Dog: Acute Renal Failure

General information

Other common/scientific names: acute renal failure, kidney failure, acute kidney failure

The kidneys perform many jobs in the body. They eliminate waste products such as urea which is a product of protein breakdown. The kidneys also help to maintain hydration, regulate blood pressure and salt and electrolyte balance. They are made of thousands of filtration units called nephrons. Once a nephron is destroyed, it cannot be regenerated. Fortunately, the dog has many extra nephrons. Overall kidney function does not suffer until the kidneys are down to about 1/6 of the original number of nephrons.

Renal failure can be either acute or chronic. This article will discuss acute renal failure. Acute renal failure results when a major insult occurs to the kidneys and the kidneys lose renal function rapidly, over hours to days causing the buildup of toxins in the blood stream and the lab tests are abnormal. Dogs with acute renal failure can experience uremic poisoning where not only are the laboratory tests abnormal indicating a buildup of the waste products, but the dog is also showing clinical signs from these toxins. Acute renal failure, as opposed to chronic renal failure, is usually a reversible condition if proper treatment is implemented in a timely manner.

Abb. GGTB8LC7: Schematic illustration of the canine female urinary and reproductive organs.

Abb. GGTBAY8T: Schematic illustration of a kidney.


Since almost any type of poisoning, medication, disease or infection has the potential to cause kidney failure, it is impossible to list every cause. However, some specific causes include:

Cardinal symptom


Clinical signs of acute renal failure include decreased or no urine output, lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea.


Renal failure is first diagnosed with blood tests and a urinalysis. A complete blood test, serum biochemistry and electrolyte panel and urinalysis should be performed on all dogs suspected of acute renal failure. Depending on the cause, other testing such as a test for ethylene glycol or a culture and sensitivity test to detect a bacterial infection may be performed. Abnormalities on these tests will determine the severity of renal failure and also help determine the proper course of treatment.

Other diagnostic testing includes abdominal radiographs and ultrasonography which are used to assess the size and structure of the kidneys and blood pressure recording to assess hypertension.


Treatment of acute renal failure should be early and aggressive. It is important to diagnose and eliminate the cause, so any ongoing damage to the kidneys is halted. When the cause of renal failure is due to ingestion of a toxic substance or poison, vomiting may be induced by the veterinarian. Hospitalization with intravenous fluids, electrolytes and diuretics is needed to promote diuresis or increased urination to aid in kidney health and dilute toxins in the system. Injectable antiemetics and antacids are administered to reduce nausea and vomiting. Injectable antibiotics are used in cases of bacterial infections.

Dogs with acute renal failure may need to be on a diet which is low in protein, phosphorous and salt. These diets are often specially formulated, prescription only diets meaning they can only be purchased with a prescription from a veterinarian.


If acute renal failure is diagnosed early and the cause is identified, the prognosis for recovery is good. However, if treatment is delayed or the patient does not respond to treatment, the prognosis can be guarded. If the kidneys sustain extensive damage, chronic renal failure may result.


Any poison or toxin should be housed safely and out of reach of dogs. Pay particular attention to antifreeze during the winter months. Antifreeze is sweet tasting and most dogs will readily consume this toxic compound. Avoid feeding grapes or raisins. Vaccination against leptospirosis can prevent this infection.


If your dog consumes a poison, toxin, antifreeze, raisins or grapes, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Update version: 4/24/2014, © Copyright by
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