What are the Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Horses?

girl with her horse

​​​​​​​Kidney disease in horses isn’t a common problem, but as with any health problem, the sooner it is detected and treatment begins, the better the outcome is likely to be for your horse. Here’s what you need to know about kidney disease and failure, including how to spot signs that your horse has problems with its kidneys and needs medical support.

About Equine Kidneys

Your horse’s kidneys can be found on either side of their spine, just behind the saddle area. Both human and equine kidneys work in the same way. Their main job is to eliminate waste products from the blood, preventing it from building up to toxic levels and making your horse sick.

Exactly what causes kidney problems in horses can vary, with the most common reason for the condition being a side effect of some drugs given to equines for bouts of colitis or colic, such as anti-inflammatories and some antibiotics. However, kidney issues can also be caused by:

  • Eating toxic plants

  • Bacterial infections

  • Urinary obstructions, such as kidney stones or a tumor

  • Colic

  • Heatstroke and dehydration

  • Shock

Types of Kidney Problems

Kidney problems can either occur very slowly over a number of months or years or come on very quickly. The first is known as chronic kidney disease, and while it isn’t curable, many equines live for months or even years with the condition. The trouble with chronic kidney disease is that it develops slowly, and symptoms are very subtle, meaning that they are often overlooked. By the time that clinical symptoms develop, many horses will have already sustained quite a significant kidney damage.

The second type of kidney disease is known as acute kidney disease and, as you may have guessed, occurs suddenly. This is more likely in cases of infection, heatstroke, shock, or even hemorrhage. Fortunately, most horses suffering from acute kidney disease will recover with prompt treatment.

Signs of Kidney Problems

There is a range of different symptoms associated with kidney problems and failure in horses. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Inactivity

  • Unusual changes to your pet’s urine, such as a strong smell, abnormal color, high or low volumes

  • Weight loss

  • Fever

  • High blood pressure

  • Ulcers on the mouth and tongue

  • Swelling in areas of the body including the lower abdomen and legs

  • Dental problems, including swollen gums and tartar build-up which can occur due to excess ammonia in your horse’s bloodstream

Many of these symptoms are also indicative of other health problems, meaning that it will be necessary for your equine veterinarian to run a few tests to confirm a diagnosis. This could include blood testing which can successfully check the function of your horses’ organs, including their kidneys.

Kidney failure occurs when waste products accumulate within your horse’s body to such an extent that it starts to cause internal poisoning. Late-stage diagnosis carries a poor prognosis, so if your horse is displaying any of the symptoms listed above, we strongly advise that you have them assessed by your equine vet as soon as possible.

For more on kidney failure in horses, visit Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center in Cave Creek, Arizona. Call 480-595-8600 to schedule an appointment.