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Causes and Prevention of Acute Renal Failure in Dogs

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

Causes of Acute Renal Failure

A number of things can cause domestic dogs to develop acute renal failure (ARF). The most common of these is eating or ingesting some solid, liquid or other substance that is poisonous to the kidneys; this is called “nephrotoxicity.” The nephron is the structural and functional unit of the kidneys. Each kidney contains many nephrons, and each of those is a complex system of highly regulated tubules and membranes. Nephrons are designed to remove certain end-products of metabolism from the blood, including urea, uric acid and creatinine. They also regulate circulating levels of sodium, chloride and potassium, and other things. The kidneys are especially vulnerable to being damaged by nephrotoxins because about 25% of a dog’s blood passes through its kidneys with each heartbeat, and the kidneys are highly sensitized to circulating toxins.

Some of the materials known to be nephrotoxic to dogs include:

  • Antifreeze (especially ethylene glycol antifreeze)
  • Administration of certain drugs including chemotherapeutic agents, aminoclycosides, sulfonamides, tetracyclines, cyclosporine, cisplatin, ACE inhibitors, radiocontrast agents, amphotericin B, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), methoxyflurane, others
  • Heavy metal intoxication including arsenic, copper, iron, lead, mercury, silver, zinc
  • Venom from insect or snake bites
  • Ingestion of toxic foods such as chocolate, grapes, raisins
  • Ingestion of toxic plants
  • Ingestion of cholecalciferol-containing rodenticides (rat/mouse bait) or human medications that contain vitamin D
  • Hypercalcemia

Other possible causes of acute renal failure in dogs include:

  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Physical trauma to one or both kidneys
  • Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s Disease)
  • Blood clots and coagulation disorders
  • Prolonged exposure to general anesthesia
  • Prolonged exposure to temperature extremes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Urinary tract obstruction (stones, blood clots, bacterial build-up, inflammatory debris)
  • Rupture of the urinary bladder or urethra
  • Leptospirosis
  • Lyme Disease
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Pancreatitis
  • Septicemia
  • Adverse reaction to blood transfusion products
  • Lymphosarcoma/lymphoma
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
  • Liver failure

Prevention of Acute Renal Failure

Companion dogs, especially older ones, should receive an annual veterinary check-up with blood and urine screening to monitor their kidney function and the health of other vital organs. Establishing a geriatric baseline of key components of the blood and urine makes identifying any later changes in those levels much easier. Acute renal failure is more common in younger dogs and those that are allowed to range freely. Dogs receiving nephrotoxic drugs should have their blood urea nitrogen levels monitored regularly and should always have free access to abundant fresh water to keep them well-hydrated. Antifreeze, household cleaners and other dangerous chemicals should be stored well away from pets.

Special Notes

Once a dog has developed acute renal failure, a veterinarian who is experienced in internal medicine should be consulted to discuss the course of disease and potential management options with the owner. If leptospirosis may be the cause of ARF, the owner should handle urine extremely carefully, because the causative microorganism is zoonotic – which means that it can infect humans as well as dogs.

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