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Kidney problems in dogs

Kidneys are very busy organs that have lots of responsibilities to keep your dog healthy, from removing toxins to maintaining their blood pressure and helping to create new red blood cells. With so many jobs to do, it’s perhaps not surprising that kidneys can start to wear out as dogs get older.

Dog kidney diseases and tumours can happen to any dog and there’s no way of predicting which dogs will develop kidney failure and which won’t. Although there’s nothing you can do to actually prevent your four-legged friend from developing a kidney disease, feeding them a good quality diet throughout their life, and providing them with a constant supply of fresh, clean water will help support their kidneys and, if they do develop kidney failure, could help slow down its progress.

There are a number of causes for kidney failure from dog kidney diseases to tumours, and these problems can be acute or chronic.

Purple medical symbolAcute kidney failure in dogs

If your dog has acute kidney failure it means that their kidneys have suddenly stopped working properly. This can be caused by something such as an illness or infection, or because they’ve eaten something they shouldn’t, like antifreeze. Acute kidney damage may be able to be treated and reversed but could also be permanent, depending on what has caused it.

Chronic kidney failure in dogs

Chronic kidney failure is more gradual and can take months or even years to develop. It can be caused by a number of things including infections and tumours and unfortunately, by the time it’s diagnosed, it’s sometimes too late to reverse.

In the early stages of disease the healthy areas of the kidney take on the extra work that the damaged areas can’t do, meaning that healthy parts work even harder than usual. As the disease progresses, and the unhealthy areas start to outnumber the healthy, the workload simply becomes too much and your dog will show signs of kidney failure (see below for more information).

Chronic kidney failure is a progressive illness that your vet will need to keep an eye on, but it can usually be managed with a combination of medical treatments and a special diet.

Signs to spot in dogs with kidney disease

Dog fallen asleep

Green food bowl crossed outLarge amounts of very dilute urine and increased thirst

As their kidneys become less able to concentrate urine, dogs with kidney disease will pee more and therefore drink more to replace the lost fluids.

Green food bowl crossed outPoor appetite and lethargy

Toxins that would normally pass in their pee build up in dogs with kidney disease, so they may feel nauseous and vomit, retch or go off their food – all of which can also lead to bad breath. Your dog may seem tired, lethargic and generally not very happy.

Do be careful about trying to diagnose kidney disease yourself, as these same symptoms could also be a sign of other illnesses. The sooner you see your vet for a proper diagnosis, the better. Although there’s no cure for kidney disease, early treatment will help to relieve the discomfort caused by the symptoms and support your pet’s kidneys.

Diagnosis by your vet

Dog under anaesthetic

Green vet iconTaking a urine sample

When diagnosing a dog with kidney problems, your vet will start by testing a sample of pee to see if your dog’s urine is being concentrated, whether protein is being lost in their urine and whether they have any other problems, like an underlying infection. They might also take a blood test to check for specific kidney function, to get an idea of your dog’s overall health and to see if the build-up of toxins has affected any of their other organs.

Your vet may ask you to collect a sample of your dog’s urine as a part of monitoring their condition. The best time to collect your dog’s urine sample is first thing in the morning, ideally in mid-flow. How you physically collect their pee will depend on whether you have a boy or a girl dog but plastic lunchboxes or soup ladles can come in handy! Your vet will probably provide you with a sterile container to store your sample in or you can use a container such as a clean jam jar (any residue can affect the results, so do make sure the container is very clean).

The fresher the sample, the more accurate the tests will be, so try not to delay in getting the sample to your vet.

Treatment of kidney failure in dogs

Small to large food bowl icon (green)

Blue dog iconMedication

Depending on how severe your dog’s symptoms are, treatment usually consists of a combination of medical and dietary interventions.

Dogs with kidney failure can develop conditions like high blood pressure or anaemia and your vet might recommend medications specifically for these.


A special diet can reduce signs of kidney failure and slow the progress of the disease. Your vet may suggest a carefully balanced prescription kidney diet for dogs. This food will have been formulated to meet your dog’s special needs and should always be your first choice if recommended.

Unfortunately these special diets aren’t always the tastiest, as they’re made to very strict recipes, so your dog might not guzzle it up with as much gusto as they do with their usual food. Bear in mind that a dog’s sense of smell and taste is around 200,000 times more sensitive than a humans, so they’re bound to notice the difference! That said, don’t give up on your prescription diet just because your dog seems disinterested at first – with a bit of perseverance, they’ll come round in the end.

When feeding a dog with kidney problems, take things slowly, introducing their new diet gradually so they can learn to adapt to the blander flavours and different textures. Unless your vet says otherwise, start by blending a little of the new diet thoroughly into your dog’s original food. Then, each day, increase the quantity of the new diet by very small amounts, reducing the amount of their original diet proportionately. Ask your vet about portion sizes for the prescription diet, or use the guidelines on the packaging, because it won’t necessarily be the same as you’re used to feeding your dog.

While your dog’s getting used to their new feeding routine try offering them smaller meals more regularly rather than one or two larger meals. You’ll need to avoid giving them treats when they’re on their special diet anyway, so more regular feeding might help fill those gaps.

You can also try to make their new diet more palatable by slightly warming wet food in a microwave to release aromas and soften its texture. If your dog is used to wet food but the prescription diet is dry, try soaking the kibbles briefly in warm water to soften them.

The changeover process can take anything from two to six weeks to complete, but it’s worth the extra time and effort to keep your furry friend as fit and healthy as possible. With a good quality diet and plenty of water, you and your dog should be able to carry on enjoying a healthy, happy life together.

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If you’d like more information on dog kidney problems or have any other queries, contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM.

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