A small dog lying on a pink rug looking sad.

Common Causes of Acute Kidney Injury in Dogs

Acute kidney injury (AKI), a condition where the kidneys abruptly stop working properly, can cause dangerous or even deadly amounts of toxins to build up in the bloodstream over the course of days or even hours. However, depending on the cause of the injury and how quickly the dog is treated, it may be possible to reverse or minimize permanent damage to the kidneys.

What causes AKI?

There are a number of possible things that can cause sudden damage to the kidneys. Among the most common are:

  • Antifreeze (ethylene glycol): Pets can be attracted to the sweet taste of radiator coolant used in cars, which often contains high levels of ethylene glycol. The ingredient can also be found in windshield de-icing products, brake fluid and even imported snow globes, in small amounts. Depending on the size of the dog, lapping up just a tablespoon or two of antifreeze can be fatal if not treated quickly.
  • Grapes or raisins: Grapes, raisins and currants may seem like healthy dog treats, but even small amounts can be deadly. Don’t forget that raisins can be in cookies, breads and trail mix, so if your dog gets into any of these foods while counter surfing, call your veterinarian.
  • Ibuprofen and other drugs: You might assume that any medication sold over-the-counter for people would be safe for dogs, too, but that’s not the case. Whether your dog was inadvertently given Ibuprofen or your pup chewed open a bottle from your purse, a call to your veterinarian is in order.
  • Canine pain medications: Many dogs are prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for arthritis and other conditions. Because these medications are often available in a tasty form dogs love, some dogs will go after the bottle and consume more than they should.
  • Trauma: Obviously, an unfortunate event like getting hit by a car can injure the kidneys. But anything that compromises blood flow or oxygen delivery to the organs, such as shock, heat stroke or severe dehydration, can also lead to damage.
  • Infectious diseases: Some types of bacteria, such as those that cause Leptospirosis and Lyme disease, can lead to acute kidney injury.

Potential signs of AKI

Typically, dogs with AKI experience signs that come on rapidly. Affected dogs may be lethargic, and they may vomit, have diarrhea and lose their appetites. You may notice increased drinking, and they may urinate more, less or have a difficult time urinating at all. Dogs with infectious diseases may have a fever. Signs may progress quickly to seizures and even coma.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment give your dog the best odds for survival. Tell your veterinarian if your dog got into anything he or she shouldn’t have. Your veterinarian will probably recommend blood tests, a urinalysis and possibly X-rays and other tests.

Treatment will vary depending on the cause, but dogs are generally hospitalized and put on intravenous fluid therapy to help promote good blood flow to the kidneys, remove toxins from the blood and restore proper electrolyte balance.

In severe cases, dialysis, which is the use of a machine to filter toxins from the blood, may be recommended, but it isn’t always available and can be expensive.

Unfortunately, not all dogs survive or recover from AKI. With some, the damage can’t be reversed, and they progress to chronic renal failure. But in some cases, early diagnosis and treatment can help minimize permanent damage, and the kidneys eventually regain function over the course of several weeks.


RELATED POST: What’s the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Kidney Disease in Dogs?

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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