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euthanizing dog with kidney failure

Dog With Kidney Failure – When To Euthanize

Determining when is the proper time to put a dog down versus continuing treatment is difficult. We look at kidney failure in dogs and when to euthanize.

Owning a dog that’s suffering from a severe illness can be a traumatic and stressful time for any family.  Eventually one might have to make the decision to put the dog down to end their suffering.  Obviously, this should only happen when absolutely necessary.  

Once all options for treatment have been exhausted, and your dog is sadly only getting worse, it’s time to talk to your veterinarian about dog euthanasia.  If your dog is in constant pain and you are unable to soothe them, unfortunately, it’s time to say goodbye.  

Kidney failure in canines is a common issue among older dogs, and it sometimes goes undiagnosed for a long time before symptoms start to show.

We’ll discuss the available treatments for canine kidney failure, what kidney failure is and when might be the right time to euthanize.  By having a clearer understanding of these issues, you’ll be more prepared to make decisions. 

Kidney Failure 

What do the kidneys do?

The primary functions of the kidneys include the removal of waste products from the blood, the regulation of the levels of minerals such as sodium and potassium, the conservation of water, and the production of urine.

What is chronic renal failure?

Kidney failure or chronic renal failure is when the kidneys fail to filter the blood of waste products efficiently. Many dogs who suffer from kidney failure continue to produce a lot of urine but because of their failing kidneys, the toxic waste products aren’t filtered out of their blood.

What causes kidney failure?

Kidney failure is a disease that slowly progresses over a long period of time. Typically, it is caused by the ingestion of some kind of poisonous substance or toxin. It normally occurs in aging dogs. Other factors that may cause kidney problems include birth defects, cysts in the kidney, chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, or other medications.

At what stage does kidney failure become chronic?

Because kidney tissue does not regenerate when damaged or destroyed, the kidneys have a large reserve capacity so that they can continue to function.

It isn’t until two-thirds of the kidneys become dysfunctional that any clinical signs of kidney failure are seen. Many cases of kidney failure in dogs aren’t detected until months or years after it began.

At what age does kidney failure become more likely?

Depending on the size of the dog, typical ages of onset vary. For smaller dogs, the early signs of kidney problems tend to occur at around ten to fourteen years. Larger dogs, on the other hand, may show signs of kidney problems from as young as seven years of age, since they typically have a shorter lifespan.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease

Once the kidneys begin to function less effectively at filtering out toxins from the blood, this causes blood flow to the kidneys to increase in an attempt to increase their ability to filter the blood. Because of the ceasing function of the kidneys, increasingly less of the toxins are being removed from the blood, so the body must increase the volume of blood flowing through the kidneys.

The result of this is an increased production of urine. This causes more fluid loss and therefore increased thirst. The dog will begin consuming more water as a result of this too, in order to avoid becoming dehydrated.

The earliest clinical signs of kidney failure in dogs are increased water intake and urination. The clinical term for this is compensated renal failure. Once around two-thirds of the kidney tissue is compromised, the levels of toxic waste products in the bloodstream increase rapidly. This rapid increase causes a sudden onset of many symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Below is a more extensive list of the possible symptoms of advanced kidney failure:

  • Gums are pale and dry to the touch
  • Raw and painful mouth ulcers
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive shedding of fur
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Poor balance – clumsiness and disorientation
  • Trembling and seizures
  • Uraemia – the build-up of waste products in the blood
  • Anemia – Iron deficiency
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Slow heart rate during the end stages of kidney failure


In order to diagnose your dog, a veterinarian will conduct two tests to determine kidney function. These tests are a complete urinalysis and a blood chemistry analysis.

A urinalysis test is required to assess kidney function. The earliest indication of kidney failure is low urine-specific gravity (USpG). Additionally, an increased level of proteins in the urine (proteinuria) is also a sign of compromised kidney function.

A blood chemistry analysis is able to give an indication of the function of numerous internal organs. The levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatine (CREA) also indicate compromised kidney function. Additionally, the levels of other substances such as calcium, potassium, sodium, globulin, and albumin are also tested in order to determine to what extent the kidneys are functioning and what the best course of action in terms of treatment is.

There is a blood test that was developed recently that determines the levels of SDMA in the blood. SDMA is an indicator of kidney function that occurs naturally in the body. The level of this substance increases before serum creatine does in the blood. This can be used to determine if early renal failure is happening in your dog at very early stages in the disease. Diagnosing the disease in its early stages gives your dog the best chance of extending its life through treatment.


Diet and Supplements

Initial treatments as recommended by veterinarians for kidney failure will be related to diet. A diet low in phosphorus and sodium may slow the progression of kidney failure in your dog. In addition to these dietary recommendations, it is recommended that you give your dog natural supplements including omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil. The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 oils can reduce kidney inflammation. Vitamin B and C supplements can help replenish your pet of lost nutrients and increase their appetite.


Because compromised kidney function causes higher phosphorus levels in the blood, your veterinarian may give your dog drugs to bind to excess phosphates in the intestinal tract so they are not absorbed into the bloodstream. High phosphorus levels are associated with lethargy and a poor appetite.

The kidneys produce a hormone called erythropoietin that stimulates the marrow in your dog’s bones to create red blood cells. This hormone ceases to be produced if your dog is suffering from kidney failure, and therefore fewer red blood cells will be made. Your veterinarian may give your dog a drug to stimulate the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells. This is a treatment for dogs with persistent anemia, but unfortunately, this treatment cannot be used long-term.

Alternatively, anti-hypertensive medications such as ACE inhibitors may be used to reduce stress and offer a better quality of life for your pet. Regular acupuncture sessions in addition to natural flower essences have been proven to slow the progression of kidney failure. Both of these options are safe to do alongside conventional treatments.

Comfort Care

At the later stages of the illness, the veterinarian will recommend that you keep your dog as comfortable as possible. Keep a close eye on your dog and keep them company as much as possible. This will keep them as calm and happy as possible. Also, make sure your dog’s bed is warm, comfortable, and quiet.

What are the signs that my dog in in distress?

If your dog is suffering from incontinence and if they have stopped eating and drinking, these are signs that they are in distress and it’s time to put the dog down. If you have any doubts, you should consider your dog’s future and quality of life. Oftentimes, letting them go is the kindest thing you can do.

What does the process of dog euthanasia involve?

The process of dog euthanasia involves two injections. The first one is a gentle pinprick that will make your dog drift off to sleep within 15 minutes. The second injection will be intravenous either through their front or back leg. Your dog will be completely unconscious during the final moments of their life.

Dealing with the passing of your dog

Losing a dog can be just like losing a member of your family. It can be a difficult event to process, and grieving can sometimes be a lengthy ordeal. If you are struggling with grief, you may want to contact qualified bereavement counselors after the passing of your dog.

Grief affects everyone in different ways and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed for struggling to deal with the loss of your dog. Seek support from your family, friends, and qualified professionals when you need it. Creating a memorial for your dog can be therapeutic, and it will remind you of how loved your dog was and the great life they had, and the joy they brought to your life and the life of others in your family.

Superb Dog Editor

Superb Dog Editor