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Dog Kidney Failure and Understanding When to Euthanise

An old dog with kidney failure laying on the grass

Dog kidney failure is unfortunately a reality that many dog owners face, and is particularly common in older dogs. Understanding dog kidney failure, and when to consider euthanasia is really important. 

Early detection and treatment of illnesses can significantly impact your dog's health and quality of life. Kidney failure, particularly prevalent in older dogs, often remains undetected until it's quite advanced. 

Understanding the condition, its treatments, and when euthanasia might be the most compassionate choice is crucial for pet owners.

In This Blog:

Understanding Kidney Failure in Dogs

Chronic renal failure in dogs is a condition where the kidneys fail to adequately filter waste from the blood, leading to a buildup of toxins. Symptoms include excessive urination and thirst due to the kidneys' inability to concentrate urine. This condition can stem from various causes, including toxin ingestion and genetic predisposition.

Breeds More Susceptible to Kidney Failure

While kidney failure can affect any dog, certain breeds have a higher predisposition:

  • Labrador Retrievers

  • Cocker Spaniels

  • German Shepherds

  • Bull Terriers

  • Doberman Pinschers

  • Bernese Mountain Dogs

  • Yorkshire Terriers

Genetics and dietary factors may contribute to the higher incidence in these breeds.

Identifying Symptoms of Kidney Failure

Symptoms range from increased thirst and urination to more severe signs like vomiting, weight loss, and lethargy. Early detection through regular veterinary check-ups is vital for management.

Should your dog exhibit any of the following symptoms, it's crucial to consult a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment strategy. Early signs of kidney failure include a marked increase in thirst and urination, indicating the body's attempt to flush out toxins due to kidney impairment.

Additional symptoms to watch for are:

  • Lethargy

  • Decreased appetite

  • Weight loss

  • Pale, dry gums

  • Mouth ulcers

  • Increased sleeping

  • Vomiting

Further symptoms that may be identified through veterinary testing include:

  • Anaemia, marked by a deficiency of iron in the blood

  • Elevated blood pressure

The Pain Associated with Kidney Failure

Dogs with kidney failure can experience discomfort due to kidney failure, however this is more similar to the feeling of a hangover. For example, sickness, headaches, and lethargy are all common.

Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Kidney failure can arise from congenital conditions, urinary obstructions, infections, and exposure to toxins, among other causes. Age-related decline also plays a significant role.

Lyme disease, caused by a tick bite, may also lead to kidney failure. It’s important to regularly check your dog for ticks after walking through long grass, or in fields with livestock animals.

Preventative Measures for Kidney Health

Preventing access to toxins, ensuring adequate hydration, and maintaining dental health are key strategies to prevent kidney issues. It’s also important to never give your dog any over the counter medications, or supplements, without previous consultation with your vet.

Available Treatments

Managing chronic kidney failure in dogs involves a multifaceted approach that focuses on slowing the disease's progression, alleviating symptoms, and enhancing quality of life through a combination of dietary adjustments, medication, and holistic treatments.

Nutritional Strategy

The implementation of a tailored nutrition plan is important when managing kidney failure. Since the condition is irreversible, the goal is to mitigate symptoms and decelerate the disease's advancement. 

Veterinarians typically recommend a diet with restricted levels of high quality protein, that is low in sodium and phosphorus to ease the kidneys' workload. Incorporating natural supplements like omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can significantly reduce kidney inflammation due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, Vitamin B and C complexes are beneficial for replenishing essential vitamins and stimulating appetite.

Encourage your dog to drink water regularly. Offer fresh water in clean bowls throughout the day. Some dogs may prefer running water, so consider using a pet fountain. Adding low-sodium broth or water to their food can also increase their fluid intake.


The treatment regimen may include various medications, such as ACE inhibitors, phosphorus binders, and erythropoietin, tailored to the dog's specific needs and condition. The precise medication type and dosage should be determined in consultation with a veterinarian, based on the dog's individual health status.

Consequences of Untreated Kidney Issues

Without treatment, kidney failure can lead to life-threatening conditions, necessitating urgent care.

Comfort Measures for Affected Dogs

Ensuring a comfortable resting area, gentle handling, and maintaining hygiene are essential for dogs with kidney failure.

While too much activity can be taxing on a dog with kidney failure, gentle exercise such as short walks or indoor play can help maintain muscle tone and mental stimulation. However, always follow your vet's recommendations regarding exercise restrictions.

Be there for your dog emotionally. Spend quality time together, offer reassurance, and provide extra attention and affection. Dogs can sense when their owners are stressed, so staying calm and positive can help alleviate their anxiety.

Keep your dog clean and well-groomed to prevent skin irritation and infection. Brush their coat regularly to remove loose fur and mats. Use gentle, non-irritating shampoos formulated for sensitive skin.

Life Expectancy and Prognosis

The life expectancy of a dog diagnosed with kidney failure varies widely, influenced by the condition's severity, the timeliness of diagnosis, and the dog's response to initial treatments. 

With effective management and care, some dogs may live several months to years post-diagnosis. However, for those with advanced stages of kidney failure, the outlook can be grim, potentially limiting their time to just a few weeks. 

Working closely with your veterinarian to devise and adjust a treatment plan is crucial, as is diligent monitoring of your dog's health. Engaging in thorough follow-up care can prolong your dog's life. Being actively involved in decision-making regarding your dog's health and treatment is essential. 

If your dog suffers from persistent pain, loss of appetite, or incontinence as a result of kidney failure, euthanasia may be a compassionate consideration, especially if they no longer respond to treatment.

Recognising the End-Stage Symptoms

End-stage symptoms include severe lethargy, loss of appetite, and cognitive dysfunction, indicating that the disease has progressed significantly. Quality of life assessments can be undertaken in collaboration with your vet, to help provide an objective view on how your pet is coping with the progression of the kidney disease

Making the Decision for Euthanasia

Deciding on euthanasia involves assessing your dog's quality of life and consulting with your veterinarian to determine if it's the most compassionate option.

If you believe your dog’s quality of life is significantly diminished and would like a peaceful, dignified goodbye, contact our team via 0800 049 5944 or request an appointment.

Coping with Your Dog's Passing

Seeking support from bereavement counsellors and creating a memorial can aid in the grieving process, allowing you to honour your dog's memory. For more information on pet bereavement support, visit our page.

This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview for pet owners facing the difficult journey of kidney failure in their dogs, offering insights into care, treatment, and making the hardest decisions with compassion and understanding.


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