Canine and Feline CRF: Kidney Failure in Pets Treating Pet Kidney Failure, or Renal Failure

Canine and Feline CRF: Kidney Failure in Pets
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Kidney failure is a serious ailment that affects many senior dogs and cats. Make sure you know the signs, so you can help your pet in the event of this unfortunate illness.

Kidney failure (also known as chronic renal failure, or canine or feline CRF) is often a disease of the older dog or cat. The disease can be a symptom of aging or can be caused by a defect in the kidneys that caused the animal to have failure at a younger age. Chronic nephritis, a long-standing infection of the kidney, can cause damage over time and result in kidney failure. Infections, like urinary tract infections or fungal infections, trauma to the kidney area (like from being hit by a car), toxins and poisons like antifreeze, and cancer, can also cause kidney failure, among other illnesses. Even some medications meant to help a petโ€™s health might cause kidney failure.

Signs of Kidney Failure

One of the clearest, most obvious signs of kidney failure is increased thirst. This sign is followed by the next most obvious sign of kidney failureโ€”increased urination. An affected pet's kidneys are unable to retain the right amount of water, so the pet keeps urinating fluid, but is thirstier because their body is losing the water they need.

Other signs may include vomiting, fever, and loss of appetite, among others.

Treatment for Kidney Failure

Your veterinarian will diagnose your dog or cat with kidney failure following urinalysis and blood tests. From those tests, he or she can determine how well the kidneys are functioning.

Depending on the cause, the pet may require medication. Because of the nature of kidney failure, the kidneys will not get better. The goal of treatment is to keep the pet comfortable and help their body cope with the reduced kidney capacity as long as possible. Treatment may include diet changes to help reduce the load on the kidneys. Specialty diet formulas are made specifically for pets with kidney failure, and those diets may have reduced protein. Canned food is often recommended over dry food to increase more fluid intake.

Because some pets lose their appetite with kidney failure, making their food more appetizing, such as warming up the food, might help.

Other treatment may include fluid therapy in which the animal is hydrated by injecting fluid under the skin. Vitamins, electrolytes, minerals, or fatty acid supplements may be recommended to make up for all the necessary nutrients that are being lost.

Other, more aggressive treatments are available to pet owners including kidney transplant or dialysis. Depending on the cause and treatment, some pets can live for months, even years, with kidney failure.

Canine and Feline Kidney Failure Symptoms - What You Need To Know

The symptoms of kidney disease can vary depending on the type of disorder affecting your cat or dog. Pain in the kidney area and blood or pus in the urine point to a bacterial infection of the kidneys. This condition is usually successfully cured with antibiotics, but if not treated in time, a bacterial infection can lead to kidney failure.

Kidney Failure

There are many other causes of kidney failure in dogs and cats including viruses, cysts, trauma, poisoning, and, the most common, advanced age. Depending on the origin of the disease, kidney failure may be acute or chronic.

Pets that suffer acute kidney failure may suddenly be unable to control urination, have excessive thirst, and quickly display more serious symptoms. Those with chronic renal failure may be asymptomatic for a long time before you begin to notice problem such as needing to drink or urinate more frequently; these symptoms slowly lead to other problems associated with kidney failure

In the majority of cases, kidney failure in dogs and cats results from long-standing problems that slowly destroy the organs. There is likely to be no sign of a problem as long as 25 percent of the kidneyโ€™s nephrons, tubes that serve as filters, are working. As nephrons continue to die, you will see those first noticeable signs of a problem (increased thirst and frequent urination). At that point, you cannot stop the progression of the kidney damage, but appropriate treatments may relieve some of your petโ€™s symptoms and discomfort.

Signs of Uremic Poisoning

As your petโ€™s kidneys continue to fail, you will see more serious symptoms develop.  Dogs and cats with late stage renal failure will retain ammonia, nitrogen, acids, and other body wastes. This is known as uremic poisoning. Symptoms of uremic poisoning include:

  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Refusal to eat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry coat
  • Discoloration on the tongue


Pets with chronic kidney failure often have high blood pressure, which can contribute to further loss of kidney function. It may also cause blindness. If a veterinarian confirms hypertension, you may be able to manage your petโ€™s high blood pressure with medications such as Benazepril.

Cats and dogs with chronic kidney failure may also have hyperparathyroidism in which the body secretes too much of the parathyroid hormone (PTH). Pets with hyperparathyroidism lack a certain type of vitamin D and can develop several problems including tooth loss and softening of the lower jaw, which creates a condition known as โ€œrubber jaw.โ€

More on Pet Health Care

Urinary Tract Infections in Pets
How to Give a Pet Oral Medications
How to Choose a Cat Litter Box and Kitty Litter

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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