The Heartbreaking Choice: When is it Time to Euthanize a Dog with Kidney Failure?

🦴 Updated on July 3rd, 2023


Deciding when to euthanize a dog suffering from kidney failure or disease can be a heart-wrenching and difficult decision. 

Chronic kidney disease in dogs is a lifelong, irreversible illness that impacts both the pet and their owner, making it essential to approach this difficult choice with the right information in hand.

Symptoms of kidney disease in dogs can vary, with some of the most common signs including increased thirst, excessive drinking, lack of appetite, and lethargy. In more severe cases, the dog may experience vomiting, diarrhea, bad breath, and ulcers in the mouth, ultimately affecting their quality of life.

Before deciding whether to euthanize, it’s important to exhaust all medical options and consult with your veterinarian to ensure the best possible care and support for your beloved pet during this difficult time.

Understanding Kidney Failure in Dogs

Kidney failure, also known as renal failure, is a condition where a dog’s kidneys are unable to perform essential functions effectively. This can be due to an acute injury, chronic kidney disease (CKD), or other underlying medical conditions. 

When a dog’s kidneys fail, toxins and waste products build up in their bloodstream, leading to various symptoms and a decline in the dog’s overall well-being.

There are two types of kidney failure in dogs: acute and chronic. Acute kidney failure occurs suddenly and is often caused by factors such as ingestion of toxins, urinary tract infections, or trauma. 

This type of kidney failure can sometimes be reversed with prompt and appropriate treatment, depending on the cause and severity.

On the other hand, chronic kidney disease is a progressive condition that develops gradually over time. In many cases, CKD is caused by age-related deterioration of the kidneys, though it can also be the result of long-term kidney infections or genetic predispositions in certain dog breeds. 

As CKD progresses, the kidneys lose their ability to properly filter waste products from the blood, leading to a gradual decline in kidney function.

Some common symptoms of kidney failure in dogs include:

  • Increase in thirst and excessive drinking
  • Increased frequency of urination or accidents in the house
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Mouth ulcers

Diagnosing kidney failure in dogs typically involves blood tests, urinalysis, and possibly imaging studies such as ultrasound or X-ray. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to improve a dog’s quality of life and potentially slow down the progression of the disease.

Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of kidney failure in dogs is crucial for making an informed decision about when to consider euthanasia. Symptoms of kidney failure can be varied and often subtle, making it essential to monitor your dog closely.

One of the initial signs of kidney failure is lethargy and lack of appetite, as kidney failure can contribute to severe dehydration. Your dog may appear more tired than usual and show less interest in food.

Other symptoms include discomfort, disorientation, excessive urination, fatigue, increased thirst, poor coordination, and vomiting. These symptoms can make it difficult for your dog to enjoy their regular activities and impact their quality of life.

As the disease progresses, further symptoms may appear, such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Blood in urine
  • Bad breath with a strong ammonia odor
  • Oral ulcers
  • Pale or gray gums

Monitoring these symptoms and keeping in close communication with your vet will help in determining the right time to consider euthanasia for your dog suffering from kidney failure.

Treatment Options

When managing kidney disease in dogs, there are several treatment options available. These treatments aim to slow down the progression of the disease, manage symptoms, and maintain a good quality of life for your pet. Some common routes of management include:

  • Kidney diet: A special diet that is low in phosphorus and protein to reduce the workload on the kidneys.
  • Subcutaneous fluids: Administered at home to help hydrate your dog and flush out waste from the kidneys.
  • Prescribed medications: Medicines based on your dog’s specific case, such as blood pressure medications, phosphorus binders, etc.

In some cases, hospitalized treatment may be necessary, such as administering IV fluids to flush out your dog’s kidneys. Once your dog’s condition improves, your veterinarian will discuss options for continuing care at home.

To further support your dog’s health, consider providing supplements containing natural holistic ingredients that support liver and kidney function, such as milk thistle extract, turmeric curcumin, cranberry, and choline found in Zesty Paws Liver Support Bites.

In addition to medical treatment, it is essential to reduce stress and maintain a comfortable environment for your dog. This may include providing a comfortable and warm bed, giving gentle emotional support, and catering to any specific needs your dog may have to improve their quality of life.

Quality of Life Assessment

When considering euthanasia for a dog suffering from kidney failure, it’s essential to assess their quality of life to make an informed decision. The Quality of Life Scale is a tool that can help you evaluate your dog’s well-being and facilitate difficult end-of-life care decisions.

This scale focuses on several factors, such as appetite, mobility, and pain management. It’s crucial to monitor your dog’s overall health, happiness, and daily routines when assessing their quality of life. Here are some important aspects to consider:

  • Hurt – Adequate pain control and breathing ability
  • Hunger – Consistent appetite and proper nutrition
  • Hydration – Proper hydration and fluid balance
  • Hygiene – Clean and comfortable surroundings
  • Happiness – Enjoyment of daily activities and social interactions
  • Mobility – Ability to move and maintain independence
  • More Good Days Than Bad – Positive mental state and overall well-being

According to Cesar’s Way, if your total score is above 35, your dog’s quality of life is considered acceptable. However, if the score is below 35, you might want to consider euthanasia. 

It’s essential to always consult your veterinarian to ensure you’re making the right choice for your pet, regardless of the quality of life assessment results.

When to Consider Euthanasia

Deciding when to euthanize a dog with kidney failure can be a heart-wrenching decision for pet owners. It is essential to consider both the quality of life for the dog and the progression of the disease. 

The right time to euthanize a dog with kidney failure is typically when medical options have been exhausted, and the dog’s quality of life has significantly deteriorated.

Some key signs to look for when determining if euthanasia is the best option include:

  • No longer interested in food, regardless of the variety offered
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Severe lethargy or weakness
  • Difficulty breathing or excessive panting
  • Persistent pain that cannot be managed with medication

It is crucial to speak with your veterinarian about your dog’s specific symptoms and prognosis. They can help guide you in making an informed decision about euthanasia.

Keep in mind that the decision to euthanize a pet is ultimately a personal one, based on the individual needs and circumstances of the pet and its owner. Providing comfort and alleviating pain for your dog during this difficult time is the primary goal.

Talking to Your Veterinarian

Discussing the decision to euthanize your dog due to kidney failure with your veterinarian is crucial during this difficult time. Your vet will be able to provide valuable insights and guide you towards making a well-informed choice.

Start by asking your veterinarian about your dog’s current stage of kidney disease. Knowing how advanced the condition is will help you understand the severity of the situation and the available treatment options.

Discuss possible treatments and interventions for your dog’s kidney condition. For example, hospitalization and intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary if your dog has acute kidney failure or acute-on-chronic kidney disease.

Consider the benefits, potential drawbacks, and costs of each treatment option.

Ask your veterinarian about the signs that may indicate it’s time to say goodbye to your dog with kidney disease, such as:

  • No longer interested in food
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe lethargy or weakness
  • Disinterest in things they once enjoyed
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Pale gums
  • Weight loss

It’s important to remain open and honest with your veterinarian during these conversations to ensure the best course of action is taken for your beloved pet.

Coping with Grief and Loss

Dealing with the loss of a pet due to euthanizing a dog with kidney failure is a difficult and emotional process. It’s essential to acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time to mourn.

One helpful way to cope with grief is to create a memory box or scrapbook with your dog’s photos, favorite toys, and cherished mementos. This can be a therapeutic way to remember the happy times spent together.

Consider reaching out to family and friends for support, as they likely have shared memories of your dog and can understand your loss. Alternatively, you might want to join a local pet loss support group or engage in online forums for additional emotional support.

Another helpful approach to processing grief is engaging in activities that help honor your dog’s memory. Some examples include:

  • Planting a tree or creating a small memorial garden in your yard.
  • Donating to a local animal shelter or charity in your dog’s name.
  • Volunteering your time at a local rescue organization, fostering, or becoming involved in pet adoption events.

Remember that everyone’s grieving process is unique, and there’s no “right” way to mourn or timeline for healing. It’s okay to take the time you need to heal and to lean on the support of those who understand your loss.

Picture of Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Sarah Alward | Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Our resident DVM helps review every article to ensure we always provide scientifically accurate, up-to-date information. She’s proud to help provide pet parents everywhere with the info they need to keep their pets safe, healthy, and comfortable.