6 Questions Answered About Kidney Disease in Older Dogs


answering questions about kidney disease in dogs


Quite a few of my dogs and cats have been affected by kidney issues, actually I’d have to say most of them have. Sadly, just two weeks ago I had to say goodbye to my much loved dog Red as a result of this disease. 

Kidney failure is quite common in senior dogs, so the more you know about it, the better prepared you will be. 6 questions answered about kidney disease in older dogsYour vet should be there to explain every step to you, but I know how overwhelming things can get – you hear unsettling news, there’s only so much time you have at an appointment, and you leave there with your head spinning not having any idea what you were told. Having some information going in will definitely help, and you’ll leave there will a better understanding of your dog’s condition and the ways you can help. 

 1)What is kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), Chronic renal disease (CRD), Chronic renal failure, and Chronic renal insufficiency are all the same condition

*The kidneys are damaged but working, just not as well as they should be

*The disease has been present for months, maybe even years

*The onset may be very slow, with no obvious signs, but your dog just isn’t feeling well

Kidney failure/Renal failure

*The most severe stage of CKD

Acute kidney injury (AKI), Acute kidney disease (AKD), Acute Kidney/Renal Failure (ARF)

*Kidney problems came on very quickly

The cause typically determines whether the disease is acute or chronic. More about that later.

2)Were you aware of what an important job the kidneys do? I wasn’t!

  • The kidneys filter waste from the blood, the waste is removed with water and becomes urine.
  • Waste is made up of broken food, old cells, toxins, poisons and drugs used for treatment of diseases.
  • Some waste products like creatinine and urea nitrogen can be measured in the blood, but many can’t. Red has kidney disease, and I know my vet is always monitoring those numbers among other things.
  • The kidneys regulate the amount of water in the blood by excreting the extra, or retaining some to prevent dehydration.
  • They help control blood pressure by saving or eliminating sodium.
  • They help regulate calcium and vitamin D.
  • The kidneys manufacture a hormone that stimulates the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells.
  • Sustain phosphorous levels.

Because the kidneys have so many functions, when the kidneys are not working normally, there are many signs you will see in your dog.

3)What is the structure of the kidneys?

Each kidney contains thousands of nephrons. In a young dog, not all nephrons are working all the time – some are held in reserve. As your dog ages, or if the kidneys are damaged, some anatomy of the kidneynephrons die and those in reserve take their place.

Eventually the reserve will be gone, so as the disease progresses, that’s when your dog will start showing signs.

Because of the reserved nephrons, the kidneys are able to “hide” the fact they were damaged for quite some time – basically until the damage is severe.

By the time you’re noticing signs, and tests are showing elevated creatinine in the blood, 75% of the nephrons in both kidneys have been lost.

4)How many types of kidney disease are there?

There are two types – chronic and acute

5)What are the causes, signs and prognosis of chronic kidney disease?

Chronic kidney failure (or renal failure), does not mean the kidneys have stopped working and are no longer producing urine. As a matter of fact, most dogs in kidney failure produce huge amounts of urine.

Chronic Kidney Disease in Senior DogsCKD means the kidneys are not able to efficiently filter the blood and rid the body of waste.

It is caused by the gradual failure of the kidneys, or long term consequences of severe acute renal failure.

This gradual process has been going on for months, or even years by the time your dog starts showing signs.

CKD is progressive and irreversible, but can be managed with diet and medication. Dogs can be comfortable, with a pretty good quality of life for months, even years.


It is usually caused by aging

A main cause is dental disease. Bacteria enter the blood stream, causing irreversible damage to the heart, liver and kidneys

Other causes include:

  • Birth defect
  • Toxins
  • Heredity
  • Kidney stones
  • Chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys
  • Lymphoma
  • High blood pressure
  • Diseases associated with the immune system
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • High blood calcium
  • Urinary blockage
  • Antifreeze poisoning causes acute kidney disease, which can lead to CKD

Most cases are idiopathic, meaning there’s no specific cause.


Because the kidneys perform so many functions, signs can vary, but some of the common ones include:

  • Drinking and peeing a lot, and a need to pee during the night
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Not eating as well, more selective in what he/she eats
  • General depression
  • Pale Gums
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Poor looking coat
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration


The prognosis depends on severity, but as we’ve already mentioned, this disease is irreversible and progressive.

It’s almost impossible to answer the question of “how long?” Your vet will monitor your dog’s progress on a regular basis, and it’s a case of playing it by ear.

My dog Red has this disease and thanks to the prescription kidney diet she’s been eating, she’s doing really well. 

6)What are the causes, signs and prognosis of acute kidney disease?

Acute kidney failure is a sudden decline over a period of days. When kidney function is reduced over a long period of time, it can become chronic.


  • Trauma
  • Medications
  • Aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Eating toxins like grapes, raisins or anti-freeze
  • Bacterial infection in the kidneys due to blockage of the urinary tract due to stones/crystals
  • Tainted foods
  • Dehydration
  • Heatstroke
  • Bee stings
  • Snake bites
  • Leptospirosis
  • Acute Pancreatitis
  • Lyme Nephritis (a condition caused by Lyme Disease)

A definitive underlying cause, is often not found.


Dogs are usually diagnosed with acute kidney injury only once they are suffering acute renal failure, because it is then that signs are most obvious.

They include:

  • Peeing a lot, very little or having difficulty
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Drinking a lot, or drinking very little
  • Stomach or intestinal ulcers which cause black stool or vomiting of digested blood
  • Loss of appetite


Sadly the prognosis isn’t great, with more than half of dogs put to sleep because they didn’t respond to treatment.

Even those that do recover may be left with chronic kidney disease.


To prevent kidney problems due to poisoning, keep all dangerous, and potentially dangerous products out of your dog’s reach. If you’re not sure, lock it up.

Never give your dog any medication unless it has been approved by your vet.

Keep an eye on her when she’s playing outside – dogs can pick up all kinds of things in a split second.

6 questions answered about kidney disease in older dogs – conclusion

I hope this hasn’t overwhelmed or scared you. Even if you find out your dog does have kidney disease, each case is different so don’t panic.

Your vet will explain everything to you, prepare a treatment plan, and closely monitor your dog, making adjustments as needed. Remember, many dogs can continue to live good lives for months, or even years.

You know your dog best, so I always encourage anyone who notices changes in their dog’s behaviour to speak to their vet. It may be nothing, or you may have just caught something in its’ early stages.

I hope these 6 questions asked, and answered, have helped you better understand kidney disease in older dogs.


I would like to invite you to join Senior Dog Care Club, my Facebook group for senior dog parents. There you will find lots of helpful tips and advice, a place to ask questions and share experiences. I look forward to welcoming you.





  1. Linda Fosse

    Great post you have here.
    As always!
    You really know A LOT about dogs. I have three dogs myself, but I can not claim that I know a fraction of all the knowledge you have about dogs.
    Lucky me, my dogs are fit, so far 🙂

    Live, Laugh, Love
    Linda 🙂

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Linda, Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I appreciate your kind words. I adopt senior dogs, so I’m afraid they always come with some problem or other. I guess that’s why I’ve been so interested in learning so much about them. Plus I’m a dog trainer, so I love helping people with their dogs.

  2. Donna

    Great Article! We had lost one of our pointer to acute kidney problems years ago. One day he just refused to eat, a dog that normally wolfed down food as though he never gets fed, so right away that set off an alarm. Then we noticed him drinking alot, other than that he seemed fine. Within a day that changed. It was scary how fast everything happened and I wish I knew more about it back then. Hopefully this helps someon e in the future!

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Donna, Thank you for your comment, and so sad to hear what happened to your dog. That’s the thing about acute kidney failure. It happens so suddenly, it’s easy to miss the signs. I do hope readers find my content helpful.

  3. Kristie

    I would hate to think my dog would get kidney disease. I had kidney failure early last year and it is miserable. If I could prevent my dog from experiencing that, I would. I love your site. It is very informative. At least now I am armed with information should I ever face this situation. Best wishes to you and Red!

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Kristie, Thank you for your comment. So sorry to hear that, I hope you’re doing well and have recovered. I’m so glad you like the site, I do my best to bring as much helpful information as I can to people who share their lives with older dogs. Of course a lot of the information can help with dogs of any age. I do have two more articles on kidney disease scheduled to be published – how is it diagnosed on the 28th, and how is it treated on the 31st. Take care of yourself!

  4. Brad

    Hi Hindy,

    I really enjoy reading your posts, it has helped me know what to watch out for as Oscar gets a bit older.
    When I was younger we had a golden labrador who eventually died from cancer. I always wondered if it was because of the procesed dog food that he was fed every day?

    Now I only feed Oscar foods that he would have had to hunt and forage for as if he were a wild dog (because that is what they are geneticaly supposed to eat, right). So he mostly gets fresh meat and bones. At 8 years old he has never been sick or needed to go to the vet once, and still has the energy he had when he was a puppy!

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Thanks Brad, I’m so glad you find my posts helpful. There is a whole school of thought who will tell you processed food is responsible for many illnesses in dogs. By the same token, there are those professionals, and just regular folk, who will disagree. I know a few people who switched to a raw diet for their dogs, and they notice a big difference. I always say pet nutrition is a minefield, and now with my dog Red and her kidney disease.. Huge differences of opinion, but in her case I’m following the vet’s recommendations because he’s brilliant in his field, and so far his treatment plans have been effective. Good luck with Oscar!!

  5. Lynne

    Thanks Hindy for such a huge amount of info on kidney disease in dogs. Correct me if I am wrong here, but having pale gums is always a sign that there is something wrong with your dog?
    I have heard that kidney problems is more common in male animals and that it is often a result of choosing the incorrect food. Can you confirm this?

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Lynne, I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Two more articles on kidney disease will be published in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned!! Typically, a healthy dog has pink gums, while blue tinged, yellow or pale will indicate some kind of problem. I had never heard of kidney disease being more prevalent in male dogs, and haven’t come across that fact in any of my research, but I couldn’t say with any certainty that it isn’t the case. Any cat or dog of mine who suffered from kidney disease was female, so who knows!! As with so many things, there are differences of opinion as to the role of diet, and that would apply in this case as well. There are those who believe processed foods are responsible for many of the illnesses and problems experienced by our dogs, while others have been feeding it to their pets for years with no problems. Dental disease for instance, is just one cause of kidney disease. Others may include age (normal wear and tear), cancer, exposure to toxins… Hope this helps.

  6. lydia

    i will try and make this short. my dogs brother died. then he would not eat treats sleep all the time and lethargic. took him to the vets did bloodwork and counts very high. was told has CKD. well he is just fine. no symptoms at all of this disease. He is eating his treats, staying awake more now and active. I truly believe he does not have CKD that he was depressed . the vet said no bloodwork doesn’t lie.
    don’t believe the VET. he is back to his normal. He was ready to die cause of his brother.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      How sad to hear this Lydia, but it makes sense your dog was feeling depressed after losing his brother. How strange about the test results though. I’m glad to hear he’s back to normal, but I would probably find another vet for a second opinion. Bloodwork may not lie but perhaps the test results were mixed up with another dog’s.

  7. lydia

    i am going to enjoy my dog! Not going to worry about his bloodwork. he is like any normal dog now. Beginning to go outside now without not being scared without his brother! He eats and drinks like a normal dog. i see no symptoms one bid of CKD. thank you for your reply.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi Lydia, I’m so glad your dog is learning to be less afraid without his brother. It’s so sad to read this, but it’s not uncommon for dogs to shut down at such a loss. The fact he’s eating and drinking is a good sign, and I hope he’ll be feeling better and enjoying life soon.

  8. William


    I know this article is a few years old but you seem very knowledgeable and was hoping you could help. Is it possible that a intentional blockage could be mistaken for Chronic Kidney Failure? Would blood tests present similiar values?

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      Hi William, a visit to your vet will determine if your dog is experiencing any level of kidney issues. He will usually want a urine sample, blood sample and if there is a reason to suspect a blockage an x ray or perhaps even an ultrasound. If your dog is experiencing any kind of issue I recommend you take him for a check up as soon as possible, and if for some reason you suspect a blockage please mention that when you call to make your appointment as that would be considered an emergency. Good luck and let me know how things go.

      1. William

        Thank you for your time and response. It wasn’t my intention to post my full name with my questions. If you could remove my personal details it would be greatly appreciated. Unfortunately my little guy passed away last year but it has been heavy on my heart that he was misdiagnosed and I didnt push hard enough. I went to get second and third opinions with other vets but they were not very aggressive in countering my first vets opinion. As all the dog lovers here know no matter how much time goes by.. we always wonder what if I did this or that..just anything differently …it’s heartbreaking.

        1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

          No problem, I’ve removed your last name and email address. I’m so sorry to hear that, and I would love to tell you not to beat yourself up but I know from experience how hard it is to do that. It is heartbreaking when we have to say goodbye, especially if we think we might not have had to. I’ve had wonderful vets, and I’ve had terrible vets, one was responsible for the death of my sweet puppy mill rescue Saffy, during what should have been routine dental surgery. I know all about beating myself up because I’m not able to really get over her death. The thing is we have to rely on our vets to do the diagnosing, but rely on ourselves when we think something is wrong. You took him to your vet, then another and then another. You did a lot more than others do, and you just have to remind yourself you did the best you could. I guess we take these sad experiences and use them to help others. I constantly encourage people to seek second opinions, or change vets if they’re not happy and I started a free resource centre to help people who have questions about their dog or cat. I did that in honour of Saffy. Your sweetie was lucky to have you to share his life with, and I guess that’s all we can hold on to. Take care.

  9. Rhonda

    My 6 year old Boston has kidney disease. He was diagnosed 2 months ago. He now has black tar colored poop. I am understanding it to be due to bleeding and/ or ulcers and a symptom of disease progression. With that said, I wonder if the prognosis is very poor as his kidneys are failing. He is such an important and valuable member of our family. My daughter’s best friend. My question is considering the symptom of black stool, how long will he live ? I understand all dogs are different, I’m asking for an answer based on your experience.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I’m sorry to hear about your pup Rhonda. I’m not a vet and you know all dogs are different so it’s an impossible question to answer by anyone. I have had cats and dogs with kidney disease but have never seen “black tar colored poop” produced by any of them. I can tell you my 16 1/2 year old dog has had many health issues including kidney disease which she’s had for quite a few years and so far she’s okay. It’s tough when we a family member is sick, so be sure to love him, appreciate each day and give him the best life you possibly can.

  10. rita

    Hello, thank you for your post. My 9 year old schnauzer/poodle mix this past friday was having trouble standing with his back legs so i took him to my vet who assumed it was a disc problem so he gave him a cortisone shot and told us to crate him for 2 weeks so we did just that. The next morning his back legs were worse so we decided to take him to the animal hospital and they did xrays which were fine and blood work and it came back that he had kidney failure, high blood pressure with his eyes becoming so red and had abnormally low platelet levels and an autoimmune disease attacking his red blood cells. We didn’t want to make the decision to let him go so we went to north star vets for a 2nd opinion and unfortunately it was confirmed. They did not feel he would recover even if we had admitted him and they did all the testing. We made the devastating decision in the late evening. I feel so guilty because i feel that i took his life and maybe if i had admitted him they could have done something. They said he had too many health issues going on at once which he would not be able to recover from. I hope i made the right decision because it’s been killing me not knowing. Thank you.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I’m so sorry to hear that Rita. The most important thing is to ensure our animals don’t suffer, and with so many health issues at one time you took your vet’s advice and did the best thing for your pup. I know how heartbreaking it is but I hope you take comfort knowing you loved him enough to let him go when it was time.

  11. Annamaria

    Hello, my 15 yr old Maltese Bella was just diagnosed with Kidney Disease. She has only a few symptoms, occasional disorientation/lethargy but most of the day ok, drank alittle more than normal, now she seems to be having some hind leg pains, but not sure if that is from the disease or just her arthritis or age or all. Please advise the vet suggested we start her on SQ Fluids, 3 x a week and Epogen shot 3 x a week for low red count. at 15 what are her chances of fully recovering I’m so confused on if I should go through with trying to do this therapy or not as i do not know if her condition is acute or chronic. Please advise what would you do at this point. they also told me there is no guarantee how she will respond, and when i mentioned a different medication i know some dogs get put on Calcitriol for KD they told me she is not severe enough for that medication, so then how do i know she is severe enough for the Fluids/red Blood cell injections???
    I love my dog and have changed her dog food to KD hills Kidney care prescription diet as the vet suggested and want to do anything to give her even just a few more years, but i don’t want to also shorten her life with aggressive therapy if it is truly not going to make a difference.

    1. Hindy Pearson (Post author)

      I’m sorry to hear about Bella. My dog had kidney disease but disorientation and lethargy were not symptoms. Hind leg pains were also not part of the symptoms, and in Bella’s case could be arthritis for example. Your vet is the one to tell you the severity of the kidney disease based on blood tests so I can’t answer that for you. Is it so advanced and is she so dehydrated she needs fluids that many times a week? I don’t know what Epogen is or what’s going on with your dog’s blood. My dog was not on any medication but she did eat Hills Prescription k/d for a few years which kept things well managed. Is this a vet you like and trust? It sounds like there’s a few things going on and perhaps he or she hasn’t explained things well enough for you. I recommend you go back there, no need to bring your dog, and have a conversation about exactly what’s going on with her. Make a list of questions ahead of time. If you don’t like or trust this vet I recommend you find one you do. Mine is a partner with me in my pets’ care and I couldn’t do it without him.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.