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How You Can Recognise and Prevent Kidney Disease in Your Dog

07.10.2022 - Reading time: 6 minutes

Ein Hund wird vom Tierarzt untersucht

Cat owners have long known the importance of kidneys for house cats. However, not much is known about the fact that many dogs also suffer from chronic or acute renal insufficiency. This is partly due to the fact that the disease is often diagnosed very late or not at all. Unfortunately, more dogs die from the consequences of kidney insufficiency than from heart disease. Here you can find out which symptoms you should look out for in order to recognise and prevent kidney disease in your dog and how you can get kidney insufficiency under control.


Kidneys of dogs: smalls organ which have a big effect

Both of a dog’s kidneys are protected by a layer of fat alongside the lumbar region of the spine. They continuously pump blood and are cleared of harmful substances by means of nephrons (filter cells). The kidneys are among the most important purificatory organs of a dog’s body. They filter the daily toxic waste products of protein metabolism (ammonia and creatinine) as well as urophanic substances from the blood. However, they do more than this, as they are responsible for the water and electrolyte balance and hormone production. Apart from this, they also keep the acid-base ratio in a state of equilibrium and control the blood pressure. If the nephrons gradually die, this results in chronic renal insufficiency. This is also known as liver failure in dogs.

Renal insufficiency in dogs: What are the causes?

Kidney disease becomes apparent at a very late stage. Only when around 75 per cent of nephrons have been destroyed can renal failure be detected externally. The consequences are devastating: harmful substances and waste products are no longer able to be filtered, resulting in your dog’s body being poisoned from the inside. There is a risk of high blood pressure and a shortage of oxygen being supplied to the body’s cells as a result of anaemia

Affected by this are not only old dogs, which often present with advanced renal insufficiency in veterinary surgeries. Veterinarians hypothesise that more than 20 per cent of dogs which are five years of age or more suffer from renal impairment.

If the disease affects a young dog, it is not uncommon for this to be as a result of a genetic predisposition. Veterinarians now know that certain breeds are more commonly affected by renal insufficiency than other breeds. These particularly include: terriers like Wheatens, Cairns and Westies as well as beagles, chow chows, Dobermanns, golden retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs, Rottweilers and bull terriers.

Veterinary medicine distinguishes between acute and chronic renal insufficiency.

Acute renal insufficiency sometimes occurs suddenly and with severe symptoms and is caused by a reduction in the flow of blood through the kidneys.

Among other things, renal insufficiency can occur as a result of:

  • Loss of blood and fluids as a result of e.g. an accident
  • Circulatory collapse
  • State of shock
  • Prostatic hypertrophy in male dogs
  • bladder stones
  • Severe infectious diseases such as leptospirosis, borreliosis, leishmaniosis and uteritis (pyometra)

Chronic renal insufficiency in dogs: the symptoms

With such a severe disease as chronic renal insufficiency, which is also known as chronic renal failure, everything depends on the prompt recognition of symptoms. However, this is complicated by the fact that the first symptoms of renal insufficiency in dogs are not specific and are misinterpreted by many dog owners.

Clinical symptoms can start with apathy and listlessness. Even if dog owners notice them, they are often dismissed as the dog “simply becoming older”. However, sluggishness, slowness and tiredness are not normal manifestations of old age. As chronic renal insufficiency progresses, there are more and more symptoms and these symptoms are very varied in nature.

Always be concerned if your dog starts to drink more water or goes through phases of drinking a lot of water (polydipsia) and starts to urinate more often (polyuria), as these are the most frequent signs of chronic renal insufficiency.

Watch out for the following symptoms:

  • General apathy
  • Lack of appetite, refusal of food and weight loss
  • Fever or bouts of fever
  • A dull, ragged coat
  • Blood in urine
  • Frequent urgency to urinate with possible incontinence
  • Inflammation of teeth and/or pale gums
  • Vomiting and/or mushy stools or diarrhoea
  • Anaemia (lack of blood) is also found at a late stage

An increase in the eating of grass can also be an indication of renal failure in dogs. It is important to take the symptoms seriously and it is better to contact a veterinarian directly for advice.

The correct diagnosis

There are several ways in which a veterinarian may diagnose renal insufficiency.

Firstly, he will measure the dog’s blood pressure and will arrange for the dog to have blood tests. In this way, the concentration of oxygen-containing substances and the urea and creatinine levels as well as the phosphate levels will be established. This method of diagnosis is reliable, as unfiltered urea enters the bloodstream in higher concentrations in renal disease.

Ein Hund wird mit einem Stethoskop untersucht.

The veterinarian will also have your dog’s urine analysed. This is very useful, as the specific gravity of urine (SGU) provides good information about the function of the kidneys. Together with the blood test results, the veterinarian will be able to make a very precise diagnosis of the state of your four-legged friend’s kidneys.

Where renal damage is strongly suspected, a veterinarian will also perform an ultrasound examination in order to determine the size of the damaged kidneys and their internal structure.

Diagnosis: renal insufficiency - what can be done?

When diagnosing renal insufficiency in your four-legged friend, it is important to establish where the cause of the illness lies, for example primary infectious diseases such as leishmaniosis, and whether the dog has acute or chronic renal insufficiency.

Acute renal disease is easier to treat, as a shortage of blood to the kidneys has a good chance of being completely healed with the appropriate medicines, that is provided that the acute renal insufficiency is diagnosed promptly. However, there is always the danger that an acute stage will develop into chronic insufficiency if it goes undetected.

Treatment of chronic renal disease is much more difficult. By this is meant irreversible damage and a breakdown of the internal structure of the kidneys.

The main requirement is, therefore, to maintain any remaining, functioning renal tissue for as long as possible.

As shocking as a diagnosis of chronic renal insufficiency may be, it does not mean that your four-legged friend will not continue to be a faithful companion for a few more years. What is important, however, is to adhere to certain medical measures.

The following measures need to be observed:

  • A special low-protein and low-salt renal diet. A strain must not be placed on damaged kidneys by metabolic products.
  • A large quantity of fresh drinking water: As a dog with kidney disease excretes more urine, life-threatening uraemia can occur if a dog does not have enough water to drink.
  • Vitamin B and C supplementation: as a way of compensating for deficiencies as a result of chronic renal insufficiency.
  • The latest veterinary studies suggest the usefulness of adding special heart medication known as ACE inhibitors, as these can provide good protection for the kidneys.
  • An important factor is to avoid stress for the dog in order to reduce the production of waste products and stress hormones.
  • Only administer other medicines after consultation of a treating veterinarian, as certain preparations can cause a considerable reduction in renal function.

Make absolutely sure to have your dog monitored closely by a veterinarian.

Do not hesitate to contact a veterinary practice or an animal clinic immediately if you notice an acute worsening of your dog’s symptoms. As it is the case in dogs that a mild insufficiency can develop into uraemia, which is highly acute renal failure which can only be rescued by means of immediate infusion therapy. If your dog is still healthy, make sure that you continue to protect him by having annual check-ups. The quicker the disease is detected, the greater will be the chances of a successful cure.


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