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What Causes Renal Dysplasia In Dogs?
Updated on December 30, 2022
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What Causes Renal Dysplasia In Dogs?
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What Causes Renal Dysplasia In Dogs?

Young puppies born with abnormal kidneys are often diagnosed with canine renal dysplasia. Renal dysplasia in dogs is often genetically inherited and generally has no known cause.1

Certain dog breeds, like Malamutes or Chow Chows, are predisposed to this health problem. It means they have higher risks of developing renal dysplasia due to their genetic makeup.2

What Causes Renal Dysplasia In Dogs? 2

Dog owners may notice symptoms such as increased thirst or peeing in pups with renal dysplasia. However, your pet may not start showing symptoms or warning signs until months after birth.

Unfortunately, renal dysplasia has no cure or treatment. Pet owners can, however, help manage their dog’s condition. Dietary and therapeutic approaches can help improve their pet’s quality of life despite the dysplasia.

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What Is Renal Dysplasia In Dogs?

Renal dysplasia in dogs is a hereditary condition that affects the full development of their kidneys. It is also a congenital disease or present from birth.

A puppy may develop renal dysplasia when its kidneys are still forming in the womb. Abnormally-formed nephrons mark the undeveloped kidneys.3

Nephrons are the tiny filtering units of the kidney. Their primary role is to remove waste and excess substances from the blood. They also re-absorb the needed nutrients.4 

Each nephron consists of a glomerulus and a tubule. Glomeruli filter wastes, while tubules return the nutrients and fluid your body needs but are filtered from your blood.5

Canine renal dysplasia can be mild, moderate, or severe. Its severity depends on how many nephrons are affected and whether they are present in one or both kidneys.3 

Bilateral renal dysplasia is generally the most severe form because both kidneys are impaired.6

On the other hand, pups with unilateral renal dysplasia may have one working kidney. Their condition may range from mild to moderate form.6

Veterinarians most commonly diagnose canine renal dysplasia in the following breeds:

  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Bedlington Terrier
  • Chow Chow
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Keeshond
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Norwegian Elkhounds
  • Samoyed
  • Shih Tzu
  • Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Standard Poodle

What Causes Canine Renal Dysplasia?

Animal experts haven’t completely identified the exact cause of canine renal dysplasia. But a study shows that affected pups inherited renal dysplasia through a recessive gene from one of their parents.7

Some animal experts believe that a prenatal complication, like an infection, can also cause renal dysplasia. Prenatal infections can come from the canine herpes virus (CHV), fetal trauma, or poisoning.8  

Canine renal dysplasia is a congenital condition that occurs during kidney development. It leads to immature glomeruli, primitive tubules, and lesions from cysts.

What Are The Signs Of Renal Dysplasia In Dogs?

The signs of canine renal dysplasia don’t usually appear until the disease progresses to kidney or renal failure. How soon you’ll notice the symptoms depends on how severe the renal dysplasia is.

For example, dogs with severe renal dysplasia may become sick right after birth or within the first three to six months of life. Puppies with mild to moderate cases may reach adulthood or old age before developing kidney failure. 

The most common symptoms of renal dysplasia involve water intake and output, like excessive thirst and urination. 

However, your pup may exhibit some of these clinical signs if they already developed renal failure:9

  • Lethargy or extreme tiredness and lack of interest in usual activities
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Stunted growth
  • Anemia
  • Breath that may smell like urine or ammonia

How To Diagnose Renal Dysplasia In Dogs

If you’ve observed the signs of renal dysplasia in your puppy, take them to your vet. An animal expert can do a complete physical examination and order lab testing, including:

1. Urinalysis and full blood work

Both urine and blood tests detect if there’s an increase in uremia and other waste compounds. Elevated uremia or blood urea and other waste compounds indicate kidney malfunction.

Uremia is a build-up of toxins like urea and creatinine in your blood. Toxic wastes build up in the bloodstream when your dog’s kidneys fail to filter them out into the urine.10

2. X-ray and ultrasound

Stomach x-rays and ultrasounds can assess the kidney structure or the shape and size of your dog’s kidneys. Vets usually order this after urine and blood tests.

3. Surgical biopsy

Veterinarians can confirm the diagnosis by checking the fetal tissue types in your pup’s kidneys. They can do a renal biopsy to diagnose renal dysplasia. 

A renal biopsy is a lab procedure where an expert removes a piece of tissue from your pet’s kidney. The test will check the structure of the glomeruli.11 

Immature or undeveloped glomeruli indicate renal dysplasia.

Treatment Of Canine Renal Dysplasia

While canine renal dysplasia has no cure, treatments for it aim to encourage normal kidney function. This way, you can help your pet have a better quality of life. 

Your doctor will recommend treatment based on your pet’s condition. If your dog has mild to moderate renal dysplasia, they may recommend the following:

Dietary changes

Your vet may recommend foods that are easy to ingest or suggest a special diet like a low-salt diet

Reducing sodium intake is most beneficial to pets suffering from renal dysplasia. It’s because too much sodium adds extra strain on your pup’s kidneys.12  

A low salt consumption helps lower your pup's risk of developing hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertension is often a complication of renal diseases.

Vitamins and supplements may also help replenish the nutrients your dog loses due to excessive urination.

Fluid therapy

When a pup’s kidneys become inefficient, they filter fewer and fewer toxins. Their bodies raise the blood flow through the kidneys to increase filtration.12 

This is why dogs with renal dysplasia pee a lot. Increasing your pet’s water intake will help prevent dehydration due to fluid loss. Always make fresh, clean water accessible to your pet.


Canine renal dysplasia has no cure, but medications can treat its complications. 

For instance, if your pet becomes dehydrated due to vomiting, your vet may prescribe an antiemetic. It's a drug that reduces nausea and vomiting.

Make sure to consult your vet before giving your pet any first-aid medications. Some medications, like non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), may worsen your dog's condition.13

Kidney Dialysis or Transplant

Your veterinarian may recommend kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant if your pet’s condition is severe. These procedures may be costly, and only selected clinics offer them. 

Dialysis or hemodialysis is a procedure to purify your dog’s blood. Vets use it to treat pets with chronic renal failure.14 

The vet will insert a central IV line into your pet’s jugular vein during this treatment. The blood flows from their body through the IV line into a machine. 

The machine filters the blood through a dialyzer or artificial kidney. Once the blood is free of toxins and wastes, the device will pump it back into your dog’s body.14 

Luckily, hemodialysis is not painful—your pet can lie comfortably while receiving treatment. 

On the other hand, a kidney or renal transplant involves replacing your dog’s kidney with a healthy one. The doctor will harvest the replacement organ from a donor dog.15 

It is a complex surgical procedure that only a few selected pet hospitals perform. The success rate, according to the University of California at Davis, is only 40%. 

Generally, organ transplants are risky procedures. But it's more complicated in dogs. Their immune systems can often reject new kidneys. They also have higher risks of post-surgery complications.15

Can You Prevent Canine Renal Dysplasia? 


You can’t prevent renal dysplasia in dogs since it’s an inherited condition. Animal experts discourage pet breeders from breeding or cross-breeding affected dog types. 

However, a 2011 study shows that researchers have isolated a possible genetic marker for canine renal dysplasia. Certain companies offer genetic testing for this marker.16

Renal dysplasia is a hereditary disease. If you’d like to learn your pet’s risk, you may ask your vet about a genetic test for this condition.

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Updated on December 30, 2022
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16 sources cited
Updated on December 30, 2022
  1. Inherited Kidney Diseases in Dogs and Cats.” Tufts' Canine and Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference. 
  2. Congenital and Inherited Disorders of the Urinary System in Dogs.” MSD Manual.
  3. Renal Dysplasia in Shih Tzu Dogs.” World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings.
  4. Nephrons.” Northern Suburbs Veterinary Hospital.
  5. The Anatomy of the Canine Kidney.” Whole Dog Journal.
  6. Renal Anomalies.” MSD Manual.
  7. Novel Allelic Variants in the Canine Cyclooxgenase-2 (Cox-2) Promoter Are Associated with Renal Dysplasia in Dogs.” PLOS ONE. 
  8. Renal Dysplasia In Dogs And Cats A Kidney Defect.” PetCare Rx.
  9. Renal Dysplasia in Dogs: Could Your Dog Have this Kidney Disorder?” Daily Paws.
  10. Uremia.” Cleveland Clinic.
  11. “The Role of Renal Biopsy in Dogs with Proteinuric Kidney Disease--What Are We Learning?” World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings.
  12. Chronic Kidney Disease in Dogs.” VCA Animal Hospitals.
  13. Medications to Avoid or Adjust If You Have Chronic Kidney Disease.” Fresenius Kidney Care.
  14. Hemodialysis.” Purdue University Small Animal Hospital.
  15. How to Deal With Kidney Failure in Your Dog.” PetCare Rx.
  16. A splice site variant in INPP5E causes diffuse cystic renal dysplasia and hepatic fibrosis in dogs.” PLOS ONE.
Cristine Santander
Cristine Santander
Content Contributor
Cristine Santander is a content writer for KnowYourDNA. She has a B.S. in Psychology and enjoys writing about health and wellness.
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