Kidney Cancer in Dogs

A Pet Owners Guide to Kidney Cancer in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Ivana Crnec
By Ivana Crnec
Medically reviewed by Natalie H Ragland, DVM
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What is Kidney Cancer in Dogs? 

What is Kidney Cancer in Dogs

Kidney cancer in dogs is a tumor that develops due to the uncontrolled growth of cells in the dog’s kidneys. Canine kidney tumors can be primary or secondary.

Primary kidney cancer starts within the kidneys. Studies show that primary renal tumors in dogs are rare and account for less than 1% of all canine neoplasms. However, it is aggressive and spreads to other organs like the adrenal glands, lymph nodes, blood vessels, and liver.

Secondary renal tumors start in other places in the body and then spread to the kidneys (as a form of metastatic disease).

Kidney cancer can also be malignant or benign. Common malignant kidney cancers in dogs are renal cell carcinoma (adenocarcinoma), transitional cell carcinoma, anaplastic carcinoma or sarcoma, lymphoma, hemangiosarcoma, and nephroblastoma. Benign tumors are rare and include papillomas or fibromas.

Kidney cancer in dogs can affect both the left kidney and right kidney (bilateral). However, in most cases, only one kidney is neoplastic (unilateral).

What is Adenocarcinoma of the Kidney? 

Adenocarcinoma of the kidney is a type of cancer that starts in the cells lining the kidney’s tubules (tiny tubes). PennVet states it is the most common type of canine renal cancer.

Adenocarcinoma is a form of primary kidney cancer in dogs and is sometimes called renal cell carcinoma or renal carcinoma.

What Causes a Dog to Get Kidney Cancer? 

What Causes a Dog to Get Kidney Cancer

The exact cause of kidney cancer in dogs is unknown. In most cases, cancer can be  caused by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors such as:

  • Age. Kidney tumors are most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged and older dogs aged eight years or older. However, puppies can be affected too (for example, nephroblastoma affects dogs less than one year in age.
  • Breed. According to the Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology, kidney cancer in dogs is more common in male, medium to large dog breeds. They state than German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are predisposed to cystadenocarcinoma.

What are the Symptoms of Renal Adenocarcinoma in Dogs? 

What are the Symptoms of Renal Adenocarcinoma in Dogs

Renal adenocarcinoma does not show any particular signs or symptoms in the initial phases. Most of the clinical signs are generic, which makes diagnosis very difficult.

Some of the signs you may see in a dog with kidney cancer include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination frequency.

In the more advanced stages, you may notice symptoms specific to the urinary system. They are similar to those of dogs with urinary tract infections and include:

  • Polydipsia (increased thirst and water intake)
  • Polyuria (increased urine production)
  • Pollakiuria (frequent urination)
  • Hematuria (blood drops in the urine).

If kidney cancer in dogs is left untreated, it can lead to renal failure (kidney failure). So, if your dog is showing some of these clinical signs and symptoms, call your trusted DVM and schedule an appointment.

Diagnosing Adenocarcinoma of the Kidney in Dogs 

Diagnosing Adenocarcinoma of the Kidney in Dogs

Your vet might start the diagnosis process with a physical examination. During the physical exam, they will check for visible changes like swelling of the abdomen caused by an abdominal mass.

A urinalysis and urine culture may also be performed to assess the urine contents and rule out urinary tract infections.

For a specific and differential diagnosis, the veterinarian will perform a fine-needle aspiration or biopsy. A fine-needle aspiration involves your vet extracting a sample of your dog’s tumor cells using a small needle. A biopsy is a diagnostic process of obtaining a tumor tissue sample to assess it for cancerous properties.

Other tests the vet will perform are bloodwork (complete blood count and biochemistry profiles), abdominal ultrasound and radiographs, chest x-rays, and advanced imaging like CT scans and MRI.

Is Kidney Cancer Treatable in Dogs? 

Yes, kidney cancer in dogs can be treated. However, the success of the treatment depends on the type and stage of the tumor, whether both kidneys are affected, and the treatment pursued.

The treatment options for renal neoplasia are surgery, chemotherapy, and rarely radiation therapy.

Surgical Removal. Surgical removal of the tumor and affected kidney (nephrectomy) is the treatment of choice for tumors that haven’t spread to other organs. During the surgery, the ureter and major blood vessels are tied off, and the kidney is removed. However, surgery is not an option for dogs with bilateral kidney cancer.

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is often recommended for dogs whose cancer has spread to other organs. Chemotherapy is best recommended for dogs with renal lymphoma. It can be used together with surgery to improve the outcome.

Radiation Therapy. Radiation is a possible treatment option. However, its effectiveness in treating kidney cancer in dogs is not well-studied. Therefore, radiation is a rarely pursued option.

In addition to the traditional medical treatment, you can try holistic approaches to improve your dog’s quality of life. Ask your vet about holistic therapy options such as diet, acupuncture, herbs, CBD, and physiotherapy.

Special Diet. Dogs with renal issues benefit from specifically formulated diets. These diets support normal kidney function. Your vet or a veterinary nutritionist will help you develop a suitable eating plan for your dog.

Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil. A natural remedy that may help your dog is CBD. CBD has numerous health benefits, but the most remarkable for a dog with cancer is anxiety and inflammation relief. We strongly recommend the human-grade CBD products from Honest Paws.

What can I do to Prevent Kidney Cancer in Dogs? 

What can I do to Prevent Kidney Cancer in Dogs

There’s not one thing you can do to prevent kidney cancer in dogs. However, you can take some measures to lower risk factors. These measures include:

  • Provide a Healthy Diet. Ensure that your dog eats a balanced diet rich in nutrients and supports a healthy weight. The best diet for a dog consists of whole foods and less processed foods.
  • Ensure Physical Exercise. Encourage your dog to participate in physical activities such as running, walking, and playing outdoors. This helps to maintain a healthy weight and improves general well-being.
  • Use Pet-Safe Products. Only use products formulated for pets. Human products can be dangerous to dogs, and unsafe products may contain carcinogenic ingredients that increase your dog’s risk of developing cancer.
  • Regular Vet Checkups. See your vet as often as necessary to ensure that your dog is in good health, and if not, adequate treatment is provided in time. Since veterinary care can be expensive, we recommend the OneVet Pet Health Insurance Plan. The plan gives you 24/7 access to a licensed veterinarian, a $3000 emergency fund, and coverage for pre-existing conditions for up to 6 dogs, all for only $19.99 a month.

How long do Dogs Live With Kidney Cancer?

How long do Dogs Live With Kidney Cancer

A study showed that the median survival time for dogs with kidney cancer with a nephrectomy is about 16 months. However, the exact life expectancy depends on the type of tumor, stage, and treatment (quality and promptness).

If the kidney cancer in dogs is detected and treated in time, a dog can live for up to 4 years after the surgery, and if not caught in time, there may be a grave prognosis.

Sadly, the Animal Surgical Center of Michigan states that kidney cancer in dogs has already formed lung metastasis in 16% of the cases by the time of diagnosis.