Acute Renal Failure in Dogs

July 7, 2021

Your dog’s kidneys play a vital role in their overall health. Most importantly, they filter your dog’s blood and eliminate the wastes created as byproducts of normal metabolic processes, such as digestion and energy production. They also help regulate your dog’s blood pressure and stimulate red blood cell production. However, the kidneys are sensitive to a number of possible insults, and their function can quickly become compromised. Acute renal (i.e., kidney) failure  can impact many of your dog’s normal internal functions, and become life-threatening without prompt and aggressive treatment. Our team is fully equipped to manage dogs with acute renal failure, and give them the best chance of recovery.

What is acute renal failure in dogs?

Acute renal failure is a sudden decrease in kidney function that results from an unexpected insult. Your dog’s kidneys are composed of hundreds of thousands of microscopic filtering units called nephrons. As blood flows through the kidneys, waste products diffuse into the nephrons and are eventually eliminated as urine. Acute renal failure affects the kidney’s ability to filter waste products from the blood, allowing them to accumulate, and your dog becomes sick. Water conservation is also affected, and dogs with acute renal failure may lose too much water in the urine, and become dehydrated. In severe cases, the kidneys may produce little urine, or shut down and cease producing urine.

What causes acute renal failure in dogs?

Anything that suddenly and negatively impacts your dog’s kidneys can lead to acute renal failure, and common causes include:

  • Toxicity — Many toxins, including antifreeze products and rodenticides, can lead to acute renal failure. Ethylene glycol, which is found in many antifreeze products, is responsible for the majority of toxicity-related acute renal failure cases.
  • Infectious diseases — Leptospirosis, which is caused by a spirochete bacteria that infected wild animals shed in their urine, is another major cause of acute renal failure. Dogs typically contact leptospirosis by drinking from contaminated water sources, such as ponds, lakes, and puddles. 
  • Insufficient blood flow —  Shock, congestive heart failure, gastric dilation volvulus, or any condition that compromises renal blood flow can lead to acute renal failure.
  • Inflammatory diseases — In rare cases, glomerulonephritis or an immune-mediated disease can trigger acute renal failure. 

What are acute renal failure signs in dogs?
Acute renal failure signs mainly result from waste accumulation in the bloodstream of affected dogs, which makes them feel ill, and may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Inappetance
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased urine volume
  • No urine production

If you suspect your dog has acute renal failure, pursue treatment immediately, as the disease progresses rapidly and can quickly become life-threatening.

How is acute renal failure treated in dogs?

Acute renal failure requires prompt and aggressive treatment to support the kidneys while they heal. With acute renal failure, kidney function may return, whereas with chronic kidney disease, kidney function is permanently lost, and the disease progresses over time. Dogs with acute renal failure need hospitalization and intensive treatment, which may include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids — Fluid therapy is the foundation of acute renal failure therapy, and helps normalize internal fluid balance, promote urine formation, and resolve renal blood flow issues. 
  • Electrolyte support — Electrolyte imbalances, such as hyperkalemia (e.g., increased potassium), that result from waste accumulation in the body can lead to life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias, but can be managed with fluids and medications.
  • Continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) — CRRT uses advanced equipment to remove toxins from the bloodstream, similar to dialysis. However, CRRT is performed over 24 to 48 hours, instead of three to four hours.Dogs tolerate this timeframe better, since fluid volume, electrolytes, and pH are normalized gradually over a longer time period. Avets is proud to offer this cutting-edge treatment that can significantly improve the prognosis for dogs with acute renal failure.
  • Nutritional support — If vomiting is controlled, a liquid diet can be administered through a feeding tube; however, IV nutrition  (e.g., total parenteral nutrition) may be required if vomiting persists. 

How can I prevent acute renal failure in my dog?

While you cannot prevent all causes of acute renal failure , you can avoid ethylene glycol toxicity and leptospirosis infections, which account for approximately 65% of acute renal failure cases. Follow these tips to keep your dog safe:

  • Keep all antifreeze products stored safely out of your pet’s reach.
  • Clean up all antifreeze leaks and spills immediately.
  • Never let your dog wander where they may encounter antifreeze, and lap up the toxic liquid.
  • Don’t let your dog drink from outdoor water sources, such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and puddles. 
  • Discourage wildlife from entering, and possibly urinating in, your yard.
  • Keep your dog’s leptospirosis vaccine up to date with yearly boosters. 

If your dog develops ARF, our experienced team is available to provide the most advanced treatment options. Contact us to discuss immediate, aggressive treatment that will offer your dog the best chance of recovery.