Kidney Disease in Dogs – Everything You Need to Know

Updated: June 6, 2023


Kidney disease is a prevalent and significant health concern that can affect dogs of any age or breed. Being knowledgeable about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for kidney disease is vital for dog owners to identify the condition early and provide appropriate care. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the realm of kidney disease in dogs, offering valuable information and advice to help safeguard and maintain your cherished canine companion’s kidney health.

Understanding the risk factors and potential causes of kidney disease, such as age, genetics, infections, medications, and certain medical conditions, can assist in prevention and early intervention. Recognizing the symptoms of kidney disease, including increased thirst, frequent urination, loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and vomiting, is crucial for prompt veterinary evaluation. Diagnostic tests, such as blood work, urine analysis, and imaging, aid in confirming the presence and severity of kidney disease.

Treatment options may include dietary modifications, medications, fluid therapy, and other supportive care measures to manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Regular monitoring and follow-up visits with your veterinarian are essential for assessing the effectiveness of the treatment plan and making necessary adjustments. By staying informed and proactive, you can play a vital role in maintaining your dog’s kidney health and enhancing their overall well-being.

1. Causes of Kidney Disease

Kidney disease in dogs can have various causes, ranging from age and breed predisposition to infections, toxins, and genetic factors. Understanding these causes is crucial for early detection and effective management of kidney disease in our furry companions.

Age and breed predisposition play a significant role in kidney disease development. As dogs age, their kidneys may naturally decline in function, leading to renal insufficiency or failure. Certain breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus, and Doberman Pinschers, are more prone to developing kidney disease than others, emphasizing the importance of breed-specific monitoring.

Infections and inflammations can also damage the kidneys. Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can directly affect the kidneys, causing inflammation and impairing their ability to filter waste products. Chronic urinary tract infections or kidney infections can gradually lead to kidney damage if left untreated.

Toxic substances and medications pose a significant risk to kidney health. Ingestion of certain plants, household chemicals, or medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can result in acute kidney injury or even long-term damage. It’s crucial to keep potentially toxic substances out of your dog’s reach and only administer medications prescribed by a veterinarian.

1.1 Age and Breed Predisposition:

Age is a significant risk factor for kidney disease in dogs. As dogs grow older, their kidneys may naturally deteriorate, leading to decreased kidney function. Additionally, certain dog breeds, such as the Bull Terrier, Boxer, and Cocker Spaniel, have a higher predisposition to kidney disease.

1.2 Infections and Inflammation:

Infections, particularly bacterial or viral infections, can damage the kidneys and contribute to kidney disease in dogs. Inflammatory conditions, such as glomerulonephritis, can also affect the kidneys’ ability to filter waste properly.

1.3 Toxic Substances and Medications:

Exposure to certain toxins, including antifreeze, pesticides, and certain medications, can have detrimental effects on a dog’s kidneys. It is crucial to keep toxic substances out of reach and to use medications under veterinary supervision.

1.4 Genetic Factors:

Some dogs may inherit genetic predispositions to kidney disease. Specific genetic abnormalities can lead to structural or functional abnormalities in the kidneys, making them more susceptible to disease.

1.5 Other Contributing Factors:

Various other factors can contribute to the development of kidney disease in dogs. These include underlying medical conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes, urinary tract obstructions, immune system disorders, and certain dietary factors.

Understanding the potential causes of kidney disease in dogs is essential for prevention, early detection, and appropriate management. By being aware of these factors, dog owners can take proactive steps to minimize risks and provide optimal care for their pets. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and maintaining a safe and toxin-free environment are crucial in promoting kidney health and overall well-being in dogs.

2. Common Symptoms of Kidney Disease

Kidney disease in dogs can manifest through various symptoms that indicate the compromised functioning of the kidneys. Recognizing these signs is crucial for early detection and timely intervention. Here are some common symptoms to watch out for:

It’s important to note that these symptoms can vary in severity and may not be exclusive to kidney disease. Other underlying health conditions can present similar signs. Therefore, consulting a veterinarian is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is recommended to seek veterinary attention promptly. Early detection and intervention can help slow down the progression of kidney disease and improve the quality of life for your beloved companion. Regular check-ups and preventive care are also essential for maintaining your dog’s kidney health.

2.1 Increased Thirst and Urination:

Dogs with kidney disease often experience increased thirst and urination. They may drink more water than usual and have accidents in the house or need to go outside frequently to relieve themselves.

2.2 Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss:

A noticeable decrease in appetite can be a sign of kidney disease in dogs. They may show disinterest in food or even refuse to eat altogether, resulting in weight loss over time.

2.3 Lethargy and Weakness:

Dogs with kidney disease may appear lethargic and lack energy. They may seem weaker than usual, have difficulty getting up or moving around, and show a general lack of interest in activities.

2.4 Vomiting and Diarrhea:

Kidney disease can cause gastrointestinal disturbances in dogs, leading to episodes of vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms can be sporadic or persistent, depending on the severity of the disease.

2.5 Bad Breath and Mouth Ulcers:

Dogs with kidney disease may develop bad breath, often described as a urine-like odor. Additionally, they may have mouth ulcers or sores in the oral cavity, which can contribute to discomfort and difficulty eating.

2.6 Changes in Urine Color and Odor:

Monitoring changes in urine can provide valuable insights into a dog’s kidney health. Dogs with kidney disease may have urine that is darker in color, foamy, or has a strong odor. This occurs because the kidneys are unable to properly filter waste products from the blood.

Recognizing these common symptoms of kidney disease in dogs is essential for early detection and intervention. If you observe any of these signs in your dog, it is crucial to consult with a veterinarian promptly. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can help manage the disease and improve your dog’s quality of life.

3. Diagnosing Kidney Disease in Dogs

Diagnosing kidney disease in dogs involves a thorough examination and a series of tests to determine the extent and underlying cause of the condition. Veterinary professionals rely on a combination of physical examinations, medical history evaluation, and diagnostic procedures to accurately diagnose kidney disease in dogs.

During the physical examination, the veterinarian will assess the dog’s overall health and look for specific signs that may indicate kidney disease. These signs may include dehydration, weight loss, abnormal urination patterns, and changes in appetite. The veterinarian will also inquire about the dog’s medical history, including any previous illnesses or medications.

To confirm the presence of kidney disease and assess its severity, various laboratory tests are performed. Blood tests are crucial in evaluating kidney function. They measure the levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, and other markers to assess the kidneys’ ability to filter waste products. Elevated levels of these markers may indicate impaired kidney function.

Urine tests are also essential for diagnosing kidney disease. A urinalysis can reveal the presence of abnormalities such as proteinuria (protein in the urine) and hematuria (blood in the urine), which are common indicators of kidney damage. Additionally, urine specific gravity is measured to evaluate the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine properly.

Imaging techniques, such as ultrasound and radiography, may be employed to visualize the kidneys and detect any structural abnormalities or obstructions. These imaging studies help rule out other potential causes of kidney disease and provide valuable information about the kidneys’ size, shape, and overall condition.

3.1 Physical Examination and Medical History:

A veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of the dog, assessing overall health and looking for any visible signs of kidney disease. They will also discuss the dog’s medical history, including any previous illnesses or medications.

3.2 Blood and Urine Tests:

Blood tests are commonly used to assess kidney function by measuring levels of specific substances, such as creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN). Elevated levels of these markers can indicate impaired kidney function. Urine tests can also provide valuable information, such as the presence of protein or blood in the urine.

3.3 Imaging Techniques:

Imaging techniques like ultrasound or radiography may be employed to visualize the kidneys and identify any structural abnormalities or signs of disease. These non-invasive procedures help in evaluating the size, shape, and overall condition of the kidneys.

3.4 Biopsy and Other Advanced Diagnostic Methods:

In some cases, a kidney biopsy may be recommended to obtain a tissue sample for further analysis. This procedure involves removing a small piece of kidney tissue under anesthesia. Advanced diagnostic methods, such as nuclear scintigraphy or computed tomography (CT), may also be utilized to provide detailed insights into the kidneys’ function and structure.

Accurate diagnosis of kidney disease is crucial for developing an effective treatment plan. The combination of physical examination, medical history, blood and urine tests, imaging techniques, and occasionally, advanced diagnostic methods, helps veterinarians determine the underlying cause and severity of the kidney disease in dogs. This information guides the appropriate management and treatment options to optimize the dog’s health and well-being.

4. Stages and Progression of Kidney Disease

Kidney disease in dogs can be categorized into three main stages based on the severity and progression of the condition. Understanding these stages is crucial for effectively managing the disease and providing appropriate care to your furry friend.

In the early stage of kidney disease, also known as renal insufficiency, the kidneys begin to show mild impairment in their function. At this point, the signs and symptoms may be subtle or even absent. Routine blood and urine tests can help detect early signs of kidney dysfunction, such as increased levels of waste products like creatinine and urea in the blood. With early intervention, dietary modifications, and supportive care, it is possible to slow down the progression of the disease and maintain a good quality of life for the dog.

As kidney disease progresses, the moderate stage, also called renal failure, is reached. During this stage, the kidneys’ ability to filter waste products and regulate fluid balance becomes significantly impaired. Clinical signs become more noticeable, including increased thirst and urination, weight loss, decreased appetite, and lethargy. Treatment options focus on managing symptoms, providing supportive care, and preventing complications. Specialized diets, medications to control blood pressure and promote kidney function, and fluid therapy may be prescribed to slow down the disease progression and maintain the dog’s well-being.

4.1 Early Stage: Renal Insufficiency

In the early stage of kidney disease, also known as renal insufficiency, the kidneys start to show mild signs of dysfunction. The kidney function is reduced, but the dog may not exhibit significant symptoms yet. Blood and urine tests may reveal slight abnormalities, such as elevated creatinine or protein in the urine. With early detection and appropriate management, the progression of kidney disease can be slowed or even halted.

4.2 Moderate Stage: Renal Failure

As kidney disease progresses, it enters the moderate stage known as renal failure. The kidneys continue to deteriorate, and their ability to filter waste products and maintain fluid balance becomes more compromised. Symptoms become more noticeable during this stage, including increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and vomiting. Blood and urine tests show further abnormalities, such as elevated BUN and more significant protein loss in the urine.

4.3 Advanced Stage: End-Stage Renal Disease

In the advanced stage of kidney disease, known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD), the kidneys have severely deteriorated, losing most of their function. Dogs in this stage exhibit severe symptoms, including extreme lethargy, loss of appetite, excessive vomiting, diarrhea, and fluid retention. Blood and urine tests reveal significant abnormalities, such as highly elevated creatinine and urea levels. Treatment options at this stage focus on supportive care to improve the dog’s quality of life, as the kidneys are no longer able to recover their function.

It is important to note that the progression of kidney disease can vary among individual dogs, and early intervention and proper management can significantly slow down its progression. Regular monitoring of kidney function through blood and urine tests is crucial to identify the stage of kidney disease and adjust the treatment plan accordingly. By understanding the different stages of kidney disease, dog owners can work closely with their veterinarians to provide the best possible care and improve the prognosis for their furry companions.

5. Treatment Options for Kidney Disease

Treatment options for kidney disease in dogs aim to manage the condition, slow down the progression of the disease, and improve the dog’s quality of life. The choice of treatment depends on the stage and severity of the disease, as well as the underlying cause.

One of the primary treatment approaches is dietary modification. Veterinarians may recommend a special renal diet that is low in protein, phosphorus, and sodium. These specialized diets help reduce the workload on the kidneys and minimize the build-up of waste products in the bloodstream. They can also help maintain adequate hydration and support overall nutritional needs.

Medications are often prescribed to manage symptoms and slow down the progression of kidney disease. Commonly used medications include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, which help relax blood vessels and improve blood flow to the kidneys. Other medications may include phosphate binders to reduce phosphorus levels, diuretics to promote urine production, and potassium supplements to maintain electrolyte balance.

5.1. Dietary Modifications and Prescription Diets

One of the key components in managing kidney disease in dogs is a special diet. Prescription diets formulated specifically for kidney disease can help reduce the workload on the kidneys and minimize the accumulation of waste products. These diets are low in protein, phosphorus, and sodium, while providing essential nutrients and maintaining adequate hydration.

5.2. Medications to Manage Symptoms and Slow Progression

Various medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms associated with kidney disease and slow down its progression. These may include medications to control high blood pressure, reduce protein loss in urine, promote urine production, and address specific complications like anemia or electrolyte imbalances. It is important to follow the veterinarian’s instructions regarding medication administration and any potential side effects.

5.3. Fluid Therapy and Intravenous Treatments

Intravenous fluids are often administered to dogs with kidney disease to help maintain hydration, flush out toxins, and support kidney function. This can be done during hospitalization or through subcutaneous fluid administration at home, as instructed by the veterinarian. Fluid therapy plays a crucial role in managing dehydration and maintaining electrolyte balance.

5.4. Dialysis and Kidney Transplantation

In severe cases of kidney disease, advanced treatment options like dialysis or kidney transplantation may be considered. These interventions are typically reserved for dogs with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and can provide a significant improvement in the quality of life and overall prognosis. However, these treatments are specialized and may not be readily available in all veterinary clinics.

It is important to work closely with a veterinarian to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for a dog with kidney disease. Regular monitoring of kidney function, adherence to dietary recommendations, and proper administration of medications are essential for managing the disease effectively. With early detection and appropriate management, it is possible to slow down the progression of kidney disease and provide a better quality of life for dogs affected by this condition.


What are the common symptoms of kidney disease in dogs?

Common symptoms of kidney disease in dogs include increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and changes in coat appearance.

Can kidney disease in dogs be cured?

Unfortunately, kidney disease in dogs is usually not curable. However, with early detection and proper management, the progression of the disease can be slowed down, and the dog’s quality of life can be improved.

How is kidney disease diagnosed in dogs?

Diagnosis of kidney disease in dogs involves a combination of physical examination, blood tests, urine analysis, and sometimes imaging techniques like ultrasound. These tests help evaluate kidney function and identify any underlying causes.

Can kidney disease in dogs be prevented?

While not all cases of kidney disease can be prevented, certain measures can help reduce the risk. These include providing a balanced diet, ensuring proper hydration, avoiding exposure to toxins, regular veterinary check-ups, and managing underlying health conditions.

How is kidney disease treated in dogs?

Treatment for kidney disease in dogs focuses on managing symptoms, supporting kidney function, and addressing underlying causes if possible. This may involve dietary modifications, medications to control blood pressure and reduce protein loss, fluid therapy, and supportive care.

Is kidney disease hereditary in dogs?

Some forms of kidney disease can have a hereditary component in certain dog breeds. Genetic testing can help identify dogs at risk and aid in responsible breeding practices to reduce the occurrence of hereditary kidney diseases.

Can diet play a role in managing kidney disease in dogs?

Yes, a special diet tailored for dogs with kidney disease can help manage the condition. These diets are designed to reduce the workload on the kidneys, control mineral imbalances, and provide appropriate nutrition for the dog’s specific needs.

How often should dogs be screened for kidney disease?

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for early detection of kidney disease. The frequency of screening may depend on the dog’s age, breed, and overall health. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate screening schedule for your furry friend.

Are all kidney diseases in dogs chronic?

No, while chronic kidney disease is more common in dogs, acute kidney injury can also occur due to various factors such as toxin ingestion or infections. Acute kidney injury requires immediate veterinary attention and can sometimes be reversible with prompt treatment.

Can dogs live a normal life with kidney disease?

While kidney disease is a serious condition, dogs can still live a relatively normal life with proper management and care. Early detection, appropriate treatment, and regular monitoring can help improve the dog’s quality of life and prolong their lifespan.


kidney disease is a significant health concern for dogs, and early detection is crucial for effective management. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help dog owners provide the best care for their furry companions. Kidney disease in dogs can have various causes, including age-related degeneration, infections, toxins, genetic factors, and underlying health conditions. It is essential to be aware of the common symptoms such as increased thirst, decreased appetite, weight loss, and changes in urination patterns.

While kidney disease in dogs is typically not curable, it can be managed through proper veterinary care. Treatment options may include dietary modifications, medications, fluid therapy, and supportive care. Regular veterinary check-ups and screenings are vital for monitoring kidney function and adjusting treatment plans as needed. Prevention plays a significant role in reducing the risk of kidney disease in dogs. Providing a balanced diet, ensuring proper hydration, avoiding exposure to toxins, and addressing underlying health conditions can help maintain kidney health.



Paula patton is an avid dog lover and pet enthusiast with a wealth of knowledge in pet food and treatment. With her vast experience, she has gained valuable insights into the world of pets and their needs. Through her writings, Paula shares her expertise, helping fellow pet owners make informed decisions for their furry companions. Her passion for animals shines through every word, making her a trusted source for all things related to pets.

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