Kidney Failure in Dogs

Updated: 3/19/20242-4 minutes
A brown and white dog taking a nap with a person

Kidneys are very busy organs that have lots of responsibilities to keep your dog healthy, from removing toxins to maintaining blood pressure and helping to create new red blood cells. With so many jobs to do, it can be a scary time if you think your dog’s kidneys are failing, so let’s go through the common symptoms and possible treatment options for kidney failure in dogs. 

Kidney disease in dogs can affect any breed at any stage in their life and sadly, there’s no way of predicting which dogs will develop it and which won’t. Although there’s nothing you can do to prevent your four-legged friend from developing kidney failure, feeding them a high-quality diet throughout their life, and providing them with a constant supply of fresh, clean water will help support their kidneys. If they do develop kidney failure, those efforts could help to slow down its progress. 

We’ve created this guide to tell you the most common causes of kidney disease in dogs and renal failure. It is important for you to involve your vet early in its management.

Stages of Kidney Disease in Dogs

To get the help your dog needs, your vet will want to learn what stage of kidney disease your dog has reached. They’ll do this by running several blood and urine tests, as well as performing a thorough physical examination.

Here are the stages of kidney disease in dogs:

Stage 1

Healthy kidneys do a great job at removing toxins from a dog’s body, but when they’re not in a good shape, they will begin allowing waste to build up in the blood.

However, stage 1 kidney disease in dogs is very early in the course of the disease, and there’s usually no build-up yet. Dogs with stage 1 kidney disease have low-level changes, like specific mildly elevated parameters on their blood tests or physical kidney abnormalities. Most dogs will not show any outward signs during this stage.

Stage 2

In stage 2 kidney disease, waste starts accumulating in the blood, due to reduced renal function. Noticeable symptoms are usually mild or even absent in this stage, although your vet may recommend screening for high blood pressure and protein in your dog’s urine.

Stage 3

For dogs with stage 3 kidney disease, blood samples will contain a moderate amount of waste products, and clinical signs are usually present. Many dogs will experience high blood pressure, so screening for this is recommended alongside checking for protein in the urine.

At this stage, most dog owners will notice that something is definitely wrong. Dogs will typically show significant clinical signs, including excessive drinking and urination, tiredness, loss of weight, and potentially mouth ulcers and bad breath.

Stage 4

Stage 4 kidney disease in dogs is very serious. When dogs reach this stage of the disease, their kidneys are no longer able to filter out waste effectively, and the risk of severe clinical signs and acute deterioration is high. At this point, you will need to work closely with your vet to identify the best treatment options for your dog and consider your dog’s quality of life if they are very unwell.

Acute kidney failure in dogs means that the kidneys have suddenly stopped working properly. This can be caused by something such as an illness or infection, or because he has eaten something he shouldn’t, like antifreeze. Acute kidney failure in dogs may be able to be treated and reversed but could also be permanent, depending on what has caused it.

Chronic Kidney Failure in Dogs

Chronic kidney failure is more gradual and can take months or even years to develop. It can be caused by several things, including infections and tumors, and unfortunately by the time it’s diagnosed, it’s sometimes too late to reverse.

In the early stages of disease, the healthy areas of the kidney take on the extra work that the damaged areas can’t do, meaning that healthy parts work even harder than usual. As the disease progresses, and the unhealthy areas start to outnumber the healthy, the workload simply becomes too much, and your dog will show signs of kidney failure.

Chronic kidney failure in dogs is a progressive illness that your vet will need to keep an eye on, but it can usually be managed with a combination of medical treatments and a special diet.

Signs of Kidney Failure in Dogs

There are a variety of possible signs of kidney failure in dogs, and each dog is different so there’s no guarantee that they’ll experience the illness in the same way. However, the most common symptoms are as follows: 

  • Urinating more often – urine will usually be very diluted  
  • Increased drinking to replace lost fluids  
  • Nausea and vomiting due to buildup of toxins  
  • Retching or not eating their food  
  • Tiredness and lethargy  
  • Weight loss  
  • Pale gums  
  • Mouth ulcers  
  • Fragile, weak bones 

Be careful about trying to diagnose kidney disease yourself, as the signs of kidney disease in dogs can also be a symptom of other illnesses. The sooner you see your vet for an accurate diagnosis, the better. Although there’s no cure for kidney disease in dogs, early treatment will help to relieve the discomfort caused by the symptoms and support your dog’s kidneys.

Diagnosing Kidney Disease in Dogs

When diagnosing kidney disease in dogs, your vet will start by testing a sample of pee to see if your dog’s urine is being concentrated, whether protein is being lost in their urine and if they have any other problems, like an underlying infection. They might also take a blood test to check for specific kidney function, to get an idea of your dog’s overall health and to see if the buildup of toxins has affected any of their other organs.

Monitoring the Condition

Your vet may ask you to collect a sample of your dog’s urine as a part of monitoring their condition. The best time to collect your dog’s urine sample is first thing in the morning, ideally in mid-flow. How you physically collect their pee will depend on whether you have a male or female dog, but plastic lunchboxes or soup ladles can come in handy! Your vet will probably provide you with a sterile container to store your sample in or you can use a container such as a clean jar (any residue can affect the results, so do make sure the container is very clean). The fresher the sample, the more accurate the tests will be, so try not to delay in getting the sample to your vet.

How Long Can a Dog Live With Kidney Failure?

The lifespan of a dog with kidney failure will vary greatly depending on the severity of the disease and the efficacy of the treatment he is receiving. When kidney failure is spotted early and managed properly with the correct treatment, dogs can live several years after being diagnosed.

Dog Kidney Failure Treatment

Depending on how severe the symptoms are, treatment for your dog’s kidney failure usually consists of a combination of medical and dietary interventions.


As kidney failure in dogs can impact so many different bodily functions and cause them to develop conditions such as high blood pressure or anemia, your vet might recommend specific medications to help treat each symptom. Supplements may also be suggested to replace lost vitamins and help to improve some secondary effects caused by the disease. It’s important to remember to only give supplements and medications at the recommendation of your vet.

Diet for Dogs With Kidney Failure

A special diet can reduce signs of kidney failure in dogs and slow the progress of the disease. Your vet may suggest a carefully balanced prescription kidney diet for dogs. This food will have been formulated to meet your dog’s special needs and should always be your first choice if recommended.

Unfortunately, these special diets aren’t always the tastiest, as they’re made to very strict recipes, so your dog might not guzzle it up with as much gusto as he does with his usual food. Bear in mind that a dog’s sense of smell and taste is around 200,000 times more sensitive than ours, so they’re bound to notice the difference! That said, don’t give up on your prescription diet just because your dog seems disinterested at first – with a bit of perseverance, he’ll come around in the end.

Introduce the New Diet Slowly

When feeding a dog with kidney problems, take things slowly, and introduce his new diet gradually so he can learn to adapt to the flavors and different textures. Unless your vet says otherwise, start by blending a little of the new diet thoroughly into your dog’s original food. Then, each day, increase the quantity of the new diet by very small amounts, reducing the amount of his original diet proportionately. Ask your vet about portion sizes for the prescription diet, or use the guidelines on the packaging, because it won’t necessarily be the same as you’re used to feeding your dog.

Feed Little and Often

While your dog’s getting used to their new feeding routine, try offering them smaller meals more regularly rather than one or two larger meals. You’ll need to avoid giving them treats when they’re on their special diet anyway, so more regular feeding might help fill those gaps.

Warm His Food to Make it More Palatable

Slightly warm wet food in a microwave to release aromas and soften its texture. If your dog is used to wet food but the prescription diet is dry, try soaking the kibbles briefly in warm water to soften them. 

The changeover process can take from two-to-six weeks to complete, but it’s worth the extra time and effort to keep your furry friend as fit and healthy as possible. With a good quality diet and plenty of water, you and your dog should be able to carry on enjoying a healthy, happy life together.

For more expert tips on your dog’s health, explore our other dog health symptoms and issues articles.

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