Kidney failure, also known as renal insufficiency, is a common condition in older dogs where the kidneys lose their ability to effectively filter waste products from the blood. This condition can lead to a range of symptoms that significantly affect a dog’s quality of life. In this blog, we will explore what kidney failure is, its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and ways to support a pet diagnosed with this condition.

What is Kidney Failure?

Kidney failure occurs when the kidneys are no longer able to perform their essential functions of filtering waste products and excess fluids from the blood, regulating electrolytes, and producing certain hormones. There are two types of kidney failure in dogs:

Acute Kidney Failure

  • Acute Kidney Failure: This is a sudden and often severe decline in kidney function, typically caused by toxins, infections, or a sudden drop in blood flow to the kidneys. It requires immediate veterinary attention.

Chronic Kidney Failure

  • Chronic Kidney Failure: This is a gradual decline in kidney function over time, usually due to aging, chronic diseases, or genetic predisposition. It is more common in older dogs and tends to progress slowly.

Causes of Chronic Kidney Failure

Several factors can contribute to the development of chronic kidney failure in dogs, including:


  • Natural Aging Process: As dogs age, the wear and tear on their kidneys can lead to a gradual decline in function. This is the most common cause of chronic kidney failure.

Chronic Diseases

  • Underlying Health Conditions: Conditions such as chronic urinary tract infections, high blood pressure, and diabetes can contribute to kidney damage over time.

Genetic Predisposition

  • Breed-Specific Risks: Certain breeds are more predisposed to kidney problems due to genetic factors. Breeds such as the German Shepherd, Bull Terrier, and Persian Cat are known to have higher risks.


  • Exposure to Toxins: Chronic exposure to certain toxins, such as antifreeze, certain medications, or foods harmful to dogs (like grapes and raisins), can cause kidney damage.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs

The symptoms of chronic kidney failure can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Common signs to watch for include:

Increased Thirst and Urination

  • Polydipsia and Polyuria: Increased thirst (polydipsia) and increased urination (polyuria) are early signs of kidney failure as the kidneys struggle to concentrate urine.

Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss

  • Anorexia and Weight Loss: Dogs with kidney failure often lose their appetite, leading to weight loss and poor body condition.

Vomiting and Nausea

  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Accumulation of waste products in the blood can cause nausea, vomiting, and general gastrointestinal discomfort.

Lethargy and Weakness

  • Fatigue: Dogs with kidney failure may appear tired, weak, and less interested in physical activities due to the buildup of toxins in their bodies.

Bad Breath and Mouth Ulcers

  • Oral Health Issues: Kidney failure can lead to a buildup of urea in the blood, causing a distinct ammonia-like odor on the breath and, in severe cases, mouth ulcers.

Poor Coat Condition

  • Dull and Dry Coat: A decline in overall health can result in a dull, dry coat and poor grooming habits.

Diagnosis of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Diagnosing kidney failure involves a combination of physical examinations, laboratory tests, and imaging. Your veterinarian may recommend:

  • Blood Tests: To measure levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, which are indicators of kidney function.
  • Urinalysis: To assess the concentration of urine and check for the presence of protein, blood, or infection.
  • Ultrasound or X-rays: To visualize the kidneys and detect structural abnormalities or kidney stones.

Treatment Options for Kidney Failure

While chronic kidney failure cannot be cured, various treatments can help manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Treatment options include:

Dietary Management

  • Prescription Diets: Specially formulated kidney diets are lower in protein, phosphorus, and sodium to reduce the workload on the kidneys and manage waste products more effectively.


  • Medications: To control symptoms and complications, such as high blood pressure, nausea, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Phosphate Binders: To reduce the absorption of phosphorus from the diet, which can help slow the progression of kidney damage.

Fluid Therapy

  • Hydration: Ensuring adequate hydration is crucial. Subcutaneous fluid therapy can help maintain hydration and support kidney function.

Regular Monitoring

  • Frequent Vet Visits: Regular check-ups and blood tests are essential to monitor the progression of the disease and adjust treatment plans as needed.

Supporting a Dog with Kidney Failure

Caring for a dog with kidney failure involves providing ongoing support and making lifestyle adjustments to ensure their comfort and well-being. Here are some tips:


  • Balanced Diet: Feed your dog a balanced, veterinarian-recommended diet to support kidney health.
  • Hydration: Encourage regular water intake to help flush out toxins and maintain kidney function.


  • Comfortable Environment: Provide a comfortable and stress-free living environment to reduce stress on your dog.
  • Regular Exercise: Gentle, regular exercise can help maintain muscle mass and overall health.


  • Observe Symptoms: Keep a close eye on your dog’s symptoms and report any changes to your veterinarian promptly.
  • Regular Check-Ups: Maintain regular veterinary visits for ongoing assessment and management of the condition.


Kidney failure is a serious and common condition in older dogs, but with early detection and proper management, it is possible to improve their quality of life. By understanding the symptoms and working closely with your veterinarian, you can help your dog live comfortably despite this condition. Regular monitoring, appropriate treatment, and supportive care are key to managing chronic kidney failure and ensuring your beloved pet remains as healthy and happy as possible.