Dog Kidney Failure Symptoms

By Kathleen Roberts

Dog kidney failure symptoms must be treated quickly in order to increase the odds of saving the dog's life. However, before symptoms can be recognized, you need to know what they are. Often the symptoms are the same as a urinary tract infection. As the disease progresses, the symptoms get worse, leading to death if they are not treated quickly and aggressively.

The Facts

Kidney failure, also called renal failure, often occurs in dogs with kidney disease. Kidney disease is when the kidneys are damaged to a point that they cannot remove toxins from the blood. Symptoms can be sudden or gradual and may lead to death of the dog if they are not spotted quickly.

All dogs can be affected by kidney failure, however some breeds are especially prone to it. These include Cocker Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Lhasa Apso, Shar-Pei, Shih Tzu, Standard Poodles, Norwegian Elkhounds, German Shepherds, Soft-coated Wheaten Terriers, Bull Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Samoyeds and Golden Retrievers. Older dogs are more commonly affected, with the average age of dogs affected being 7 years old.


There are two types of kidney failure in dogs. Acute Renal Failure (ARF) occurs rapidly. When it strikes, the dog's kidneys are suddenly unable to regulate the production of urine to remove toxins from the bloodstream. This causes the dog to be poisoned by its own blood. ARF can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and death.

Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) comes on gradually. It may be due to a genetic defect or it may develop after an injury, infection or exposure to toxins. CRF causes blood to be filtered ineffectively, just as with ARF.


Dog kidney failure can be caused by several things. ARF is often caused by poisoning from toxic chemicals such as pesticide, herbicide or antifreeze ingestion. It can also be caused by decreased blood flow to the kidneys or infection.

CRF is typically caused by toxins, medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, blood pressure medicines and others. It may also be the result of a kidney tumor, poor blood flow, extreme dehydration or even parasites. It is possible to develop CRF from ARF.


Dog kidney failure symptoms can be noticed easily, although the initial symptoms may not be noticeable until they become more severe. For example, a dog owner may not notice that his dog is drinking and urinating more than usual if the dog has easy access to water and the outdoors, even though this is one of the first symptoms of kidney failure in dogs. However, if the dog spends a great deal of time indoors, the owner will notice that the dog, who was previously housebroken, is now suddenly having accidents in the house. Any time a dog starts urinating in the house when she normally goes outdoors, an infection of some sort should be suspected and veterinary care should be sought.

Other possible symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite resulting in weight loss, weakness and lethargy, poor coat, pale gums and breath that smells like ammonia. The dog may also seem disoriented and uncoordinated. Depression may also be observed.


Treatment for kidney failure will likely begin with IV fluids over a period of several hours. This will keep the dog hydrated and will also allow the vet to watch for normal urination. The dog may also be given drugs to minimize vomiting and increase urination in order to remove built up toxins.

Some veterinary hospitals offer dialysis, but it can be difficult to locate a hospital that does. Dialysis flushes the toxins out of the dog's blood and then returns the blood back to the dog's body. It can dramatically improve the dog's life and as many as 40 percent of dogs respond very well to this treatment.

Treatment may last for several weeks depending on the severity of the damage. Dogs not responding to treatment have little chance of survival and euthanasia is often recommended.