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Guide to Kidney Disease in Dogs


Your dog’s kidneys are important. Not only do they help filter out toxins and waste products from your dog’s blood, they also help produce urine, help with mineral and fluid balance in the body, and produce a hormone that is important in the production of red blood cells. 

When there is disease affecting the kidneys, then toxins and waste products can build up in the body and cause serious illness. In severe cases, total kidney failure can be fatal.

As a dog owner it’s important to understand the causes and symptoms for kidney disease in your pup as detecting an issue early can make a drastic impact on their chance of survival and quality of life. In this article we look at some of the causes and symptoms of kidney disease in dogs as well the methods your vet will use to diagnose and get your dog back to health.  

What are the causes of kidney disease in dogs?

There are many causes of kidney disease, especially acute kidney disease. This refers to the sudden onset of kidney disease and can sometimes have more intense clinical signs than chronic kidney disease. 

Bacterial kidney infections 

Can be very severe and typically require aggressive fluid and antibiotic therapy for treatment. 


A disease caused by Leptospira bacteria, can quickly cause kidney failure if left untreated, and it is transmissible to other pets and people.

Toxin ingestion

Can also cause acute kidney disease. Grapes, raisins, human pain medications, and plants like the castor bean plant can all cause acute kidney injuries.

Inherited kidney disease

Congenital or inherited kidney disease is rare but can occur in many different dog breeds. Clinical signs may become apparent when they are puppies, and they may have a shortened life expectancy in severe cases. 

Cysts and tumors

Can also cause kidneys disease. In cases where older dogs begin to show signs of kidney disease, they may have chronic kidney disease. This refers to the gradual onset of disease, and while there is no definitive cure, early intervention can slow the progression of disease and lead to a better quality of life. 

What are the symptoms of kidney disease? 

Your dog’s clinical signs may vary based on the type of kidney disease that he has. 

Acute kidney disease vs chronic kidney disease 

Acute kidney disease can bring on very sudden symptoms like fever, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and frequent urination. 

Chronic kidney disease can gradually develop. Your dog may lose weight over time, and he may start to show increases in his thirst and urination. 

Increased urination is something to look out for 

Increased urination can lead to dehydration and can cause urinary accidents in the home. While it may seem like your dog has urinary incontinence or a simple urinary tract infection, kidney disease is definitely a possibility. 

For more information on the various causes of urinary accidents, check out Why is My Dog Peeing on the Bed?” Increased thirst or polydipsia is the direct result of the dehydration caused by excess urination. Our article, “Why Does My Dog Drink More Water? has more information on some of the other causes of polydipsia. 

Increased urination can lead to dehydration

How is kidney disease diagnosed?

After a physical exam is performed and a thorough medical history is collected, your veterinarian will recommend blood work and urine testing

These are the two most common tests used for diagnosing kidney disease, and they can help rule out some of the other diseases that can mimic signs of kidney disease. For example, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes mellitus can all cause increases in thirst and urination. If you would like more information on diabetes, then please check out our article on Diabetes in Dogs.” 

With kidney disease, your dog may have elevated values such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CREA). He may also have very dilute urine that will sometimes have protein in it. If your dog has these lab work abnormalities, then further testing may be recommended in order to determine the stage of his kidney disease. 

Treatment recommendations will be based on your dog’s lab work values and clinical signs. Stage one is early kidney disease while stage four is considered late stage kidney disease. 

How is kidney disease treated?

If your dog’s lab work is abnormal and he is experiencing clinical signs, then his treatment will be a two-phase process. 

Phase 1 hospital care 

In the first phase, your veterinarian will first recommend hospital care and intravenous fluids in order to flush the toxins out of his blood. 

kidney disease treatment

Phase 2 hospital care 

If your dog is vomiting or having diarrhea, then medications will be recommended to help stop vomiting and provide pain relief. 

If your dog’s clinical signs do not improve during hospitalization, then he may have a guarded to poor prognosis. If his signs do improve, and especially in the face of better lab work values, then he can be discharged from hospital. Dogs with acute kidney injuries usually do not require any further specialized care, but dogs with chronic kidney disease will enter the next phase of treatment. 

Keep the fluids going at home 

While at home, some dogs will need extra fluids to help prevent future dehydration. This can be done with fluids obtained from your veterinarian, and they will show you how to administer them to your dog. 

Low protein low phosphorus diet 

Special prescription diets are useful because they have lower protein and lower phosphorus in them.When phosphorus builds up in the bloodstream due to kidney disease, it can make dogs feel nauseous. If a special diet isn’t enough to keep phosphorus levels low, then your vet will recommend a medication that binds phosphorus in the intestinal tract, thus preventing excess phosphorus in the blood. 

Blood pressure medication 

Dogs with kidney disease and protein in the urine are likely to have a higher blood pressure because the body is trying to get the kidneys to filter out toxins faster. Higher blood pressure ultimately leads to further kidney damage, so your veterinarian might prescribe a blood pressure medication to keep pressure low. 

Kidney disease can be very complicated due to its many causes and complications

Certain factors can make kidney disease progress very quickly in dogs, and early intervention is critical. For chronic kidney disease, early detection can make a big difference in your dog’s outcome and quality of life. 

Routine blood and urine testing with your veterinarian is recommended on an annual basis, especially if your dog is more than seven years of age. If you feel that your dog is showing signs of kidney disease, then make sure to talk to your veterinarian right away. Early treatment could mean that you will have more happy and healthy years with your dog!  

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