Signs of Organ Failure in Dogs

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While signs of organ failure in dogs vary according to the affected organ, any type of organ failure can lead to degeneration and shorten a dog's life span. A pet with organ failure will obviously be a very sick pet. With prompt treatment, your veterinarian might be able to save your dog. If so, your dog might potentially require intensive care, whether pharmaceutical or dietary, for the rest of their life.


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Medical conditions that can trigger organ failure in dogs

Causes of organ failure vary. Though the list is not exhaustive, there are many things that can be an underlying cause in organ failure, including:


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  • A diagnosis of pancreatitis, pneumonia, immune mediated hemolytic anemia, leptospoirosis, osteomyelitis, or peritonitis
  • A cancer diagnosis
  • Severe trauma, including wounds, shock burns, or rattlesnake bites

Your veterinarian should monitor your pet for signs of organ failure after any of the previous common causes are spotted. Organ failure requires aggressive treatment, including intravenous fluid therapy and, in some cases, ventilation.


Liver failure in dogs

Liver failure symptoms include appetite and weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration (symptoms that occur with many illnesses), and sometimes jaundice — a yellowing of the whites of the eyes and gums. Fluid accumulation in the abdomen is common. Some dogs experience neurological changes and seizures.


Treatment ranges from liver protectant supplements and a therapeutic diet specifically for liver disease to various drug therapies, including antibiotics, glucocorticoids, and intravenous fluids. A dog might require a feeding tube if they experience loss of appetite.

Kidney disease in dogs

Your veterinarian will treat kidney problems depending on the type of kidney failure. Stomach ulceration can occur in kidney disease, so a dog might throw up blood, and their feces might turn dark. For either acute or chronic kidney disease, blood tests and a urinalysis will be performed repeatedly at appropriate intervals to monitor kidney function. Sometimes, there are obvious symptoms of kidney failure, and sometimes the signs are more subtle.


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Causes of acute renal failure in dogs

Symptoms of acute kidney failure in dogs usually onset quickly and have obvious causes. Causes of acute kidney disease include:



  • Ingesting a poison, such as antifreeze
  • A bad reaction to certain medication
  • Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that dogs can pick up from contaminated water
  • Inadequate blood or oxygen to the dog's kidneys

Symptoms include balance loss, vomiting, depression, and appetite loss. These symptoms are quite obvious.


Symptoms of chronic renal failure in dogs

Chronic kidney failure, which is the same as the more modern terminology of "chronic kidney disease," is usually age-related and has a more gradual development of signs. These include:


  • Increased drinking and urination
  • A chemical smell to the breath
  • Appetite loss and weight loss
  • Blood in vomit
  • Dark feces

Some dogs develop anemia because the ailing kidneys produce less of a substance called erythropoietin, which stimulates red blood cell production. Treatment ranges from therapeutic diet and supplements, like injectable vitamin B-12, to intravenous fluid therapy, and dietary changes. Though dialysis is done in people with chronic kidney disease, it's not readily available for dogs.

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Heart failure in dogs

Heart failure is more likely to occur in older dogs. If the left side of your dog's heart is failing, they'll generally experience coughing because of fluid buildup in the lungs. Low blood pressure will make them prone to fainting. If the right side is primarily affected, fluid buildup will occur in their legs, chest, and abdomen.


Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to treat the symptoms after diagnosing your pet. For any type of fluid accumulation, the veterinarian will prescribe diuretics to get rid of fluid. Vasodilators or angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors make blood vessels wider. Your veterinarian might switch your dog to a low-sodium diet along with periodic monitoring with physical exams and diagnostics, such as blood tests and ultrasound, to assess the organ failure moving forward.

The bottom line

Having a good quality of life is the most important factor to consider when treating a pet with any type of organ failure. In addition to taking older dogs for wellness checks more often (ideally twice a year for dogs over the age of 7), pet owners can be aware of early signs of organ failure. Treatment can include anything from a change in diet to daily medications, so make sure to consult your DVM as soon as you suspect something is amiss.


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