How to Deal With Kidney Failure in Your Dog


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Canine kidney failure is a condition that not only frustrates the affected animal, but also the human owner. If you’re pet owner who just found out that your dog has kidney failure, the news can be extremely disheartening.There is no denying that the times ahead are going to be tough. However, it doesn’t have to be as painful as you imagine it to be. You still have the ability and power to make your dog’s life a little better and even prevent the condition from progressing too soon.The solution lies in using a broad approach. The more attention you pay to your dog’s needs, the longer you are likely to have him/her around.But, before we look at the solution, let us first take a look at kidney failure.

What is Kidney Failure?

Kidney failure or renal failure is not a condition in itself. Rather, it is the consequence of a condition known as kidney disease or renal disease. Kidney disease generally affects older animals, but, is found in younger animals as well.There are primarily 2 kinds of kidney disease – acute and chronic. In the former type, the symptoms show up all of a sudden, with the cause usually being toxicity. In the latter type, the condition is progressive and worsens gradually over time. The symptoms tend to be very unspecific, which makes it harder to detect at an early stage.The acute or chronic nature of kidney disease is determined by the cause. As for causes, there are many including age, infections (viral, bacterial or fungal), abnormal protein deposits (amyloidosis), trauma, toxicity (through ingestion of medication or toxic substances), and autoimmune diseases etc.General symptoms include an increase in urination and water consumption, along with nocturnal urination, vomiting, weight loss, lethargy and blood in urine etc. There could also be a decrease in or complete lack of urination as well.


The only way to deal with kidney disease is by seeking medical treatment. Once your veterinarian is able to confirm the condition, which is achieved by observing symptoms and carrying out several tests, he/she will suggest a change in diet and prescribe medication and therapy.Fluid therapy is one form of treatment. This treatment is provided in direct response to your dog’s need for fluids, which is something that all kidney disease patients suffer from. Their kidneys fail to concentrate urine, resulting in more water being passed out. This affects the body’s fluid balance.So, you will be required to compensate for the fluid loss by giving your dog more water. As the condition progresses, your dog will require subcutaneous fluids. The administering of subcutaneous fluids can be done at home. Most veterinarians will train owners on this.Potassium may also be included in the fluids to maintain electrolyte balance and in some cases, fluids may be administered intravenously.Apart from Fluid Therapy, changes will be made to the dog’s diet. Usually, this included a low quantity-high quality protein diet. The idea is to minimize thee stress on the kidneys. The dietary change is introduced gradually to ensure that the dog gets used to it.The protein content must be optimal – more or less will lead to other complications. For example, low protein leads to protein malnutrition, which isn’t healthy at all.So, make sure your dog is checked on a regular basis by your vet. With the right kind of treatment, your dog is sure to live a better and longer life.

Is A Kidney Transplant Right For My Pet? 

The kidneys serve several important functions in the body, including removing waste and excess water from the blood; helping to control blood pressure; stimulating the production of red blood cells; releasing hormones; and balancing minerals. Because the kidneys play such a central role in the body, diseases that affect the kidneys can have a serious impact on your overall pet’s health. And in many cases, kidney disease turns out to be fatal.

Most cases of kidney failure in pets are treated with some combination of nutritional therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. But for some pets, a kidney transplant may also be an option.

So how can you know if a kidney transplant is right for your pet? Let’s take a look.

What Is a Kidney Transplant?

A kidney transplant is a surgical procedure in which a pet’s diseased kidney is replaced by another pet’s healthy kidney. However, the procedure is not necessarily as simple as it sounds, and it’s not a quick fix. Pets that receive new kidneys need to receive immunosuppressive medications to prevent the body from rejecting the new organ. In addition, there is always risk of complications such as infection or blood clotting, so the decision to carry out a transplant should not be taken lightly.

Where Do Kidney Donors Come From?

Feline donors generally come from research facilitates and in most cases, the family of the recipient cat must adopt the donor cat after the procedure.

For dogs, the owner is usually responsible for locating a donor, and many programs require that the donor dog be related to the recipient dog to reduce the likelihood of the recipient’s body rejecting the new kidney.

Kidney Transplants: Cats vs. Dogs

Kidney transplants for cats have been performed since the mid-1980s, and many cats that receive new kidneys have good survival rates. The University of California at Davis program indicates a 75-80% success rate for feline kidney transplant patients.

The procedure is more complicated in dogs. Their immune systems tend to reject new kidneys more often than cats, and they are also at higher risk for procedure-related complications. The long-term prognosis is not that great, either. The UC Davis program sees only a 40% success rate for canine kidney transplant patients.

Is Your Cat a Candidate for a Kidney Transplant?

Every kidney transplant center will have its own criteria for determining if your cat is a good candidate for a transplant. However in most the cases, the best candidates are:

  • Cats that are otherwise healthy and free of disease.
  • Cats with progressed-but-not-advanced kidney failure, i.e. kidney failure should not be in the early stages, nor should it be the late stages.
  • Cats that have not responded to other treatments.
  • Cats with creatinine levels greater than 4.0 mg/dl.

Any cat that is being considered for a kidney transplant must be thoroughly screened to ensure that they are healthy enough for the procedure. A typical screening includes:

  • Blood testing (including basic blood panel, blood typing, and blood pressure monitoring)
  • Urine culture
  • Urinalysis
  • Feline leukemia virus screening
  • Feline AIDS screening
  • Screening for toxoplasmosis
  • Cardiac evaluation
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Dental evaluation
  • Cross match testing between the recipient cat and the donor cat to ensure compatibility

Is Your Dog a Candidate for a Kidney Transplant?

The screening procedure for dogs is usually the same as it is for cats. Just like cats, the dog should be otherwise healthy and free of disease and must undergo certain tests. In addition to many of the tests carried out on cats, dogs must also be screened for heartworm disease and blood clotting disorders.

Other Considerations

Even if your cat or dog is a good candidate for a kidney transplant, there are certain factors to consider before jumping into the procedure:

  • Potential Complications: Kidney transplants do not always go smoothly, and common complications include rejection of the new kidney (and thus the return of kidney failure); infection as a result of immunosuppressive therapy (common in dogs); blood clots; and scarring of the ureter (the tube that carries urine from the new kidney to the bladder. If scarring occurs, another surgery is required).

  • Cost: Kidney transplants tend to be very expensive; they can range anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000. In addition, pets that receive new kidneys will require immunosuppressive medication for the rest of their lives. The most widely prescribed immunosuppressive drug – Cyclosporine – costs around $150 for a month’s supply. The University of Georgia estimates that owners generally end up spending around $1000 a year for medications and follow-up testing.

  • Long-term Care: As mentioned above, pets that receive new kidneys will need to take medication for the rest of their lives. You must commit to administering the medication twice a day. In addition, the use of Cyclosporine requires periodic blood level monitoring, and the long-term use of the drug increases your pet’s chance of developing cancer.

How Can I Treat My Dog’s Kidney Failure at Home?

Kidney failure is not something you treat at home. It is a serious condition that requires veterinarian attention. That said, if you have already seen a vet and your dog is undergoing treatment, there are certain steps you can follow. These steps are supportive measures during the treatment period. According to Dr. Jessica Dreyfuss, DVM, food therapy is something you can look into. This involves taking advantage of specific foods that are nutritious for damaged kidneys. Think brown rice and kidney beans, for example. Some brands also offer dog food designed for kidney care. You can ask your vet if those are suitable for your dog. Similarly, try to keep your dog hydrated and keep a close eye on any changes in weight, appetite, or urine output. The data you collect can be helpful to your vet, so take as many careful notes as possible. Above all, try to provide a comfortable environment for your dog. 

How Do Dogs Act When Their Kidneys Are Failing?

There are several key signs that you can observe in a dog when their kidney appears to be failing. The most common symptom is a marked increase in water consumption and urination. You might notice your dog seeking out unusual water sources, such as your toilet bowl or outdoor puddles. You might also realize that their water bowls are emptied more frequently than before. Appetite and weight loss changes are also telling signs, but these are symptoms that can be caused by other factors as well. If your dog’s breath has a distinctive ammonia-like odor, that could also be a sign of kidney failure as well. The bad smell comes from the waste products in your dog’s bloodstream that its kidneys haven’t removed. 

Can a Dog Recover From Kidney Failure?

Unfortunately, kidney failure is currently an irreversible condition with symptoms that get worse with time. That said, it is possible to delay or slow down how fast the progression occurs. Treatment can also help address the symptoms of the disease and keep your dog comfortable. As far as restoring your dog’s kidney functions to normal levels, That’s something that science has yet to achieve. This doesn’t mean that there’s no hope or possibility of improvement. Dogs with kidney failure can still have a decent quality of life. It’s just that you and your vet will have to constantly monitor and adjust medication and treatment strategies over time. In other words, it isn’t an immediate death sentence for a dog. The earlier the symptoms are noticed and addressed, the better the treatment process can be. 

How Long Can My Dog Live in Kidney Failure?

With the right treatment, your dog can gain anywhere from several additional months to even years of life. Naturally, the amount of time your dog gets depends on several factors. The age of your dog, the stage of kidney failure they are in, and any other conditions they suffer from all play a role. According to Dr. Ryan Llera, B.Sc. and DVM, the onset of kidney failure is also related to the size of your dog. Smaller dogs tend to see kidney disease happening anywhere between the ten and fourteen-year mark. Larger dogs usually have shorter lifespans than small dogs, and you might notice symptoms of kidney failure by around age seven. It’s important to note that if chronic renal failure is left untreated, death can happen within a few days to a few weeks. This is why seeking treatment early and quickly is extremely important. 

What Is Stage 1 Kidney Failure in Dogs?

As Dr. Emily Singler, VMD from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, states, age-related loss of function is the most common cause of chronic kidney disease. When dogs experience kidney failure, they go through four stages, with each stage increasing the severity of the symptoms. The key characteristics of stage one include urine that appears diluted and protein levels that seem abnormally high in the urine. Your vet might also notice that the kidneys appear abnormal during exams and ultrasounds. In the first stage of kidney failure, the blood is still free from waste. Ideally, you want to have kidney failure detected in stage one because the symptoms are recognizable during tests. It’s important to note that even in stage 1, no clinical signs are seen, so it is possible that without proper testing, the signs only get picked up in stage 2. This should highlight the importance of ensuring you are visiting an experienced vet who knows what they are doing. 

If you are thinking about a kidney transplant for your pet, talk to your veterinarian.

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