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Kidney failure in dogs may be due to variety of reasons. Some of the causes may be congenital, while others may be due to various environmental reasons. In order to understand the reasons for kidney failure in dogs, one has to know all about the kidneys first.

Functions of kidneys

Kidneys are important to the metabolic balance of dogs. A malfunction of either one or both the kidneys can result in kidney failure in dogs.  The glomerular blood vessels come with a large endothelial surface which facilitates the passage of chemicals to and fro from the kidneys. Some of the essential functions of kidneys are as follows:

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  • Regulation of blood concentration levels by regulating the type and amounts of solids in blood.
  • Regulation of fluids in the areas that surround a cell
  • Regulation of base-acid balance through elimination and retention of certain ions in blood
  • Aldosterone manufactured by adrenal glands stimulate the kidneys which regulate and facilitate the transfer of water back into blood
  • Removal of waste products
  • Manufacture of Erythropoetin which contributes to production of red blood cells

Causes of kidney failure in dogs

Some of the causes of kidney failure in dogs are discussed below:

Congenital and hereditary abnormalities: They are very hard to treat and prevent the dogs from living a full and complete life. Some such causes include:

  • Polycystic kidney disease which results in the formation of cysts and loss of functionality and structures in the kidneys. It leads to slow accumulation of waste products within the body and eventually results in fatality of the dog. It is rare and usually found in Bull Terriers
  • Hereditary nephritis is another cause of kidney failure in dogs and generally found in Bull Terriers.
  • The Bernese mountain dog is affected by familial glomerulonephritis.
  • Renal agenesis may result in the birth of a dog with either just one kidney or no kidneys.
  • Renal tubular dysfunction leads to dysfunction of the filtering tubes and affects Basenjis.
  • Renal cortical hypoplasia leads to incomplete formation of the cortex of the kidneys and results in kidney failure in dogs
  • Renal hypoplasia affects German Shepherds and certain other breeds. It results in incomplete development of the kidneys
  • Renal dysplasia leads to abnormal kidney development and results in kidney failure in dogs due to loss of protein with urine.

Kidney injuries:

  • Any trauma to the kidneys via motor accidents or a physical blow from baseball bats, etc can result in permanent damage and bleeding in the kidneys, leading to kidney failure in dogs.

Bacterial infections:

  • Urinary tract infection is common in dogs. Bacteria enter through the urinary openings, replicate and spread to the urethra, the bladder, the ureters and then finally to the kidneys, leading to kidney failure in dogs.
  • Bite of ticks may result in infection with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria leading to the development of Lyme disease. This prevents the kidneys from effectively filtering and eliminating waste products from the body. Treatment with antibiotics does not result in complete recovery, as the bacteria cause structural damage to the kidneys.
  • Bacteria may also occasionally enter the blood through a wound or skin infection and cause kidney failure in dogs.

Urine flow blockages:

  • Urine flow is usually blocked due to the presence of bladder or kidney stones or urethral impediments, which are caused due to concretization of minerals.
  • Feline Urological Syndrome can lead to the deposition of minerals in a dog’s penis, leading to back pressure and damage to the kidneys. This can cause kidney failure in dogs as well as sudden death.
  • Bladder stones that pass through to the penis may not get eliminated due to the lack of space in the dog’s penis. This causes accumulation, blockage and also back pressure resulting in kidney damage.
  • Presence of cysts, tumors, scar tissue and abscesses in the urinary tract can prevent urine flow and result in kidney failure in dogs.

Fungal infections:

  • Systemic fungal invasions can result in damage to any organ or tissue of a dog’s body which also include the kidneys. Such infections have geographical orientations.


  • Cancer of the kidneys is rare in dogs and usually develops as a metastasis of other form of cancer in other parts of the body.


  • They are toxins that are present and produced with a dog’s body. Bacteria are the main culprits which produce toxins that cause tissue damage and kidney failure in dogs.

External toxins:

  • Ingestion of toxins can also result in the formation of crystals in the kidney systems. One such toxin is antifreeze which has ethylene glycol

Autoimmune disorders:

  • Certain autoimmune disorders such as SLE or lupus can result in the deposition of proteins in various organs, including the kidneys, resulting in their failure.


  • Some types of drugs can act as nephrotoxic agents and result in kidney failure in dogs.

Treatment of kidney failure in dogs

  • Kidney failure in dogs usually results in massive buildup of toxins within the animal. Hence, most pet owners prefer euthanasia for the dogs affected by kidney failure, rather than let them endure a painful life.
  • Some treatment methods include dialysis and kidney transplantation which are really expensive and not very effective.
  • Most treatment methods focus on letting the affected pet live a life as close to normal life as possible. Even after treatment of kidney failure in dogs, there is severe structural damage to the kidneys. The remaining portions of the kidneys then have to perform all the functions that two healthy kidneys used to perform. Medications are usually administered to replicate the functions of the kidneys as also to prevent infections.
  • It is also important to remember that protein rich diets do not cause kidney failure in dogs. However, dogs affected by the condition should limit the intake of high proteins in their daily diet.
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