Causes of Acute Kidney Failure and Dehydration in Dogs

Learn the common causes of acute kidney failure in dogs. Without treatment, acute kidney failure kills. If your pet exhibits any of the symptoms of kidney disease, contact your vet for an appointment. Acute renal failure (ARF) occurs when the kidneys stop functioning properly. Blood is no longer filtered, allowing toxins to build up in the blood. This leads to electrolyte imbalances and improper fluid levels. If the dog stops drinking, dehydration will occur.

ARF often appears overnight and seems severe. Veterinary care is important because many times acute renal failure is linked to infections, poisonings or parasites.

Common Symptoms Found in Acute Kidney Failure

Symptoms of acute kidney disease differ from dog to dog. Age and lifestyle can impact the dog's health and ability to recover. Seeking veterinary care in the earliest stages always improves the odds for a complete recovery. There are common symptoms that you should monitor your pet for:

  • Decreased urine quantity
  • Disorientation or problems with coordination
  • Increased or decreased thirst
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Straining when urinating
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

The Most Common Cause of Acute Kidney Failure

Veterinarians see an increase in cases of ARF during fall and winter. This is frequently the time when anti-freeze leaks pool on the frozen ground and many vehicle owners drain and refill their radiator to prepare their vehicle for the colder weather.

Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, a highly toxic liquid that unsupervised dogs are likely to drink because of the sweet taste. A medium sized dog need only ingest three tablespoons to be severely poisoned.

The most common symptom of ethylene glycol poisoning is drunkenness. Your dog will stagger around and act drunk within half an hour of ingesting the poison. Once the toxin enters the kidneys, they are damaged and no longer filter the blood properly. The toxin then moves on and attacks the nervous system.

The only way to prevent acute kidney failure from ethylene glycol poisoning is by seeking immediate veterinary care before the toxin reaches the kidneys. After approximately 12 hours, it's already too late.

Acute Kidney Failure Caused by Medications

Certain medications, particularly NSAID drugs and antibiotics, can damage the kidneys. If your pet is using high dosages of these medications, ARF can occur. Pets taking NSAIDs for pain relief should be closely monitored. Pet owners want their pet to be comfortable, especially when arthritis sets in, but overuse of medications like Carprofen, Celebrex, Metacam and Naproxen can all damage the kidneys.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial organism that spreads from one infected animal to another though urine, sexual contact, bites, drinking infected water or eating an infected animal. Inside the body, they spread through the bloodstream to other organs. Usually the body fights off the infection, but the bacteria remain in the kidneys for months.

Some dogs make it through leptospirosis without any issues. In other dogs, the bacteria damage the kidneys, causing ARF. In addition to the common symptoms of acute kidney failure, a fever may develop, which leads to dehydration. Fluids are given to keep the animal hydrated, and antibiotics may be used to kill any remaining bacteria.