Kidney Disease When to Euthanize

In humans, we can employ the use of dialysis or even kidney transplants to treat kidney disease or failure. In domestic pets, this is an expensive and invasive treatment to an animal that is already feeling high levels of stress.

Renal / 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.

When to euthanize a pet with kidney failure

The right time to euthanize a pet with renal failure is when you have sought out all the medical treatments. If your dog or cat is no longer able to have a healthy, happy life and enjoy the things he loves, it may be the time to put them down.

How can I help my pet with kidney failure?

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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