The kidneys are responsible for filtering and cleansing the blood of waste products and conserving water and returning it into the circulatory system. Acute renal failure occurs when infection, exposure to toxins (e.g., antifreeze), or other problems cause the kidneys to lose their ability to perform these functions over a short period of time. Acute renal failure may also be called acute kidney failure.
Animals that suddenly loose a large portion of their kidney function often drink and urinate more than normal, become lethargic, and stop eating. Later in the course of the disease, they may vomit and produce only small amounts of urine or stop urinating altogether. A veterinarian will use blood work and a urinalysis to determine if an animal's kidneys are functioning properly. Additional tests are frequently needed to determine the cause of acute renal failure.
The sooner acute renal failure is treated the better an animal's prognosis, but the disease may still be fatal even with aggressive therapy. Hospitalization and intravenous fluids are essential to promoting kidney function and flushing waste products and toxins out of the body. Animals must be closely monitored to tailor treatment to their changing needs. Medications may be used to stimulate urine production if an animal is not producing adequate amounts on its own. In severe cases, hemodialysis (i.e., the use of a machine to remove waste products from the blood) may be required to give a pet's kidneys time to recover. Additional treatments may also be necessary (e.g., antibiotics for kidney infections) depending on the underlying cause of acute renal failure and an animal's symptoms.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008