What Are the Symptoms of a Dog Dying From Kidney Failure?

Updated August 26, 2021
dog feeling unwell

There are a number of signs associated with end-stage kidney failure in dogs. If your canine has been diagnosed with this condition, it's advisable to educate yourself about what to expect as your pet's illness progresses.

Dog Kidney Failure Stages

Dogs with kidney failure go through a series of four stages from diagnosis through the eventual death of the animal. These stages do not necessarily occur within rapid succession. A dog can go through them over the course of a few months and even years. Veterinarians determine the stage your dog is in by testing the urine to look for signs of the deterioration of the kidney's functions and the blood for symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) levels.

The Four Stages of Kidney Failure Chart

The canine kidney failure stages are determined by the levels of creatinine and SDMA as well as the urine-to-protein (UPC) ratio and the animal's systolic blood pressure.

Test Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4
Creatine less than 1.4 mg/dl 1.4 to 2.0 2.1 to 5.0 greater than 5.0
SDMA greater than 14 in µg/dL greater than 14 more than stage 2 significantly
more than stage 2

Other clinical indications that a dog is in the stages of kidney failure are:

  • UPC Ratio:
    • Nonproteinuric less than .2
    • Borderline proteinuric .2 to .5
    • Proteinuric greater than .5
  • Systolic blood pressure:
    • Normotensive - less than 150
    • Borderline hypertensive - 150 to 159
    • Hypertensive - 160 to 179
    • Severely hypertensive - equal to or greater than 180

Symptoms of End-Stage Kidney Failure in Dogs

The most common signs a dog is dying from kidney failure include:

  • Uremia: The buildup of waste products in the body produces a distinctive ammonia smell that is especially apparent on the breath.
  • Pale, dry gums: The gums are duller and dry to the touch.
  • Mouth ulcers: Uremia causes raw mouth ulcers that are painful.
  • Bloodshot eyes: The whites of the eyes are bloodshot.
  • Increased thirst: An affected dog drinks water excessively.
  • Dehydration: Despite more fluid intake, the dog is dehydrated.
  • Decreased appetite: The dog loses interest in food.
  • Weight loss: The dog steadily loses weight.
  • Gradual loss of fat and muscle mass: The weight loss affects both fat and muscle mass and can cause emaciation.
  • Dull coat that sheds excessively: The lackluster coat constantly sheds and looks unkempt.
  • Lethargy: The dog has little energy or interest in moving around.
  • Fatigue: The dog sleeps most of the day and night with only brief periods of wakefulness.
  • Vomiting: The dog vomits frequently and cannot keep food down.
  • Anemia: The dog may develop anemia.
  • High blood pressure: The dog has elevated blood pressure.
  • Incontinence: A dog cannot control urination.
  • Difficulty breathing: The dog has problems breathing normally.
  • Slowing heart rate: A faster heart rate is generally present with kidney failure, but the heart rate begins to slow down during the end stage of the disease.
  • Depression: The dog seems sad and does not respond to any of their favorite things.
  • Lack of interest in surroundings: The dog is unaware of or disinterested in their surroundings.
  • Disorientation: The dog acts confused at times.
  • Loss of balance and coordination: The dog appears clumsy and unsteady on their feet.
  • Trembling or shaking: The dog has tremors or episodes of shaking.
  • Seizures: The dog suffers periodic seizures, one of the major signs of end-stage kidney failure.

Keeping Your Pet Comfortable

There are things you can do to help keep your dog comfortable during the final stages of kidney disease.

  • Spend as much time as possible with your dog. Even being in the same room will be soothing to them.
  • Make sure your dog's resting area is quiet, warm, and cozy. Provide them with their favorite blanket and toy.
  • Protect your pet from other pets or people who may be too rough with them. Supervise interactions with children and teach them to be gentle with the dog.
  • Pet your dog and talk to them frequently.
  • Change your dog's bedding often and keep them clean and dry. Brush their fur for dry cleaning. Clean their fur with a sponge bath solution of hypoallergenic pet shampoo.
  • Feed your pet a low-protein dog food appropriate for a kidney failure diet.
  • If your dog refuses to eat or has trouble eating, ask the veterinarian about other feeding options such as intravenous feeding.
Man petting sick English bulldog

End-Stage Lifespan

While a dog owner may fear that entering the final stage of kidney failure means their dog's passing away is imminent, it is difficult to predict how long the does has left. It also depends on the associated symptoms and other conditions that may arise due to the dog's poor health. Your dog's age is another factor. In general, you can expect your dog to pass away within three months of moving into stage 4 up until about one year.

When to Consider Euthanization

When a dog enters end-stage renal failure, your veterinarian may recommend an end-of-life home treatment plan or a hospice program to make your pet's last days comfortable and maintain your pet's quality of life. For end-stage kidney failure, a treatment plan may include dialysis, a stomach tube or intravenous therapy, pain medication, and methods to care for an incontinent pet.

Depending on their symptoms, your dog may not necessarily be in severe pain, but they will be uncomfortable at the least from other symptoms, including frequent vomiting and diarrhea, lethargy and depression, and constant dehydration. Your veterinarian may recommend euthanasia if a dog is suffering, unresponsive to pain management, or too weak to handle necessary life-sustaining treatment.

Dealing With the Loss

It can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that a pet is dying. Find comfort in the fact that your dog appreciates your loving care in their final days. They know you love them and take comfort in your presence and all that you do to make their life easier.

What Are the Symptoms of a Dog Dying From Kidney Failure?