Acute Kidney Failure: Sudden loss of kidney function

Posted by MyDogDoc on

A dog’s healthy kidneys perform many essential functions. With acute kidney failure, dogs have a sudden rapid decline in kidney function that requires urgent treatment.

  • Kidney failure, also referred to as renal failure, can be acute (sudden) or chronic (long term). In acute kidney failure a dog’s kidney function deteriorates rapidly over a few hours or days. Dogs become suddenly unwell.

  • Causes include poisons, severe kidney infections and a reduction in blood flow through the kidneys for example with dehydration.

  • A dog with acute kidney failure usually needs hospitalisation and very close monitoring with an intravenous fluid drip.

  • This condition is unfortunately serious. If caught early and treated aggressively some dogs are able to recover.

What is acute kidney failure?

The kidneys are important for removing toxins and waste products from the body, they produce urine and keep electrolyte levels stable. Acute kidney failure means that the kidneys have been damaged suddenly. The kidneys are no longer able to get rid of waste products and these build up and make a dog feel very unwell. Sometimes dogs stop being able to produce urine and so fluid accumulates in the body. This build up of fluid, high levels of toxins and electrolytes (potassium) can become a life threatening situation.

What causes it?

There are many possible causes of acute kidney failure including:

  • Poisons such as antifreeze, raisins and grapes and certain drugs. For example ibuprofen or an overdose of some canine medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Severe infections of the kidneys by bacteria (eg Leptospirosis).

  • Anything that decreases blood flow through the kidneys. This includes dehydration of any cause- for example severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

  • Heatstroke or other disorders that cause massive damage to body tissues.


If your dog is suffering from acute kidney failure the signs will appear quickly and your dog will become poorly quite suddenly. Symptoms include:

  • Increase or decrease in the amount of water drunk

  • Increase or decrease in the amount of urine passed (in the most serious cases a dog may stop producing urine altogether).

  • Vomiting

  • Uncoordinated movement such as stumbling

  • Very poor appetite

  • Ulcers in the mouth

  • Blood in the urine

  • Lethargy- very low energy

  • Black or ‘tarry’ looking poo (digested blood in the stool).

  • Some dogs will have a strange smell on their breath (this is when waste products build up in the blood and can give off a smell)

If your pup is showing any of these symptoms then see your vet as soon as possible. Early treatment is essential to achieve the best possible outcomes.


Blood and urine tests are used to determine if kidney failure is present and if it is how severe it is. Other tests such as x-rays, ultrasound and special blood tests may be needed to help determine the cause. In a few cases a biopsy of the kidney is recommended. Sometimes the underlying reason cannot be found.


The first treatment for acute kidney failure is usually intravenous fluids (a fluid drip into an IV canula). These fluids are to help restore hydration and to flush out the substances the kidneys are supposed to be removing from the blood stream.

Urine production is carefully monitored as a decrease or lack of urine being produced can mean that other therapies are needed such as diuretics (water tablets).

Antibiotics may be prescribed if a dog’s kidney failure is due to an infection. Other medications may be given to prevent or treat stomach ulcers and in some pups a feeding tube may be required to support them until they are felling better and able to eat on their own.

Types of dialysis, which is a method of purifying the blood of toxins that are normally cleared by the kidneys, are available in a few specialist veterinary hospitals.

What outcome can we expect if our dog has acute kidney failure?

Unfortunately acute kidney failure is a very serious condition and sadly the prognosis is often poor. If a treatable cause can be found and it is caught early and treated aggressively then some dogs are able to recover.

At Mydogdoc we understand how distressing a diagnosis of acute kidney failure can be for pet parents. Our vets are here to help with any questions you may have, or just to lend a sympathetic ear.

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