia, abnormal calcium and phosphorus imbalances
  • Consistent vomiting and nausea
  • Oral ulcers may be the most common sign during the later stages of kidney failure, due to the inability of the kidney to filter out toxic substances from the blood.

Kidney Disease in Dogs: Treatment Options

Dog in IV undergoing treatment of kidney disease in dogs

Now, the treatment for kidney disease in dogs can be short-lived if your dog has acute kidney failure or it could be a long-term commitment if your dog has a chronic renal failure.

What to expect from the vets! Kidney failure of leads to an polydipsia and polyuria, this means that dogs are more likely to drink more as they’re dehydrated. In order to combat dehydration and high levels of nitrogen in the blood, your veterinarian will administer intravenous fluids to correct these problems.

In general, your vet will aim to correct and restore any electrolyte and acid-base imbalances. Additionally, dogs with kidney disease may also develop metabolic problems and complications such as kidney stones, hypercalcemia, infections etc. Thus, your vet may administer an array of medications that will bring your dogs’ metabolism back to as normal as possible.

At home and on-going care! Your dog will need to remain on a strict diet as well as an intensive regime. A dog with chronic kidney failure may ongoing subcutaneous fluid therapy treatment which will need to be administered every day by the owner.

Your dog will need to have access to fresh water at all times. Your vet will suggest that you decrease the level of sodium in your dog’s diet, add phosphorus binders to restrict phosphorus uptake, this can include calcium carbonate or calcium acetate.

Kidney Disease in Dogs: Homemade Diet for your Pup

We never recommend creating a homemade diet for dogs with severe metabolic disorders such as chronic renal failure.

This is because creating a homemade diet is not only time consuming, but, it is also a tricky business that needs to be monitored closely.

Nevertheless, a homemade diet consisting of fresh food can be quite beneficial to your dog with kidney failure. Here’s what you should first consider!

Key Points to Remember on Diets for Kidney Disease in Dogs

  1. Calcium in excess can cause further damage to the kidneys
  2. Phosphorus: As the kidney is damaged, it will no longer be able to filter out phosphorus and toxins from the blood.
  3. Protein does not necessarily need to be restricted. Protein restriction is dependent on the type of kidney failure your dog may have. For example, dogs with protein-losing nephropathy (a type of kidney disease in dogs) will require decreased levels of protein in their food.
  4. EPA and DHA are antioxidants that can decrease damage to the kidneys.

DIY Homemade Recipe for Dogs with Kidney Disease

Here’s a quick recipe for your pooch with kidney disease.

Remember, choose quality ingredients and try to feed your dog dry food designed for kidney problems in dogs.  For example, Royal Canin and Hills Science Diet have an amazing formula for dogs with kidney disease.

Green Tripe & Veggies!

  • Cooked Green Tripe
  • Beef Liver
  • A handful of blueberries
  • A handful of fresh vegetables of your choice
  • Sweet potato
  • A complex of vitamin B supplements
  • A few tablespoons of turmeric
  • Decreased levels of salt and sodium to control high blood pressure or any blood pressure abnormalities.
  • Fish oil for DHA and EPA
  • Phosphorus binders (prescribed by vet)
  • Soluble fibers such as cooked pumpkin

Remember, cooking for your pet daily can be tricky business.

If your dog has kidney disease then it is highly recommended that you stick to the prescription diet at the vets.

However, fresh, home cooked meals are always beneficial to your dog’s health. So, as an alternative, you can consider feeding your dog both kidney failure prescription diets and home cooked meals.

How to Manage Chronic Kidney Disease in Dogs

Now, kidney failure in dogs can eventually take a dog’s life.

When a dog is living with kidney failure, the ultimate goal is to slow down the progression of the disease through diet, alleviate the harsh clinical signs and correct any metabolic abnormalities.

When it comes to managing your dog’s chronic renal failure, you as a pet owner will have to control your pet’s diet by choosing the right dog food.

Additionally, you will have to administer subcutaneous fluid a few times a day, every day to ease your dog’s symptoms. Furthermore, your veterinary may prescribe a range of drugs such as anti-inflammatories, anti-emetics and more in order to ease the symptoms of chronic kidney failure in your dog.

Kidney Disease in Dogs Is Serious so Read up and Talk to Your Vet

When it comes to kidney disease, there may be various causes. Dogs diagnosed with chronic kidney failure will require intensive care and therapy. And unfortunately, chronic kidney failure is an incurable disease. Sadly, once diagnosed dogs may only have a few months to a year.

But, in general, acute kidney disease, if treated quickly, can curable. Talk to your veterinarian if you’re concerned about canine kidney failure.

Got a question about kidney failure in dogs? Or kidney disease in cats? Ask us in the comments below!