Is Your Dog Showing Signs Of Kidney Disease? How Is It Diagnosed?

by Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM

One of the first things that your veterinarian will want to do is get your dog’s history from you.

You can help by being able to answer basic questions, like whether your dog is eating normally, whether there has been any change in their drinking habits, urination, and whether they're acting abnormally (vomiting, lethargic, diarrhea, etc.)

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The next thing that your veterinarian will need to do is a physical examination. 

This exam should evaluate your dog from nose to tail and everything in between.

A thorough examination can reveal abnormalities that will help diagnose your dog’s illness. It also allows an evaluation of your pet’s overall physical condition and can help determine what other diagnostic testing needs to be pursued.

Blood Testing for Kidney Disease

Blood testing is an essential part of both diagnosing and monitoring the progress of kidney disease. Here are some of the tests that your veterinarian will likely want to perform.

  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine are both tests that measure the amount of nitrogenous wastes accumulated in the bloodstream. In both canine and feline kidney disease, these values are expected to increase.
  • Blood electrolytes, such as phosphorus, calcium, and potassium, may change as a result of kidney disease and their measurement is often used to direct treatment.
  • Blood protein levels, especially albumin, are usually measured as well. In some forms of kidney disease, albumin may be lost through the kidneys and blood levels may decrease as a result. Protein levels can also be used to determine whether your pet is dehydrated.
  • A complete blood cell count measures red blood cell and white blood cell values. This group of tests may indicate anemia (low red blood values), dehydration (which causes elevated red blood cell values) or changes in the white blood count resulting from kidney disease.

Urine Testing for Kidney Disease

Urine testing is also an important part of diagnosing kidney disease in dogs and cats. Some of the urine tests we commonly perform are:

  • Urine specific gravity, which measures the concentration of your pet’s urine. In kidney disease, the urine is usually not very concentrated.
  • Urine protein levels. Protein may leak from the kidneys in some forms of kidney disease and show up in the urine.
  • Other tests that look for blood, red blood cells, white blood cells, crystals and other abnormal substances in the urine, which may indicate disease of the kidneys or the lower urinary tract or the presence of abnormal substances in the bloodstream which overwhelm the kidneys (such as bilirubin from the liver.)
  • Urine protein: creatinine ratio, which compares the amount of protein in your pet’s urine in relation to the concentration of his urine and gives a truer measure of the significance of protein found in the urine.

Other Testing

Other testing may be necessary, depending on the results of the basic tests listed above. For instance, if a specific disease like leptospirosis is suspected as causing your pet’s kidney disease, testing for this disease may be indicated. On the other hand, if an anatomical defect of the kidney is suspected, different testing may be recommended.

Articles by Dr. Huston:
Lyme Is Lame (Pun Intended)
The Ticking Bomb
Don't Let Heartworm Become A Heartbreak!
Summer Perils: Blue-green Algae
Your Dog And Leptospirosis
Canine Parvovirus
Canine Distemper Virus
Why Is My Dog So Itchy? Top 5 Causes Of Itching In Dogs 
Vaccination Concerns and Potential Side Effects 
Natural Flea Control for Dogs 
Vomiting in Dogs: Is He Actually Vomiting?
Causes of Vomiting in Dogs

Related articles:
Kidney Disease – Say What? 
What Happens In The Dog's Body When The Kidneys Fail To Function Properly?
What's In The Urine? (Part I)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
Excessive Drinking
Bad Breath (Halitosis)


  1. Great article. We lost a Shar-pei to kidney failure very unexpectedly just before his fourth birthday. A few months later we got Ty. Since kidney failure can be a problem with the Shar-pei breed, we have Ty's kidney function checked every six months - both doing the urine tests and blood tests. We're doing what we can to catch any signs of kidney disease early so we have some ability to treat it.

  2. Hi Amy, so sorry about your Shar-pei, did you find out what caused the kidney failure? Fatal sudden kidney failure is likely to have a direct cause.

    Keeping an eye on blood work and urine and signs of a problem is always a good idea, particularly when the dog gets older. We do this twice year with Jasmine also; with JD just annually at this time since he's still young.


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