Image of a dog at a veterinarian’s office.

Key takeaway

A kidney infection is a kind of urinary tract infection (UTI) that can be painful for dogs. Various dog kidney infection symptoms include excessive drinking, increased urination, and painful urination. Understanding the signs of a kidney infection in dogs will allow you to get the therapy and treatment your pet needs. Learn more about how to tell if your dog has a kidney infection, along with causes and treatments.

Dogs can be affected by multiple urinary tract problems, like infections or diseases of the urethra, bladder, and prostate. Urinary tract infection symptoms can also indicate other issues, such as bladder stones or cancer. Urinary tract infections may make your dog unable to keep its urine in or make it visibly low on energy. You will find your dog trembling or whimpering when trying to pass urine. To determine whether your dog has a kidney infection, keep reading below. In this post, we’ll cover what kidney infections are, dog kidney infection symptoms, and more.

What Is a Kidney Infection?

Kidney infections, or pyelonephritis, mainly occur due to bacteria, but hematogenous spread is also a possible cause1. The causes and organisms of pyelonephritis are similar to that of bacterial cystitis (bladder inflammation). Ureteroliths (stones in the ureters) and renoliths (kidney stones) hinder the normal flow of urine out of the dog’s renal pelvis. 

Definition of what a kidney infection in dogs is.

Animals prone to pyelonephritis are the young, the old, the immunocompromised, and those with weak urine-concentrating ability.

In pyelonephritis2, bacteria cause inflammation in the urinary tract that ascends upwards into the bladder and then persists into the kidneys. The risks of pyelonephritis and bacterial cystitis are fairly similar. Anything that hinders the regular flow of urine through the urinary system, such as stones in the ureters or kidneys, can increase the risk for pyelonephritis.

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Infection in Dogs?

Signs and symptoms of kidney infection in dogs may not be apparent at first, as it usually takes time for bacteria to grow and affect organ function. The disease may already be quite advanced when symptoms appear and require extra care.

A few dog kidney infection symptoms include:

 List of symptoms of kidney infections in dogs, such as fever, vomiting, excessive urination, and reduced appetite.
  • Bloody and cloudy urine
  • Vomiting
  • Painful urination 
  • Increased urination
  • Reduced or loss of appetite
  • A pungent smell of urine
  • Fever
  • Lethargic
  • Dog skin irritation
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Extreme back pain 

If signs of kidney infection in dogs get worse and lead to kidney failure, you may also notice these symptoms1:

What Causes Kidney Infections in Dogs?

Pyelonephritis is a kidney bacterial infection that can develop because of infections from bacteria that extend from the lower urinary tract to the upper urinary tract. Other causes include kidney stones, a weak immune system, dehydration, kidney dysfunction, or just age.

Infections like leptospirosis, which penetrates the body via contaminated wounds or water, can cause kidney inflammation. Your dog might also be infected by kidney worms obtained by eating infected earthworms or infected fish. Dioctophyma renale and Capillaria plica are two kinds of kidney worms that affect dogs.

There are numerous causes of urinary tract infections, like:

  • Bladder inflammation
  • Bladder infection
  • Stones in the bladder or urethra
  • Stress
  • Not able to hold urine and weak bladder
  • Trauma
  • Prostate disease
  • Genetic abnormality
  • Spinal cord abnormalities
  • Cancer

UTIs are more common in old or senior female dogs and dogs with diabetes. Dogs with stones in the bladder are more inclined to get frequent urinary tract infections. UTIs and lower urinary tract disease are common in dogs above seven years of age, regardless of breed and gender.

How Are Kidney Infections in Dogs Diagnosed?

Other than with the help of signs and symptoms of kidney infection in dogs, your vet may be able to diagnose pyelonephritis via blood and urine samples. In some cases, contrast x-rays or ultrasonography might be required for diagnosis

The diagnosis of pyelonephritis is mainly hypothetical and based on compatible clinical indications, urinalysis findings, a positive aerobic bacterial urine culture, improvement in the degree of kidney function after antibiotic treatment, and consistent ultrasonographic, excretory urography findings or both modalities. Ideally, the diagnosis should be verified by a positive bacterial culture collected by pyelocentesis or renal biopsies. However, because both are considered intrusive, they are seldom performed in cases of pyelonephritis.

Tests your vet will perform to diagnose kidney infections are:

Ways to diagnose a kidney infection in dogs include a urine sample, blood sample, ultrasonography, and imaging tests.
  • Urinalysis
  • Urine culture
  • Bloodwork
  • Ultrasound
  • Radiographs
  • Imaging tests

How Can I Treat My Dog’s Kidney Infection?

At-home treatment for dog kidney infection symptoms involves increasing the water intake and giving antibiotics approximately 4 to 8 weeks, sometimes at increased dosages.

If your dog is extremely ill, your veterinarian will give IV fluids through intravenous therapy and injectable antibiotics. Your vet may suggest surgery if the bacteria is causing a blockage of the urinary tract. In severe cases, the infected kidney might need to be removed to stop the infection from spreading to the healthy kidney. 

Your vet will need urine samples at frequent intervals during and after treatment to ensure the disease does not return. You will still have to keep a close eye on your dog. Once a kidney has been contaminated, the kidney infection may return at some point in life. If not treated carefully, pyelonephritis can be a fatal disease, so following your veterinarian’s advice is essential.

Image of a sick dog getting treated by a veterinarian.

The food your dog eats plays an essential role in his general health and well-being. If your dog has kidney or renal disease, changing his food can help manage the condition by decreasing the amounts of phosphorus, protein, and salt in its food. Phosphorus limitation can lessen the severity of dog kidney infection symptoms while lowering protein levels can restore normal acid-base levels. A balanced diet is an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle. If your dog has kidney infections, proper nutrition can thoroughly improve your dog's quality of life. For accurate diagnosis and treatment choices, always ask your veterinarian to suggest the best diet for your dog's kidney health.

Kidney Infections in Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if your dog has a kidney infection?

It can be challenging to determine if your dog is in pain, and your dog may not show any signs of distress. Nevertheless, some dog kidney infection symptoms may help you determine if your dog is having trouble with its urinary tract. These symptoms include:

  • Pain while urinating
  • Increased urination frequency
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Licking the area near the urinary opening
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargic

What dog breeds are prone to kidney disease?

Some dog breeds are more prone to kidney-related diseases, such as Bull terriers, English Cocker spaniels, and German shepherds. Moreover, female dogs of any breed are more at risk of kidney infections.

Can I give my dog cranberry juice for a urinary tract infection?

Do not attempt to treat your dog’s kidney infection without consulting your veterinarian. That being said, cranberry juice is safe if given in moderation. Vets strongly recommend dog owners provide cranberries as a supplement and not replace proven medical treatments.

Feeding large amounts of cranberries or cranberry juice to your dogs can cause bladder stones. Feed cranberries with your dog's supplement or treat it under the guidance of your vet to avoid any risk.

How do you know if your dog has a swollen kidney?

Only a vet can properly diagnose kidney infections through urinalysis and blood chemistry analysis. However, all the dog kidney infection symptoms, such as back pain, vomiting, increased thirst, and urination, etc., will help you know if your dog’s kidney is swollen.

Final Notes

It's important to observe your dog's behavior because it's not easy to see all the kidney infection symptoms in your dog.

If you see symptoms of pain and discomfort, immediately call your dog's veterinarian to diagnose what is causing the problems and the most suitable way to treat them. 

Untreated urinary tract infections can lead to severe medical issues for dogs. Along with pain, untreated diseases can cause blockage of the urethra, destroying the urine output and leading to toxic levels of waste buildup.

If your dog's kidney infection symptoms are caused by cancer or other diseases, the condition can worsen if it is not treated. Multiple severe diseases, like cancer, can be deadly if left untreated.

Getting the proper diagnosis can help you know how to treat your dog's urinary tract infection and be certain there's nothing else that needs treatment.

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References

  1. Brown, Scott A. “Pyelonephritis in Small Animals,” Merck Veterinary Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/urinary-system/infectious-diseases-of-the-urinary-system-in-small-animals/pyelonephritis-in-small-animals 

  2. Brown, Scott A. “ Infectious Diseases of the Urinary System in Dogs,” Merck Veterinary Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/kidney-and-urinary-tract-disorders-of-dogs/infectious-diseases-of-the-urinary-system-in-dogs 

  3. Bouillon, J. et al. “Pyelonephritis in Dogs: Retrospective Study of 47 Histologically Diagnosed Cases,” Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5787179/