Kidney disease in dogs is generally considered an “old dog disease” related to the “wearing out” of the kidneys. But that’s not always the case. A number of underlying conditions and unexpected events can damage a dog’s kidneys, resulting in either acute kidney injury (AKI) or chronic kidney disease (CKD).
What are some of the external factors and events that can cause your dog’s kidneys to become inefficient at making urine? Read on to learn more about the causes of AKI, which lead to acute renal failure (ARF) or CKD.
Common causes of sudden kidney problems in dogs
Here are brief descriptions of five common causes of acute, or sudden, kidney disorders triggered by external factors or events. This list doesn’t include uncommon diseases (e.g., kidney cancer), health issues that change blood or urine characteristics (e.g., kidney stones) or inherited conditions (e.g., renal dysplasia or abnormal kidney development).
- Bacterial infection of one or both kidneys (pyelonephritis)
Urinary tract infections are fairly common in dogs, although they tend to affect the bladder and urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body). Pyelonephritis, or upper urinary tract infection, is typically caused by bacteria that move up the urinary tract from the bladder to infect the kidneys. This kidney disease can be resolved favorably if the bacteria causing the kidney infection can be killed and the related inflammation controlled.
- Toxin (poison) ingestion
Seemingly ordinary household products can damage your dog’s kidneys. Most pet parents are well-aware of the dangers of antifreeze and its primary ingredient, ethylene glycol. And more dog owners are learning about the dangers of grapes, raisins and currants. These fruits seem harmless enough, but have been shown to cause significant kidney damage in some dogs.
- Medications and supplements, particularly ingestion of an overdose
Some common over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications — including pain-relieving drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, carprofen and meloxicam; certain antibiotics such as gentamicin and amikacin; and blood pressure reducers such as amlodipine, carvedilol and atenolol — can all cause kidney damage. While your dog may need to eat an overdose of some of these medications, such as carprofen or meloxicam, other drugs may only require dosing or consumption of a single tablet (e.g., naproxen) — it depends on your dog’s size and the strength of the medication. You can read more about the top five most damaging kidney toxins of dogs here.
- Infectious disease-causing microorganisms (leptospirosis, Lyme disease)
Leptospirosis is an infectious disease caused by strains of spiral-shaped bacteria known as Leptospira interrogans. Infection with these bacteria can trigger extensive damage to a dog’s kidneys and liver. Dogs can usually recover from mild infections, but severe infections can lead to irreversible ARF.
More recently, researchers identified a connection (but not cause) between exposure to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis, Borrelia burgdorferi and Ehrlichia canis, respectively, and a greater risk of CKD in dogs. If you and your dog live in an area where Lyme disease and/or ehrlichiosis are regularly found, you’ll want to diligently use a flea-and-tick control product and have your veterinarian routinely screen your dog for exposure to infected ticks.
- Trauma or other major event resulting in substantial blood loss, shock, severe dehydration or physical kidney injury
Any event that results in severe blood loss and poor blood circulation to the kidneys can lead to acute kidney damage. A blood clot that blocks the flow of blood to a kidney, a serious accident that causes hemorrhaging and severe dehydration associated with heatstroke are all examples of events that can lead to acute kidney injury.
Different consequences can occur, depending on cause and severity
The prognosis for recovery depends on the amount of kidney damage that has occurred. For some dogs, AKI can be treated medically and the damage minimized or reversed. In cases where minor injury has occurred, the remaining undamaged areas of the kidney can compensate for the lost function. Other dogs may recover, but have permanent kidney damage that leads eventually to CKD. Still other dogs may not recover or may require lifelong medications, therapeutic diets and fluid therapy.
Obviously, the kidneys are vital to your dog’s health. Any change in their ability to filter wastes from the blood to make urine will require quick action on your part. You should know the potential signs of kidney disease — which are common to both AKI and CKD — before they appear. And, of course, talk with your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog’s urinary habits.