Kidney (renal) failure in dogs

Kidney, or renal failure as it is more commonly known, is when the kidneys can no longer filter waste products metabolized from blood. When in failure, kidneys lose the ability to regulate or balance fluids (when the body should expel or retain) , electrolytes (that keep cells hydrated), and pH (acid) in the body.

There are two kinds of kidney failure. Acute failure which comes on abruptly and is potentially reversible; and chronic failure that progresses slowly and can cause long term damage, but is treatable.

Left untreated, both are deadly. Treated promptly and appropriately, your dog can lead a long and healthy life in most cases.

Acute kidney failure presents symptoms almost immediately and can be caused by a multitude of reasons but most commonly brought on by ingestion of toxins, medication overdoses, ingestion of toxic foods or tainted treats, tick borne diseases, bacterial infections, primary diseases or conditions that cause a sudden reduction in blood flow to the kidneys, and/or diseases that cause an obstruction to urine flow, just to name a few.

Symptoms of acute kidney failure can include loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, problems urinating, or in more serious cases, disorientation and loss of coordination. Your pet may also show other stress signs such as excessive panting or diarrhea.

Acute kidney failure in dogs can be fatal, quickly, so immediate veterinary care is a must. Timing is absolutely critical.

Once the kidneys begin to fail, two things happen. The body begins to fill with fluid and the body’s ability to rid itself of toxins is gone. The buildup of both fluid and toxins in the body are certain death without immediate intervention. This buildup of toxins is called toxicosis and is deadly. Toxicosis may result in convulsions, coma, muscle weakness, and more.

Chronic kidney failure is usually congenital or inherited. That means that the dog has had kidney disease from birth. Most dogs with chronic kidney failure will show signs early in life, generally at one to two years of age. As they age their symptoms will worsen.

Chronic kidney failure happens in three stages.

In the first stage kidneys have lost up 50 percent of their function. No signs may be visible at this point unless your dog’s drinking and urination has noticeably changed.

The second stage is reached when the kidneys have lost between 60 and 80 percent of their function. At this point your dog may be having accidents in the house.  Other signs might be nausea and/or vomiting, weight loss, anemia, or diarrhea.

The third and final stage of chronic kidney failure is when kidney function is at only at about 10 percent. At this point the kidneys are almost unable to function at all. Your dog will be weak and unwilling to move. He will be straining to pee but with little or no output. At this stage toxins are heavily built up in the blood stream. Your dog may be walking hunched up as the pain in his kidneys will be significant.

If you dog presents symptoms your veterinarian can screen for impaired kidney function by doing blood work and urine tests. They will be looking at protein in the urine, increased blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine levels, low blood count, and increased phosphorus levels.

These are also labs that most veterinarians do for your pet’s annual check up. So even if symptoms have not yet presented themselves outwardly, it’s possible to catch the disease early through yearly checks ups.


Treatments for kidney dysfunction may include increased fluid intake, a change in diet and lifestyle, and sometimes, medications such as antibiotics are prescribed.

Fresh water should be readily available for your pet at all times. Hard water should be filtered as the minerals it contains are difficult for kidneys to filter.

Daily exercise is a must. Even a short trip around the perimeter of your yard a couple of times a day will be beneficial and help you dog work up a thirst and keep their appetite stimulated.

Diet should include moderate amounts of high-quality protein, reduced amounts of phosphorus, moderate to high amounts of fat, moderate amounts of low-phosphorus carbohydrates. Since you almost need a degree in pet nutrition to decipher all of that, most pet owners typically go with a commercially produced renal supportive diet prescribed by their veterinary.

If you dog is consuming plenty of water, a dry food may suffice. If they are not drinking regularly, a soft (wet) diet may be the way to go. Your veterinarian will guide you in the right direction.

The following are the most commonly prescribed, commercially made foods for dogs with renal issues.

Dry foods:

Wet foods:

Some people choose to begin preparing food from scratch for their pets when they have been diagnosed with a disease such as renal failure. While such a practice is never discouraged it is something that you should work on with your veterinary to maintain the proper balance in your pet’s diet.

When changing your pets diet you should always introduce a new diet gradually, over a period of days, as to prevent stomach upset in your pet. It may take some trial and error to determine which new food will suit your pet’s taste and what their tummy can handle. The same will be true of supplements and treats.

If you’re interested in bolstering your pet’s diet try Pet Wellbeing – Kidney Support Gold for Dogs.  Kidney Support Gold is comprised of scientifically researched extracts for supporting total kidney health. More than 70% of the people who used Kidney Support Gold report a significant improvement in their pets.

Last but not least, one of the biggest upsets in a renal sick pet is the limitations on treats. It doesn’t do any good to go to the trouble of changing your dog’s diet if you keep feeding them the same old commercially made dog treats. Those treats contain all those ingredients that renal patient dogs simply must not have.

There are any number of treats on the market for renal deficient pets. Major producers of animal foods certainly have a line of treats renal specific like  Hill’s Prescription Diet Canine Treats. 

However, while researching for this article the name of one treat kept coming up over and over again. Surprisingly it is not made by one of the major animal food manufacturers. Mattie’s healthy treats for dogs with kidney disease.  These treats are low protein, low phosphorus and have no wheat, corn, or soy in them. Word is that dogs love the pumpkin and cinnamon flavor.

*Please note that not all dogs with kidney failure will display decreased urination. Do not wait to see this symptom before getting your pet the proper medical care. 

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