Ask a vet online ‘symptoms to know if your dog has kidney failure’

Question from Susanne Hayward:

how come no symtems to know if your dog has kidney failier

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Susanne and thank you for your question about how to know if your dog has kidney failure.  I will answer your question by discussing what kidney failure is, how we diagnose it and what signs you can look out for in your dog.

So what is kidney failure?

The kidneys are two bean shaped organs present mid way along the back of your dog’s abdomen (tummy); they have a large blood vessel going in and another large blood vessel coming out of them.  The job of the kidneys is to filter your dog’s blood and remove toxic/waste products but make sure that the important useful chemicals e.g. proteins, nutrients (sugars and fats) and blood cells remain in the blood.  The kidneys are also involved in breaking down some chemicals such as medications.  The Kidneys are also important when it comes to keeping the correct amount of water in your dog’s blood, this ensures that all the body cells are adequately hydrated and can function at their best.

Kidney failure is a term used to describe a stage of kidney disease once more than two thirds of your dog’s kidney function has been lost.  That means that out of the function of your dogs two kidneys there is a third or less now working.  Kidney disease is a broader term used to describe any problem with the kidneys this could be infection, neoplasia (tumour), polycystic (disease where kidneys are taken up by lots of cysts or cavities) or loss of function with age.

So how does my vet look for kidney disease?

Whenever you take your dog to see your vet they will ask you questions regarding how your dog is doing in general including how they are eating, drinking, urinating (weeing) and defecating (pooing).  These along with other questions will give your vet an idea as to your dog’s general state of health and is called a history.

The answers to the questions your vet asks along with anything they find on physically examining your dog along with the reasons as to why you brought your dog to see the vet will help your vet to try and work out what is going on with your dog.

Some specific findings in kidney disease:

Whether your pet is young, middle aged or elderly the following may be found:

Anorexia

Some dogs either completely stop eating or have a reduced appetite due to the build-up of toxins in their blood which makes them feels under the weather.

Weight Loss

Most dogs will start to lose weight as they are eating less but also as they are losing important substances such as proteins from their blood as these are not reabsorbed by he kidneys and end up being lost into the urine (wee).

Polydypsia/Polyuria

This means increased drinking and urination, and happens as the kidneys try to remove more waste products and toxins by flushing them out by producing more watery urine.

Change in kidney size

The kidneys can become small and hard or even large.  With some tumours or polycystic kidney disease the kidneys can become larger.  In cases where the kidney function has decreased and the working part of the kidneys has become replaced by fibrous tissue then the kidneys can become smaller and harder.  Usually the size of the kidneys is something your vet will try and feel or look at on a scan or x-ray.

Halitosis

Some dogs may show a strange unpleasant smell on their breath, this can happen when waste products such as urea build up in the blood and can give off a smell.

Blood changes

Your vet may suggest doing blood tests of your dog, this is to identify changes to chemicals in your dogs blood such as increased levels of urea, creatinine, potassium and phospahate but also decreased levels of proteins and blood cells.  The blood results can be used to monitor how your dog’s kidney disease is going.

Urine changes

Dogs with kidney failure tend to produce large quantities of very dilute urine which can contain protein.  As kidney disease progresses the actual amounts of urine produced can sometimes decrease as the kidneys are no longer able to filter out and flush out the waste products from the blood.  Testing your dog’s urine is a non-invasive way for your vet to monitor your dog’s kidney disease.

How can my dog’s kidney disease be treated?

Depending on the stage of your dog’s kidney disease the following treatment options are available:

Diet

There are specially formulated diets for dogs with kidney disease which have the correct balance of protein, fat, carbohydrate and minerals to ensure your dogs body can function with minimal extra work for its kidneys.

Medications

There are a wide range of medications available for dogs with kidney disease starting with drugs to improve the blood flow to the kidneys, some to decrease blood pressure (high blood pressure can be damaging to the kidneys), some to bind harmful chemicals and also some to decrease fibrosis (a change where functional kidney tissue is replace by scar tissue).

I hope that my answer has helped you to recognise some of the signs of kidney failure/disease in dogs and that along with the help of your vet we can now give dogs with kidney disease the best chance possible when disease is detected early.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet)

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

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14 thoughts on “Ask a vet online ‘symptoms to know if your dog has kidney failure’

  1. I came upon this website while researching vet smelled kidney failure. The dear girl has had to be euthanized, but it was not due to kidney failure. This being only a couple days ago, and thinking it would not be a good time to discuss this with the vet(s) who said they were able to “smell” kidney failure. What they smelled was a combination of urine because the dear girl could not be moved, and she could not be fully cleaned off prior to the emergency vet visit. They may well have smelled other combinations of things – but they sure as hell did not “smell” kidney failure. If you are ever told this, I’d urge you to see another vet. I am hypersensitive to smells and if anyone was going to “smell” anything – it would have been me. Who needs this added garbage – and, in fact – they did not state they suspected kidney failure – even with this “smelling” nor do a thing about it. They had decided that the dog’s time had come. When they talk about “miracle” dogs too much? Also, take the dog and go elsewhere, and elsewhere, as long as you know for sure you are not being “heroic” and punishing a suffering dog.

  2. I came upon this website while researching vet smelled kidney failure. The dear girl has had to be euthanized, but it was not due to kidney failure. This being only a couple days ago, and thinking it would not be a good time to discuss this with the vet(s) who said they were able to “smell” kidney failure. What they smelled was a combination of urine because the dear girl could not be moved, and she could not be fully cleaned off prior to the emergency vet visit. They may well have smelled other combinations of things – but they sure as hell did not “smell” kidney failure. If you are ever told this, I’d urge you to see another vet. I am hypersensitive to smells and if anyone was going to “smell” anything – it would have been me. Who needs this added garbage – and, in fact – they did not state they suspected kidney failure – even with this “smelling” nor do a thing about it. They had decided that the dog’s time had come. When they talk about “miracle” dogs too much? Also, take the dog and go elsewhere, and elsewhere, as long as you know for sure you are not being “heroic” and punishing a suffering dog.

  3. I know someone who bought a puppy who had to be put to sleep as was discovered the pup was born with no kidneys , she only had a few weeks. How did the puppy survive so long with no kidneys? And surely there would of been signs before leaving the breeder?

    1. There should really have been signs from early on Kayleigh, but it’s difficult to be able to say without any more detail. I’m so sorry to hear this though, it must have been heartbreaking for your friend.

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