How the Last Stages of Kidney Failure Affect Dogs

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Your dog is a family member and a beloved friend. You've done your best to keep your dog healthy all their life, but a diagnosis of kidney failure can be devastating. Hopefully, your dog will remain in the early stages of kidney failure. Understanding the dog kidney failure stages can better prepare you to assist your dog throughout their life span and can even be a reassurance during this difficult time.

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Understanding kidney disease in dogs

Your dog's kidneys fulfill many functions. The kidneys produce multiple hormones that help to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, thirst, hydration, red blood cell production, and more. They also filter out waste that results from the body's metabolism, eliminating excess waste through your dog's urine. When your dog's kidneys become incapable of efficiently filtering out this waste, the dog is said to be in kidney failure. The waste products start to build up in your dog's body, resulting in a number of symptoms and eventually death.

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Dog kidney failure stages

There are four stages of kidney failure chronicling the progressively worsening renal disease. Kidney failure only begins to be tracked clinically once two-thirds loss of function is present. Because of this, it's likely that a dog's kidneys have been functioning incorrectly for months or even years before you can recognize the first stages of kidney failure.

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Early stage kidney failure is often characterized by increased drinking and urination. A veterinarian may perform tests, including a complete urinalysis, a blood biochemistry analysis, specific blood tests, or sometimes X-rays or ultrasounds to officially diagnose the dog as having kidney failure.

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Kidney failure is generally progressive and irreversible. Dogs are treated with supportive care, including dietary changes that will be easier for the kidneys to deal with, fluid therapy (IV fluids and subcutaneous, depending on the dog's needs), and medications. Medications largely manage some of the side effects of kidney failure, including high blood pressure, high phosphorous, and anemia. With aggressive treatment, the dog may stay in this early stage of the disease for months or even years.

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In some cases, though, a dog's kidney function will continue to decline. There is no way to determine how long a dog will stay in the early stages of kidney failure before moving into the late stages.

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Symptoms of kidney failure in dogs

In addition to common signs of increased thirst and urination, a dog may demonstrate symptoms including lethargy, loss of appetite, and a poor coat quality or ragged coat. Dogs may also suddenly start having accidents and urinating in the house.

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As the disease progresses and the dog enters the later stages of kidney disease, symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, and dehydration. Other symptoms include oral ulcers, abnormal odor from the mouth, weight loss, pain, nausea, constipation, sudden blindness, and weakness in the legs. Even though dogs may drink lots of water, they can become unable to keep up with the amount of water that they lose because their kidneys are unable to retain water in the body, and it's released in the urine.

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When the wastes build up in your dog's body, they will start feeling worse. They may experience rapid heart and respiratory rates, neurologic symptoms, and seizures. In severe cases, dogs can become anemic because the kidneys lose their ability to contribute to the production of red blood cells.

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Quality of life for dogs with kidney failure

While there are a number of ways that you can help to slow the progression of your dog's kidney disease, from putting them on an appropriate diet to giving them medications to prevent vomiting and diarrhea, keep in mind that in the final stages of canine kidney failure, your dog's body is gradually filling up with toxins. If you notice a difference in your dog's overall well-being, it's time to talk to your veterinarian about their quality of life. Dog owners contemplating final days or even euthanasia of their beloved pet with end-stage kidney failure always need to weigh dog health against quality of life.

A diminished quality of life may include increased lethargy, loss of appetite, changes in behavior, and not wanting to interact with family or other dogs. A discussion about quality of life should take place as soon as your dog is diagnosed with kidney failure and should be a continued point of emphasis at each veterinary visit. While treating disease is important, the goal for the veterinarian and the responsible pet owner should be helping the dog live a life of overall well-being and happiness.

The bottom line

Kidney failure occurs when your dog's kidneys become incapable of effectively removing waste, causing a buildup of toxins in the body. Changes in urination and increased thirst are often early signs of kidney failure. A veterinarian can use a variety of tests to determine the underlying cause of kidney problems and which of the four stages of kidney failure your dog is in. From the day of diagnosis, it's important to keep your dog's quality of life in mind, as treatment can stave off symptoms but cannot cure the disease.

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