Renal Dysplasia in Dogs

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Shih tzu on exam table with a veterinarian listening to it with a stethoscope

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Renal dysplasia is often diagnosed in young dogs that are born with abnormal kidneys. This condition may first be recognized by owners due to their pup's excessive thirst or urination. It is hereditary and is generally idiopathic (no known cause). There is no treatment for renal dysplasia, and it is a progressive condition, but therapeutic and dietary management can improve quality of life. Many breeds are predisposed to this problem.

What is Renal Dysplasia?

Renal dysplasia refers to a congenital physical abnormality of one or both kidneys in which the nephrons (urine-producing structures) are malformed. The condition varies in severity based on the degree of malformation. Renal dysplasia is most often diagnosed in young dogs. Since it is a hereditary condition, dogs with this disease are born with abnormally formed nephrons inside their kidneys but signs of renal dysplasia may not appear for months after birth.

Symptoms of Renal Dysplasia in Dogs

The primary symptoms of renal dysplasia involve the intake and output of fluid through a dog's body since that process is regulated by the kidneys. Other symptoms may be secondary to kidney malformation due to compromised health.

Signs of Renal Dysplasia in Dogs

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Stunted growth

Renal dysplasia can present as severe, moderate, or mild. The severe form presents in very young puppies and renal failure occurs very quickly. These puppies don't often survive past six months of age.

The moderate form of renal dysplasia may not be as quickly diagnosed. These puppies usually exhibit excessive thirst and urination, which may initially be mistaken for a potty training issue. Puppies with the moderate form of renal dysplasia may survive to be one or two years old with supportive care.

The least commonly seen form of renal dysplasia is the mild form and these dogs may live a fairly normal life. Excessive urination may occur alongside eventual kidney problems as they age but a longer lifespan is typically expected.

Causes of Renal Dysplasia

Renal dysplasia is caused by a birth defect that affects the physical structure of the kidneys.

Many different breeds of dogs can be affected by renal dysplasia; the following breeds are most commonly diagnosed:

Diagnosing Renal Dysplasia in Dogs

If you are noticing symptoms of renal dysplasia in your puppy or young dog, consult your veterinarian. A full physical examination will be performed as well as a urinalysis and blood work. These tests will identify any changes to the kidneys such as uremia (elevated blood urea and other waste compounds, indicating kidney malfunction).

After blood and urine tests, x-rays and ultrasounds may be performed to assess the size and shape of the kidneys. Finally, a surgical biopsy of the kidney may be recommended to confirm a diagnosis of renal dysplasia.

Treatment of Renal Dysplasia in Dogs

While there is no cure for renal dysplasia, symptomatic treatment may be recommended by your veterinarian depending on the severity of the disease. If your puppy has a mild to moderate case of renal dysplasia, then lifelong renal support supplements, a special diet, and regular monitoring of kidney health will be required throughout the pup's life.

The severe form of renal dysplasia may not benefit from treatment, and euthanasia may be necessary due to poor quality of life.

Prognosis for Dogs with Renal Dysplasia

If both kidneys are affected (bilateral dysplasia), then a puppy will usually die shortly after birth. The same is true for very severe cases. Moderate and mild cases have better prognoses if a supportive treatment strategy is implemented. Each case is unique, though, and will depend on the individual dog's response to diet and medications.

How to Prevent Renal Dysplasia in Dogs

Since renal dysplasia is a hereditary disease, selective breeding is the only way to help prevent renal dysplasia from occurring in dogs.

Article Sources
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  1. Renal Anomalies. Merck Veterinary Manual.