When should you euthanize a pet with kidney failure?

If your pet has been diagnosed with kidney failure or you have noticed symptoms of kidney failure in your pet, there are several important factors you should consider before making the decision to euthanize.

When to euthanize a pet with kidney failure

If your dog or cat appears lethargic, has lost its appetite, and is experiencing uncontrolled vomiting, they are probably in pain and will not likely recover. In these cases, euthanasia may be the most humane option for your pet.

How long before a dog dies of kidney failure?

A dog with kidney disease can live for a few months to a few years, depending on how severe it is and how the treatment is handled.

Research has discovered that dogs can live for an average of 4 years after the onset of kidney failure.

While it’s hard to know for sure when a dog will die in advance, it’s important to realize that each dog is an individual. A dog’s life span varies based on several factors, including its breed, overall health, diet, and lifestyle.

Is a dog in pain when it has kidney failure?

Kidney failure in dogs does not cause pain by itself. However, the consequences of kidney failure may cause pain and discomfort to the dog.

It also depends on what stage of the disease process we are talking about.

The earliest sign that something is wrong with your dog’s kidneys is loss of appetite and/or weight loss. Next, dogs often will start to drink more than usual and urinate more often than usual.

However, it is important to note that these symptoms may not always be present in dogs with kidney failure or they may not appear until later in the disease process.

As kidney failure progresses, dogs begin to show signs of lethargy and weakness which can progress to vomiting.

Anytime your dog shows signs of illness or lethargy, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice on how to proceed. If left untreated, kidney problems in dogs can be fatal!

What happens when a dog’s kidneys start shutting down?

When the kidneys start to fail, toxins such as ammonia and nitrogen can build up in the dog’s body. These substances can cause the dog to be sick and lead to serious complications.

What is kidney failure in dogs and cats?

The kidneys are vital to several different bodily functions, so renal (kidney) failure can cause a whole host of health problems for our pets. Whether it is kidney failure due to an underlying illness or simply the result of old age, managing the condition and its symptoms will give your pets a much better quality of life.

The kidneys are very important organs, responsible for many different functions within the body. Normally functioning kidneys are involved in the following:

  • Removing metabolic waste products and substances detoxified by the liver
  • Reacting to ADH (Aldosterone) which stimulates the exchange of water into the blood
  • Production of a chemical that affects red blood cell production
  • Regulating the pH of the blood and bodily fluids by retaining or eliminating certain ions
  • Regulating the fluid surrounding cells, also known as extracellular fluid volume regulation

Dogs and cats can live with only one functional kidney, but this puts increasing pressure on the remaining one, so regular testing is vital to ensure the healthy kidney is functioning normally and removing toxins from the blood.

Acute renal failure

The first type of organ failure is Acute Renal Failure (ARF) and generally happens suddenly over just a few hours or days. Acute renal failure can be caused by a number of things such as a symptom of another illness, an infection in one or both kidneys, physical trauma, stones in the urinary tract or ingestion of a toxic substance.

Symptoms of ARF include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Bad breath
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Urinating more often
  • Pain during urination
  • Seizures

If diagnosed and treated quickly, acute renal failure can be reversed. In severe cases, the animal may suffer long-term side effects or even death. Diagnosis is done via testing of a urine sample as well as a full-body examination. The vet may also take a blood sample to check kidney function.

Chronic renal failure

The second type of renal failure is Chronic Renal Failure (CRF). Chronic Renal Failure is caused by the deterioration of the kidneys over a period of months. Small structures called nephrons start to die off, reducing the kidneys’ ability to filter waste products and regulate body fluids. The cause may be an infection, tumors, old age or other unknown causes.

It is suspected that CRF in cats may be caused by poor nutrition. Low-quality ingredients such as fillers and by-products are thought to cause damage to certain urinary systems.

Symptoms of CRF are similar to ARF but also include:

  • Drooling
  • Dullness of the coat
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive drinking

Unfortunately, chronic conditions are difficult to treat. Not only is treating the condition itself a complex process, but CRF often causes other complications that will also require treatment or long-term management. Fluids can be prescribed for dehydration and blood pressure medication to prevent further damage.

How can I make my pet with kidney failure comfortable?

The most common method of managing renal failure is diet. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend switching your pet onto a veterinary diet specially formulated for animals with kidney failure. Supplements such as vitamins B and C may also be recommended.

It is common for pets with renal failure to experience bladder infections, in which case antibiotics will be prescribed.

Be sure to put out fresh water and monitor their intake, some cats like to drink moving water. You can purchase cat water fountains from most pet stores that produce a small, regular flow of water.

Regular vet checks will be required for the remainder of your pet’s life to monitor their condition. Your vet may recommend changes to their medication or diet in the event of any medical changes or deterioration.

Cat breeds most at risk of renal failure are Persian, Ragdoll, Russian Blue, Maine Coon and Siamese. For dogs, Bull Terriers and English Cocker Spaniels are most at risk of suffering from Chronic Renal Failure.

Unfortunately, there are currently no known preventative methods. The only treatments and techniques available are designed to slow the progress of the disease. Your pet’s prognosis will depend upon the severity of their condition and how well they respond to treatment.


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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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