How to Support Kidney Health for Dogs

Published by
min read

Find food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a dog food that fits your pet’s needs

Find a cat food that fits your pet’s needs

You probably understand how your dog's heart and lungs help them thrive, but have you ever wondered what role their kidneys play or how to promote kidney health for dogs?

Your dog has two kidneys, located on either side of their spine just behind where their ribs end. In Chihuahuas, they're about the size of a large blueberry. In Great Danes, they're roughly the size of a human fist. These small organs are so important that your dog (or any mammal) can't live long without healthy ones. Read on to understand why dog kidney health matters, what happens when the kidneys fail and how to support kidney health in dogs.

What Do Kidneys Do?

You may know that kidneys make urine, but they do much more than that. Kidneys sustain life by filtering toxins out of the blood through a cellular unit called a nephron. Kidneys contain millions of nephrons. A kidney nephron contains an important structure called a glomerulus, which purifies blood sort of like a coffee filter.

The kidneys also contain many sensitive structures that monitor your dog's levels of electrolytes, toxins, water and other chemicals. These sensors tell the glomerulus what to filter out of the blood and what to keep according to the body's needs. This is a highly complex process, but, in the end, anything that needs to be filtered out is excreted through the urine. In this way, the kidneys remove toxins (such as drugs) and waste products from the body while balancing the body's pH, water, and electrolytes, including salt and potassium.

These powerhouse organs also:

●   Function as part of the endocrine system, releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure

●   Produce vitamin D, which helps support strong bones

●   Control the production of red blood cells

beagle playing

What Is Kidney Failure?

Because kidneys filter all the blood in your dog's body, they're also constantly exposed to toxins, infectious organisms, and chemicals that can damage kidney cells. In addition, autoimmune diseases, trauma, heatstroke, certain hormonal disorders, cancer and even venomous snake bites can damage the kidneys. Some dogs may also inherit kidney issues from their parents.

Kidney failure can be acute (the kidneys fail suddenly) or it can be a slowly progressive chronic disease. Kidney failure is diagnosed when a dog has lost 75% of their kidney function — meaning 75% of the nephrons have shut down and stopped doing their job. Kidney failure affects most systems in the body.

Signs of Kidney Failure

Signs of kidney failure can include:

●   Increased drinking and urination

●   Acute blindness (due to high blood pressure)

●   Ceased urine production

●   Dehydration

●   Loss of appetite

●   Vomiting

●   Pale gums

●   Lethargy

●   Diarrhea

●   Seizures

If your dog experiences signs of kidney failure, contact your veterinarian immediately. Dogs don't show signs of kidney challenges until the disease has progressed, so talk to your vet about scheduling annual blood and urine tests to catch kidney problems early.

Treatment for Kidney Failure

Dogs who experience acute kidney failure can often regain normal kidney function if a vet treats them immediately. Dogs with chronic kidney failure can't be cured, and the condition is typically managed with medications and, in some cases, dialysis. Kidney transplant surgeries may be an option, but only a few surgical programs are in operation, and they're more complicated and less effective than in cats.

Timing is key. While kidney failure can be a stressful diagnosis, the good news is that your vet can detect kidney issues before a dog shows signs, which can improve prognosis. In addition, relatively inexpensive treatments can extend both the quality and duration of a dog's life.

How to Support Kidney Health for Dogs

The best way to support kidney health for dogs is to follow strategies that support their overall health and well-being. It's also important to avoid anything that's potentially damaging to the kidneys.

Here are some best practices for kidney health:

●   Feed your dog a complete and balanced food that meets the Association of American Feed Control Officials' (AAFCO's) nutritional requirements.

●   Keep your dog at a healthy weight, and if your dog is overweight, consult your vet to make a weight loss plan.

●   Talk to your vet about any supplements that may be right for your dog.

●   Ensure your dog exercises daily.

●   Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.

●   Never give your dog over-the-counter pain medications formulated for humans.

●   Ask your vet if vaccinating your dog against leptospirosis is right for them.

●   If your dog is over 6 years old, have their blood and urine checked yearly for any signs of kidney disease.

●   Always provide your dog with fresh, clean water to drink.

●   If you're adopting a puppy, check if the parents have been tested for heritable kidney disease, especially for at-risk breeds such as German shepherds, English cocker spaniels, Shih Tzus, Lhasa apsos, golden retrievers, chow chows, standard poodles, soft-coated wheaten terriers and miniature schnauzers.

If you have questions about how to support kidney health for dogs, don't hesitate to ask your vet — they're here to help you! By simply supporting a healthy lifestyle for your dog, you also promote dog kidney health, so that's a win-win for you both.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten is a well known international influencer in the veterinary and animal health care spaces. She has 16 years experience in private practice and over 10 years experience in media work. Dr. Wooten is a certified veterinary journalist, a member of the AVMA, and is passionate about helping pet parents learn how to care better for their fur friends. She is also a co-creator of the wildly popular card game ‘Vets Against Insanity’. She lives in the mountains of Colorado with her family and spends her free time skiing and exploring the great outdoors.