Renal Dysplasia in Dogs: Could Your Dog Have this Kidney Disorder?

Learn how to detect this congenital kidney disorder early so you can keep your pup as comfortable as possible.

woman holding Shih Tzu with renal dysplasia
Photo: TUNTI / Getty

It's never a good thing to learn that your dog has a disease, but a diagnosis of renal dysplasia can be particularly devastating—especially if your dog is still a puppy. Kidney disease is something often associated with senior dogs, but renal dysplasia is more commonly seen in younger dogs. While there is no cure for this disorder, there are ways to treat the symptoms and manage the progression of the disease to make your pet more comfortable.

What Causes Renal Dysplasia in Dogs?

Renal dysplasia is a disorder that occurs when one or both kidneys develop improperly in the womb. Within the kidney are structures called nephrons that filter the blood, removing waste and retaining nutrients essential for bodily function. If there are not enough nephrons present, the kidneys fail, causing toxins and fluid to build up in the body.

The severity of renal dysplasia depends on how many functional nephrons are present in each kidney. Bilateral renal dysplasia affects both kidneys and is generally the most severe form of the disorder. Dogs with unilateral renal dysplasia may have one functional kidney and a mild to moderate form of the disease.

Renal dysplasia primarily affects dogs and humans and is rare in other pets like cats and horses. This is a congenital disease, meaning it is present at birth. Though it is often diagnosed when puppies are very young, some forms of renal dysplasia do not become apparent until adulthood.

Is Renal Dysplasia in Dogs Hereditary in Certain Breeds?

Most cases of renal dysplasia are inherited through the genes, but it can sometimes occur due to a prenatal infection. Any dog breed can get renal dysplasia, but some dog breeds are more commonly affected such as:

In 2011, researchers isolated a possible genetic marker for renal dysplasia in dogs, but the study has raised questions of validity among the veterinary community. Genetic testing for this marker is available through a company called DOGenes. This test may help breeders determine if a dog has the marker and might pass it to offspring. However, the Institute of Canine Biology warns that this test may not be valid. Ask your veterinarian if you are concerned about genetic testing for your dog.

Signs of Renal Dysplasia in Dogs

Dogs with renal dysplasia typically do not exhibit signs of illness until they develop kidney failure. In severe cases, puppies may become sick right after birth or within the first three to six months of life. Dogs with mild to moderate forms of renal dysplasia may not develop kidney failure until they are adults or even seniors. The most common symptoms of kidney failure include:

Renal Dysplasia Treatment Options for Dogs

Contact your veterinarian if your puppy or dog is showing signs of kidney disease. Your vet will discuss your dog's signs and medical history, then perform a physical examination. Next, your vet will collect blood and urine samples for lab tests that assess kidney function.

If lab tests show kidney dysfunction, your vet will probably recommend some form of diagnostic imaging, like X-rays or an ultrasound. X-rays enable the vet to visualize the size and shape of the kidneys. An ultrasound will give the vet a more detailed look at the density and structure of the soft tissue in and around the kidneys.

Renal dysplasia will cause one or both kidneys to appear small and irregular. Your vet may also recommend a surgical biopsy of the affected kidney to make a definitive diagnosis.

Sadly, there is no cure for renal dysplasia in dogs, nor is there a specific treatment for the disorder. Treatment involves managing the kidney problems caused by renal dysplasia. The kidney disease will continue to get gradually worse, but treatment may help ease symptoms and slow disease progression. Treatment typically includes fluid therapy, anti-nausea drugs, potassium supplementation, phosphate binders, and appetite stimulants as needed.

How Long Can a Dog Live With Renal Dysplasia?

The life expectancy of dogs with renal dysplasia varies depending on the severity of the disease and subsequent onset of kidney failure. Newborn and young puppies with severe forms of the disorder rarely survive more than three to six months. Dogs with moderate renal dysplasia generally live until the age of one to two years. When treatments no longer provide a good quality of life, some pet parents opt for humane euthanasia, but it's a personal decision for each individual family to discuss with their vet. Mild forms of the disease are less common, but these dogs may live normal lives before the onset of symptoms.

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