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Renal dysplasia In dogs - everything you need to know

Dog undergoing renal dysplasia x-ray

Renal dysplasia in dogs is a frightening diagnosis that can lead to many questions. With being somewhat rare in our canine companions, many pet owners are unaware of what this diagnosis means for their furry friend. So what is renal dysplasia exactly?

In this article we’ll discuss the details of renal dysplasia in dogs, and help you better understand this condition going forward!

What Is Renal Dysplasia In Dogs?

Renal dysplasia, not to be confused with hip dysplasia, is a serious hereditary defect in dogs that affects the kidneys. Renal dysplasia begins from the moment a dog’s kidneys are developing in the womb, and can impact either one or both of the kidneys. When a dog has renal dysplasia, the nephrons within the kidneys are abnormally formed.

The severity of the condition will depend on how many nephrons are affected, and whether one or both of the kidneys are involved. Because the kidneys play such a vital role in normal body function, this defect can cause serious complications down the line.

What Causes Renal Dysplasia In Dogs?

Renal dysplasia in dogs is a condition that begins during fetal development. Just like all other congenital birth defects, this means the dog must either acquire it from a genetic mutation, or through trauma and disease that can affect them in the womb. Though the exact cause of this defect is unknown, experts have come up with two possible conclusions.

Many experts believe that renal dysplasia in dogs is inherited through a recessive gene that is present in the parents. By breeding dogs with this gene, their puppies have a high chance of developing this condition. Other experts believe that renal dysplasia could form as a result of being exposed to an intrauterine infection. This means that the puppy would be exposed to infected uterine tissue as a result of a live bacteria or virus in the mother’s system.

No matter the exact cause, it’s certain that a dog will have this condition the moment they are born. While their symptoms may progress as they get older, the kidneys will be compromised from the time they are born.

Are Some Breeds More At Risk?

Any breed of dog can fall victim to this condition, but there are some breeds that are more prone to developing renal dysplasia. Some of the breeds that are most at risk to developing renal dysplasia include:

  • Chow Chows
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Shih Tzus
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Alaskan Malamutes
  • Standard Poodles
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Keeshonds

While these breeds are prone to developing this condition, any breed can experience this congenital defect.

Signs & Symptoms Of Renal Dysplasia

While renal dysplasia is a congenital condition, some symptoms will not present until later in a dog’s life. This defect can make some puppies ill from the moment they are born, while others may not experience a complication until they have reached a few years of age. To make sure we discuss each possible option, let’s list all of the most common signs and symptoms below.

  • Failure to thrive from birth
  • Stunted growth
  • No heat cycle in female dogs
  • Poor coat condition
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Slow wound healing
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Foul breath

Severe cases may cause:

  • Pale gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia
  • Muscle tremors
  • Neurological symptoms
  • Collapse
  • Severe lethargy

If your furry friend is experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for further advice and care.

Diagnosing Renal Dysplasia In Dogs

An accurate diagnosis of renal dysplasia in dogs will often involve a few steps. First, your veterinarian will obtain a full history of your dog’s symptoms and assess their overall condition. Once they have created a full picture of your dog’s current struggles, they can come up with the best diagnostic plan for your canine companion.

The first step usually involves a full blood chemistry that gives the veterinarian a peak into your dog’s kidney function. This may also involve a urinalysis test as well, as this can further attest to the kidney output that your dog is experiencing. If these values are abnormal, your vet may then recommend an x-ray or an abdominal ultrasound.

An x-ray or an abdominal ultrasound can assess the size and shape of your dog’s kidneys, as dogs with renal dysplasia will typically have abnormally small or irregularly shaped kidneys. These diagnostics can help your vet determine if any biopsies need to be performed. A biopsy is the only way to definitely diagnose renal dysplasia in dogs, though some vets may come to this conclusion based on the blood work and imaging alone.

Treatment Of Renal Dysplasia In Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no cure for renal dysplasia in dogs. Renal dysplasia cannot be permanently treated, but it can be managed in many cases. To help you better understand the options that are available to your furry friend, let’s discuss the management for canine renal dysplasia.


Many dogs with renal dysplasia present with severe dehydration and high kidney enzymes that require hospitalization. This will often involve 24-72 hours in hospital on IV fluids, often receiving symptomatic care for any gastrointestinal upset. Once your veterinarian is able to stabilize your pup and improve their kidney values, they are then able to go home with a new management plan for the disease.

It’s important to remember that some dogs will have a severe form of renal dysplasia that will not allow them to recover. Hospitalization does not promise an improvement in all dogs if they have reached kidney failure.

Diet Change

If your dog has been diagnosed with renal dysplasia, your veterinarian will likely recommend a change in diet. Your vet can prescribe a kidney approved diet that will be easier for their kidneys to process, and can help to maintain their kidney function for a longer period of time.

Long Term Fluid Therapy

If your dog’s kidneys are not functioning properly, they may require subcutaneous fluids. Fluids under the skin can offer additional kidney support, as well as maintain overall hydration. Some dogs may only need subcutaneous fluids once a week, while others will need them once a day. If your veterinarian recommends long term fluid therapy, they will come up with a plan that works best for your pup.


Some dogs with renal dysplasia will require daily medication to offer them stability. Your veterinarian may prescribe them medication for GI upset, kidney supplements, potassium supplementation, or any other supplementation that offers your pup longevity in their disease. Your veterinarian will be able to come up with the best plan of action based on your dog’s blood work results.

How Long Can Dogs Live With Renal Dysplasia?

Unfortunately, most dogs with renal dysplasia will have a significantly shortened lifespan. Some puppies will not make it past the age of 6 months, while others may continue to live on for a few years after their diagnosis. The prognosis of your furry friend will vary based on when their symptoms begin, how much damage their kidneys have received, how early on the disease is diagnosed, and whether or not management is effective.

The best way to offer your dog the best chance at longevity is by maintaining a close relationship with your veterinarian and sticking to their prescribed management plan.

Final Thoughts

Renal dysplasia is a serious condition in dogs that can drastically impact their health. Be sure to review the information that we discussed above, and you can better understand this condition going forward.

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The article is written by Amber LaRock, RVT on January 11, 2021.

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