Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Dogs

Kidney disease affects 1 in 10 dogs in Australia. 


The function of a dog's kidneys is to remove waste products from the blood stream, conserve waters, produce urine and regulate the levels of essential minerals such as potassium and sodium.

Kidney problems in dogs can be acute or chronic. Acute kidney failure happens quickly over several days whilst chronic kidney failure happens slowly over time.

english cocker spaniel puppy dog, kidney disease in dogs

Acute kidney failure

This type of kidney failure is most commonly caused by the ingestion of a toxin. This includes items such as chemicals, cleaners and bad food.

These can cause a urinary obstruction in the body. When blood flow decreases, it leaves a dog’s kidneys less oxygenated and more prone to infection.

Other causes of acute kidney failure in dogs can be severe hydrations, heat strokes, snake bites and leptospirosis, (a bacterial infection).



Chronic kidney failure

This type of kidney failure is most commonly found in older dogs and occurs over a period of time.

The exact cause is sometimes difficult to determine due to its slow onset but anything that decreases blood flow through the kidney can cause kidney failure.

Dental disease is known as the leading cause due to the bacteria build up on dog’s teeth.

Bacteria left on dog’s teeth can enter the digestive system when eating and drinking. The bacteria that get through can lessen kidney function over time 

Early symptoms of chronic kidney disease are easily overlooked or dismissed because they are mild in nature. 

german shepherd dog with kidney disease, how to treat dog kidney disease

What are some signs and symptoms of kidney disease in dogs?

The most common signs that a dog is experiencing kidney failure are:

  • Drinking more or less water than usual
  • Change in volume of urination
  • Change of frequency in urination
  • Loss of interest in playing or interacting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Signs of dental disease like pale gums, smelly breath and mouth ulcers

It is important to note that signs and symptoms listed above are also signs of other common diseases. If you have concerns, always contact your vet for more information and advice.

A vet will carry out blood and urine tests to diagnose kidney failure in dogs and to assess the severity of disease. X-rays, ultrasounds and special blood tests are usually necessary to help determine what might have caused the kidney failure. Sometimes a biopsy of the kidney is recommended.

A vet may also carry out a physical examination. This includes searching for:

  • Enlarged and painful kidneys
  • Back or flank pain
  • Changes in the prostate or urinary bladder 

Treatment for kidney disease is determined by the severity of the case. A vet will start by addressing the underlying cause of the failure if known. Treatment may be as simple as a nutritional change. More severe cases may be given medications, temporary feeding tubes, dialysis or IV fluids.

bull terrier dogs that suffer with kidney disease

How can I prevent kidney disease in my dog?

There are a number of things you can look out for when helping to avoid kidney disease in dogs.

These include:

  • Providing adequate and appropriate nutrition with a kidney friendly diet, (check with your vet before making any diet changes)
  • Ensuring excellent hydration
  • Balancing salts and acid-base levels
  • Treating any protein problems or high blood pressure, (these conditions tend to worsen kidney damage)
  • Keeping plenty of fresh water available – this is an essential!
  • Avoid exposure to harmful chemicals, medications or substances (this can include foods such as grapes and raisins or cleaning products)
  • Providing adequate dental hygiene

Kidney problems that go untreated can be life-threatening. Total kidney failure can be the result of untreated problems and be fatal to a dog.

Dog breeds prone to kidney diseases include but are not limited to: English Cocker Spaniel, German Shepherd, Bull Terrier, Cairn Terrier and Samoyeds.


Always contact a vet even for peace of mind if any signs or symptoms of kidney failure occur in your dog. Never diagnose your dog at home if any of the symptoms are present.