Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in Pets


Bryan Huynh

- Updated February 22, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a condition in pets where the kidneys slowly lose their function, affecting their overall well-being.
  2. Some causes of CKD in pets are birth defects, aging, past kidney injuries, infections, and exposure to harmful toxins or meds.
  3. Signs of CKD in dogs can be drinking and peeing more, eating less, getting thinner, feeling tired, throwing up, having upset stomach, bad-smelling breath, mouth sores, and pale gums.
  4. To diagnose CKD, vets look at medical history, do blood and pee tests, take pictures like ultrasounds or X-rays of the kidneys, and sometimes, test a small piece of the kidney.
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in Pets

What is Chronic Kidney Disease?

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) stands as a long-term, progressive ailment that can significantly impact our cherished pets. At its core, CKD is characterized by the gradual loss of kidney function over time. The kidneys, vital organs in our pets, are responsible for filtering waste products, excess minerals, and fluids from the bloodstream, which are then excreted in the urine. When these organs are compromised, they can't perform their essential duties effectively, leading to a range of health concerns.

Given the potential severity and ongoing costs associated with CKD treatments, many pet owners turn to pet insurance as a safeguard. Investing in a comprehensive pet insurance policy can help mitigate the financial strain of veterinary care, ensuring our four-legged friends receive the best possible treatment and support throughout their CKD journey. This proactive approach not only offers peace of mind but underscores a commitment to the well-being and longevity of our loyal companions.

Causes of CKD in Pets

Understanding the root causes of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in our beloved pets is the first step in proactive care and prevention. CKD can stem from various origins. Congenital defects, present at birth, can predispose some dogs to kidney issues later in life. Similarly, as our faithful companions age, natural age-related changes in the kidney's structure and function can lead to decreased renal efficacy.

Prior incidents of acute kidney injury, whether due to trauma or other health events, can also set the stage for chronic conditions down the line. Infections, particularly those that target the renal system, can cause lasting damage if not addressed promptly and effectively. Additionally, exposure to certain medications and toxins, if not administered or monitored appropriately, can be detrimental to kidney health. Recognizing these potential triggers and working alongside veterinarians to mitigate risks can be instrumental in ensuring our four-legged friends lead vibrant, healthy lives.

Symptoms of CKD

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in our canine companions can manifest in a series of symptoms that, when recognized early, can greatly influence the course of care and quality of life. One of the initial signs pet owners may notice is an increased thirst and corresponding increase in urination, as the body attempts to flush out accumulating toxins. A diminished appetite, often accompanied by weight loss, reflects the body's struggle with the disease. Lethargy, a telltale sign, indicates a reduction in the overall vitality and energy levels of our pets.

Some dogs with CKD may also experience bouts of vomiting or diarrhea, further compounding their discomfort. The buildup of toxins and urea, a consequence of diminished kidney function, can result in noticeably bad breath. In advanced stages, oral ulcers may develop, and pale gums can signal anemia, a condition where the blood lacks enough healthy red cells. Recognizing these symptoms and seeking timely veterinary intervention is crucial to managing CKD and ensuring our pets' well-being and comfort.


Pinpointing the presence and extent of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in our four-legged companions requires a multifaceted diagnostic approach. Initially, veterinarians will consider the clinical signs presented, coupled with a thorough review of the pet's medical history, to frame potential concerns. From there, blood tests become invaluable. Measurements of blood urea nitrogen and creatinine levels can provide clear insights into kidney function, with elevated levels often indicating reduced renal efficacy.

Urine tests further refine the diagnosis; assessments of proteinuria can highlight kidney damage, while specific gravity readings can inform on the kidney's concentrating ability. Imaging techniques, such as ultrasounds or X-rays, offer a visual examination of the kidneys, revealing any structural abnormalities or signs of damage.

In more complex cases, or when a definitive diagnosis remains elusive, a kidney biopsy might be recommended. This procedure, though more invasive, can provide a detailed view of the kidney's cellular structure and health. Armed with this comprehensive diagnostic data, veterinarians can craft the most effective care plan, tailored to the unique needs of each pet.

Treatment and Management

Addressing Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in our cherished canine companions calls for a meticulous and tailored approach to treatment and ongoing management. One of the foundational pillars in managing CKD is dietary modification. Embracing low-protein, low-phosphorus diets can significantly alleviate the strain on compromised kidneys, ensuring they function optimally within their constraints. Fluid therapy often plays a pivotal role, aiding in the flushing of toxins and supporting overall hydration, especially in pets with decreased thirst drive.

A gamut of medications may be introduced to control symptoms and ward off potential complications. Anti-nausea drugs can mitigate gastrointestinal discomfort, while blood pressure medications ensure circulatory stability. Phosphate binders help regulate mineral balance, and erythropoiesis-stimulating agents address anemia by boosting red blood cell production. Amidst these interventions, regular veterinary check-ups remain crucial.

Through consistent monitoring, any shifts in the disease's progression can be detected early, allowing for timely adjustments in the care regimen. This comprehensive approach ensures our four-legged friends continue to enjoy the highest quality of life, even in the face of CKD.


Ensuring the lasting health and vitality of our loyal canine companions often revolves around proactive preventive measures, especially when it comes to conditions like Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). Central to this preventive approach are regular veterinary check-ups. These consistent evaluations allow for early detection of renal issues, long before they escalate into more pronounced health concerns. Equally vital is the provision of clean, fresh water at all times, supporting optimal hydration and kidney function.

Pet owners should remain vigilant about potential nephrotoxins in the environment, from certain household cleaners to specific plants and foods, ensuring our pets steer clear of these kidney-harming agents. Furthermore, diligent management of any underlying health conditions, whether metabolic, genetic, or infectious, can significantly reduce the risk of CKD development. Through these steadfast preventive measures, we fortify our pets' defenses against renal challenges, championing their health and well-being throughout their lives.

Case Studies

From u/quoththeraven929 “My dog Sappho was recently diagnosed with CKD, caused by either ingesting a small amount of a toxin or from a congenital defect (her ultrasound was nonspecific). She's three years old and was showing no symptoms, just one minor oddity in her annual bloodwork. I happened to ask the vet if we should do the followup test to see if the unusual result was okay or not, and when we did we found she was in early kidney failure.

I'm just devastated. I don't know anyone who has lost a dog so young, or in this way. We have no idea how long it'll take for her kidney disease to progress, so she could worsen in a few months or a couple years. I feel like I'm constantly grieving her because I have no idea when I'm gonna lose her other than "a decade sooner than I expected...”

From u/Livid_Meringue “Our 5 year old boy was diagnosed with CKD Stage 3 last week. He was given a prognosis of ~1 year and I still can't come to terms with it. I guess I'm in the "bargaining" stage of coping but also I'm just trying to get some knowledge and understanding.

He has been experiencing very mild symptoms of urine incontinence (urine would drip a little, mostly in the early morning) for the past year or so, shortly after we adopted him as a retired racer. This has been the only symptom, he's been full of energy otherwise...”

From u//triiv_k “...Early August 2022: Tyson, 13 years old, is struggling with urine incontinence.

  • After a visit to the vet and a blood test, he is diagnosed with stage 2-3 Kidney disease, and arthritis and his heart murmur has gotten worse.

Late August 2022: In response to his diagnosis, Tyson is medicated with:

  • Gabapentin 300mg twice a day (for arthritis)
  • Vetmedin chewable tablets, 2.5mg twice a day (for heart murmur) A prescription diet for kidney disease is put in place. We wrap pills in meat to administer.

September 2022: Tyson is not taking well to the new diet, having tried both the Royal Canin brand and Hill's. Urine incontinence is lessened but still present. Vet tries to take urine sample but there is blood in the urine.

October 2022: Tyson deteriorates overnight. He is unable to walk, refuses to eat and is drinking a lot of water, he's seizing (going rigid and quivering), his incontinence has worsened, has diarrhea and has a very high temperature. We bring him to the emergency vet.

  • His Kidney disease has progressed to stage 4 and is poisoning him. Blood in urine so he is prescribed antibiotics, pro-biotics for diarrhea and Zofran Zydis 8mg wafer for nausea.

After medicating his condition improves drastically, though his energy stays low…”


Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) underscores the undeniable importance of early detection and consistent monitoring in the realm of canine health. Early intervention, guided by regular veterinary assessments, can dramatically influence the trajectory of the disease, often slowing its progression and alleviating associated discomforts.

As stewards of our pets' well-being, owners play an indispensable role in both managing and supporting their cherished companions through a CKD diagnosis. This includes adhering to treatment regimens, recognizing and responding to symptoms, and providing an environment conducive to health and comfort. While CKD presents undeniable challenges, with proactive care, the prognosis for many dogs remains positive. Quality of life, above all, remains at the heart of the discussion. Through combined efforts of veterinarians and dedicated pet owners, many dogs with CKD continue to lead fulfilling, joyous lives, basking in the bond they share with their human families.

About The Author

Bryan Huynh

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a dedicated Product Tester & Writer. Just as insurance has your back, Bryan works to review and inform you about the wide range of insurance products available, ranging from business, auto, health, home, pet, to life insurance.

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