Kidney disease can be a scary diagnosis, but it’s possible your dog can still live a healthy, happy life for years.

By Austin Cannon
December 04, 2020
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Kidney disease in dogs isn’t super common, but the odds of your dog acquiring this health condition can creep up as he gets older. 

But just like kidney disease in cats, you and your veterinarian can treat chronic kidney disease so your dog can live on for years after the diagnosis. Here’s what to know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment for dog kidney disease.   

Causes of Kidney Disease in Dogs

Broadly speaking, kidney disease means something is hampering the organs’ ability to do their job—removing waste from the blood, producing urine—says Alicen Tracey, DVM and a member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board. 

Sometimes, the causes of kidney disease in dogs just isn’t known, Washington State University veterinarians write. But a younger dog with congenital kidney disease likely has some kind of birth defect that causes the kidney trouble, Tracey says. She adds that sometimes kidney disease can be caused by an acute injury that harms the organ—like if your dog consumes grapes or raisins.

Chronic kidney disease can also be connected to another chronic disease that affects the kidneys, WSU writes. It can also be caused by high blood pressure.   

Signs and Symptoms of Dog Kidney Disease

It’s hard to tell if one of your dog’s internal organs is compromised, but Tracey says there are a few things to look out for that could point to chronic kidney disease. Here are a few: 

  • Frequent urination
  • Drinking more water (going paw-in-paw with the peeing)
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting 
  • Nausea 
close up of Beagle drinking water
Credit: alex_ugalek / Getty

WSU warns that depression, anemia, and overall weakness can also be strong indicators. 

See these signs? Call your veterinarian. Dogs’ kidney disease symptoms overlap with other maladies, namely diabetes and kidney stones, so you’ll need tests to get a definite answer. You can opt for a blood or a urine test, Tracey says. The blood test indicates how well the kidneys are filtering out waste while the urine test examines the pee’s concentration. If it’s too low, your pup could have kidney disease.    

Because kidney disease mostly affects older dogs, Tracey’s hospital employs annual blood testing when a dog is 6 followed by yearly urine testing at age 7. 

“Unfortunately, we’re really late to the game when we see signs for kidney disease,” she says.  

How to Treat Kidney Disease in Dogs

First and foremost: Dog kidney disease can’t be cured. But your dog can live with it, sometimes for years. Second: Talk to your vet. They’ll prescribe the right treatment. 

The good news is that early-stage chronic kidney disease can be treated at home. For a lot of dogs, kidney disease might be more uncomfortable rather than painful for the rest of their lives. Hydration is the name of the game.

“We have to keep them as hydrated as possible,” Tracey says. 

Having fresh water available at all times is a must, but Tracey also mentions hydration supplements, canned dog food, or a special kidney diet as other at-home options. If your dog’s hydration needs are more serious, your vet can teach you how to administer subcutaneous fluids—like a doggy IV drip—at home. 

If your dog is dealing with acute kidney failure—when the kidney deteriorates rapidly because your dog ingested grapes, antifreeze, or ibuprofen—you may need antibiotics, more subcutaneous fluids, or even a temporary feeding tube, according to BluePeal Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital.  

Cats with kidney disease have been able to undergo kidney transplants, but Tracey says transplants aren’t yet a common option for dogs. However, like humans, dogs can live with just one kidney if the other needs to be removed.   

What’s the Outlook? The Future for Dogs with Kidney Disease

A dog’s life expectancy with kidney disease depends on the severity of the disease, the individual dog, and the dog’s treatment. A reminder: This might be why you want to have pet insurance. If not, at least make sure you can afford visits to the vet

Tracey notes that quite a few dogs have lived for years after their chronic kidney disease diagnosis, assuming it’s caught in the early stages. The Internal Renal Interest Society (IRIS) lists four stages of kidney diseases, Stage I being the least serious and Stage IV being the most concerning. 

With all that in mind, it’s tough to determine a prognosis on your own if your dog has kidney disease. So regardless of your dog’s age, condition, and type of kidney problem, go to your veterinarian. They’re in the best position to help your pup.