Symptoms and Signs of Acute Renal Failure in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Acute Renal Failure

Effects of Acute Renal Failure – From The Dog’s Point of View

Kidney failure of any type, from any cause, eventually makes affected animals feel lousy. Dogs suffering from acute renal failure (ARF) usually become sick quickly, but most owners don’t notice the signs of ARF until their faithful companion is seriously ill, because the early stages of this disease are difficult to detect. At first, the dog will develop non-specific signs of weakness, lethargy and depression, which often go unnoticed even by the most attentive owners. The symptoms progress to gastrointestinal distress and other signs of general illness. By the time the dog is really obviously sick, more than 75% of its functional kidney tissue is usually damaged.

Symptoms of Acute Renal Failure – What the Owner Sees

The observable symptoms of acute renal failure usually appear suddenly, as the dog’s body tries to compensate for its kidneys’ inability to flush toxins out in the urine. Among the first signs noticed by most owners are increased thirst and water intake (polydipsia) and passage of unusually large amounts of urine (polyuria), and some animals may have bathroom accidents in the home. Occasionally, owners will notice a smaller urine output than normal, especially in late-stage disease. Other things that owners may see include:

  • Abdominal discomfort and pain (enlarged, firm, sore kidneys)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy; apathy; listlessness
  • Depression
  • Vomiting (+/- blood in vomitus)
  • Constipation (+/- blood in stool)
  • Diarrhea (+/- blood in stool)
  • Blood in normal stool
  • Bad breath from build-up of blood urea nitrogen in the blood stream
  • Brownish discoloration of the tongue surface
  • Bleeding problems (abnormal blood clotting; prolonged coagulation times)
  • Changes in cognition or mental state; disorientation
  • Dehydration (can become severe)
  • Fever
  • Oral ulcers
  • Poor body condition (loss of muscle tone; dull, dry coat)
  • Pale gums and other mucous membranes (pallor)
  • Acute onset of blindness (from hypertension/high blood pressure)
  • Ataxia (lack of coordination)
  • Seizures, tremors, shivering, shaking (neurological signs with advanced disease)
  • Collapse
  • Coma
  • Death

Polyuria and polydipsia (shortened to “PU/PD”) are associated with a wide number of medical disorders and, without more, cannot be used to diagnose ARF. However, excessive water intake and urine output almost always accompany renal failure, when it is present. In severe cases, dogs with ARF may develop high blood pressure, with the adverse effects associated with that condition.

Dogs at Increased Risk

Acute renal failure tends to occur more often in the fall and winter months, when dogs have increased access to ethylene glycol antifreeze. Cold, damp weather support the infectious leptospirosis microorganisms. Frequently, dogs with ARF are younger than those that develop chronic renal failure. Large breed, free-roaming dogs seem to be predisposed to this condition, probably due to their increased access to poisonous plants, chemicals, snakes, insects, microorganisms and other nephrotoxins (things that damage the kidneys). Dogs with recurrent bouts of mild acute renal failure are more likely to develop chronic renal failure over time, as are dogs that suffer from kidney stones or other types of kidney disease. Systemic illness, dehydration, low blood pressure (hypotension), advancing age and administration of certain drugs can also put dogs at an increased risk of developing acute renal failure.

Disorders Similar to Acute Renal Failure

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