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I am Your Dog's Kidneys

It's Monday Marvels and today we'll be discovering more about our dog's marvelous kidneys. We often take our dog's kidneys for granted and it's unfortunate that we usually only acknowledge them when they start giving problems. Regular check-ups can help keep tabs on the health status of this important organ. There are also many things that can be done to keep a dog's kidneys in good shape. Let's see what our dog's kidneys have to talk about.


Introducing the Dog's Kidneys

Hello, it your dog's kidney talking! Like several others organs you have met in our past series, I am not very appealing when it comes to looks.

I am a paired organ (yes, there's two of us!) that is reddish brown in color and shaped like a kidney bean, but hey, looks are not everything!

I am part of your dog's urinary system and serve many important functions when it comes to your dog's health. Indeed, I am so important, Mother Nature has gifted your dog (and you!) with two kidneys, one on the right side, and one on the left side, just to cover the eventuality that one might no longer work as it should.

I am a Filtration System

water filter

I am mainly known for my state-of-the-art filtration system. Sorting non-recyclable waste from recyclable waste is something I do on a daily bases, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You see, blood passes through me continuously and my job is to clean and filter it, removing waste products that otherwise would be deadly.

In some sort of way, I work in a similar fashion as a water filter. Filtration of blood occurs thanks to my hundreds of thousands of nephrons, special filtration elements that work diligently in filtering all the bad stuff out.

My nephrons are quite tough cookies, just consider that should 75 percent of them no longer work, I will still be able to function. Yes, your dog can well live with only one kidney!

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Minerals, vitamins and all the goodies your dog gets from food, I make sure they are absorbed, but if there's anything in excess, or notice things that shouldn't be there, I send them down to my neighbor, the bladder, a storage unit that will hold urine. Urea is a big waste product I have to deal with quite frequently. It's produced from the digestion of protein. If I fail to remove urea properly, uremic poisoning can take place.

drinking dog

I am a Monitoring System

I am a monitoring system that keeps an eye on your dog's electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, sugars, and proteins and make sure they are in the right amounts. I also make sure that your dog's blood isn't too acid or alkaline.

Oh, and if your dog isn't drinking too much, I take a conservative approach. Your dog's brain sends a hormone my way that informs me about the outage of water, so I' ll hold on to fluids by concentrating your dog's urine at least until he starts to drinks more.

"Homeostasis" is what vets call the work I do to ensure that the fluids in your dog's body are balanced correctly. Luckily, I can discard anything in excess by dumping it in the urine so your dog is out of harm's way.

I am a Production System

I produce a substance that helps with the creation of new red blood cells and I also manufacture certain types of hormones. And of course, as you already know, I produce urine which is delivered to the bladder through two ureter tubes, one attached to the left kidney and one attached to the right one.

At night, I fortunately slow down my urine productivity, otherwise you would have to take Rover on frequent trips to potty preventing you from getting enough sleep. Again during this time, I will retain all the water I can to keep your dog still hydrated during this time. This is why your dog's morning urine is normally more concentrated.

chronic pain dog

When Things Go Wrong

When I get sick, vets talk about "renal disease" which is just another name for kidney disease. There are several things that can go wrong with me.

Usually, I start giving signs trouble as dogs begin to age, causing the onset of chronic kidney disease, but sometimes dogs can get into things they shouldn't, and when that happens, I suddenly cause severe symptoms that are associated with acute kidney disease.

Here are a few details about these disorders.

Chronic Kidney Disease

As mentioned, when dogs age they are more prone to having problems with me. You see, as I age along with the dog, I may start failing and lose my ability to concentrate urine, which leads to dogs producing large quantities of diluted urine. When this happens, dogs lose a lot of fluids and become dehydrated which causes them to drink more.

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Dehydration may also cause dogs to develop loss of appetite. Because I can't longer excrete waste products as before, these may accumulate in the blood and this can make dogs quite ill. Affected dogs may develop vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and anemia. Other than aging, any type of damage occurring to me may also put a dent in my ability to work well. Remember how I said that I can still work decently even if several of my nephrons have been damaged?

Well, while this is remarkable, there's a big down side, I show signs of kidney disease when 2/3 of my nephrons in both kidneys have been lost. Unfortunately, at this point things get critical. All that can be done is slow down the progression of the disease.

old dog

Acute Kidney Disease

While chronic kidney disease in dogs causes me to deteriorate gradually, acute chronic failure develops abruptly and I cause severe symptoms that will hopefully alert dog owners so they can get help in time.

Things can get critical when a dog laps up antifreeze in the winter as dogs are attracted by its sweet taste. Infections, chemical poisons and trauma are other potential culprits that have damaging effects on me.

Vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, loss of appetite, dehydration, neurological signs and urinating in small amounts or not urinating at all are symptoms of problems.

Monitoring my Health

Luckily, there are several diagnostic tests that may reveal signs of trouble. A urinarlysis for example can tell a whole lot about me. Are there abnormal amounts of protein in your dog 's urine? There should not be, this may be a sign that I am not doing a good job in removing stuff. Most likely my filters are letting some escape from the blood.

Are there casts in your dog's urine? The presence of casts in dog urine sediment is know as "cylindruria" and may also indicate a kidney issue. Blood tests may be helpful too. Abnormal levels of BUN in your dog's blood, which stands for blood urea nitrogen, can be indicative of problems. Again, the presence of abnormal levels of nitrogen-containing urea compounds in the blood is a sign that I am not working well, as I would normally excrete these.

Creatinine in the blood is also a sign of trouble. I am the only organ that excretes this substance, so if it's in high levels in the dog's blood, it's again a sign of me not doing my job.

Keeping me In Good Shape


Raisins are bad for dogs!

You can keep me in good shape by ensuring your dog has always access to fresh, clean water. I love water! Feeding your dog a high-quality diet can help keep me in top shape. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can make me work harder, so if your vet has your dog on certain medications, make sure to follow his advice of getting me checked out every now and then.

And of course avoid exposure to toxins and anything harmful! Antifreeze, grapes and raisins are just a few things out of a long list of toxins that can cause renal failure, cautions veterinarian Dr. Lorie Houston.

As seen, I play a very important role in your dog's health! People should re-think featuring hearts on Valentine's Day cards as the heart isn't the only vital organ. I hope they may feature me too one day! In the meanwhile, keep me in your thoughts and safe from harm as much as you can, your dog and I will thank you!

Respectfully yours,

Your Dog's Kidneys

Dog Pawprint


  • College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, Chronic Kidney Disease and Failure, retrieved from the web on Febuary 22nd, 2016
  • Vet Stream, Acute Kidney Injury, retrieved from the web on Febuary 22nd, 2016
  •  Pet Education, Kidney Disease, Causes, Signs, Diagnosis and Treatmentretrieved from the web on Febuary 22nd, 2016
  • Pet Education,Urinary System in Mammals: Anatomy and Function, retrieved from the web on Febuary 22nd, 2016

Photo credits:

  • Kidney Cross Section, artwork by Holly FischerCC BY 3.0
  • A BRITA kettle, boiling water that has passed from the top reservoir through a filter element (white) into the main jug at the bottom. Public domain

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