Learn the Differences Between Acute & Chronic Kidney Failure in Dogs

Learn the Differences Between Acute & Chronic Kidney Failure in Dogs

The kidneys are crucial to your dog’s overall health. Unfortunately, like all parts of the body, they are subject to damage and deterioration over time. Kidney, or renal, failure is a common health problem in dogs and is often the final stage of kidney disease or other ailments that overwork the kidneys.

What most people don’t realize, though, is that kidney disease in dogs isn’t always the end stage of a long and difficult disease. There are actually multiple types of kidney failure in dogs: acute kidney failure and chronic kidney failure. These two forms are caused by different things and may result in different outcomes. Understanding the differences between these conditions and how to spot them may save your dog’s life!

What is kidney failure?

Kidney failure occurs when your dog’s kidneys can no longer perform their intended functions, which are to filter toxins and waste products out of the blood, regulate hydration and assist in the creation of red blood cells. When one or both kidneys are unable to perform their jobs, your dog can become very sick, and their body may begin to shut down.

The different types of kidney failure typically produce similar symptoms, including:

Although both acute and chronic renal failure may present these symptoms, the speed at which the conditions progress and their underlying causes are quite different.

Acute kidney failure

Acute renal failure is characterized by the sudden and rapid failure of your dog’s kidneys. This condition may appear without warning and take pet owners by surprise. This type of renal failure usually progresses over the course of a few hours up to a few days.

In most cases, acute kidney failure in dogs is associated with toxic poisoning or infections. A pathogen or chemical may overwhelm the system, causing the kidneys to rapidly decline.

Two common examples of this are leptospirosis and toxic poisoning via prescription medications or chemicals. Leptospirosis is a dangerous bacterium that may enter your dog’s system through ingestion after swimming in or drinking contaminated water. The bacteria cause inflammation of the kidneys, resulting in the rapid deterioration of its cells.

Toxic poisoning occurs when a dog ingests a harmful product or chemical, such as antifreeze or human medications. Some foods can even trigger toxic poisoning in dogs! In an attempt to remove the toxin from the body, the kidneys may be damaged, resulting in acute renal failure.

A sick golden retriever puppy rests on a veterinarian's examining table

Because of the underlying causes of acute renal failure, the condition is preventable. Vaccinations can protect your pup from bacteria that causes kidney failure. Close monitoring of your pup and safe storage of chemicals, medications and food can help prevent accidental ingestion of toxic materials.

Acute kidney failure may also be reversible! If it is caught early enough, aggressive treatment may restore kidney function and your dog’s health. Symptoms of acute renal failure may come on suddenly. If you notice potential symptoms of renal failure, take your dog to the vet right away for an examination and diagnosis. If you saw your dog ingest a toxic material, let the vet know immediately.

Your dog may need to be hospitalized and/or given fluids and medication to stabilize their condition and help them recover from the infection or poisoning. Some dogs will be able to recover completely following treatment, but some may suffer from chronic kidney failure.

Chronic kidney failure

Unlike acute renal failure, chronic kidney failure is much slower, progressing over the course of months or even years. This type of kidney failure has a much longer process, and pet parents usually have more time to cope with the reality of the disease.

In many cases, chronic kidney failure is associated with old age and deterioration of your dog’s health. Over time, kidney cells die, and the organs are unable to function normally. Renal failure may also be the final stage of a pre-existing health condition like diabetes or cancer, or it may be caused by a congenital defect.

Chronic renal failure is not preventable. As your dog ages, their body will naturally begin to slow down and deteriorate, and kidney failure is part of this process. However, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help improve your dog’s health and keep their body running optimally as they grow old.

An old tired grey dog rests on a green blanket

Sadly, chronic kidney failure cannot be reversed or cured. That being said, a diagnosis of chronic kidney failure is not an immediate death sentence for your pup. They may go on to live many more months or even years while managing their disease.

The symptoms of chronic renal failure may appear slowly and one at a time, making them more difficult to spot. Gradual changes in your dog’s thirst, appetite and energy levels may change without raising red flags. If you notice strange symptoms, take your pup to the vet for a diagnosis.

If your dog is indeed suffering from kidney disease or another condition that is causing chronic renal failure, your vet will provide instructions on how to help them manage it. Dietary changes and herbal support may alleviate secondary problems like high blood pressure and make your dog more comfortable. With love and care, your dog can live for many more years with their condition.