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Chronic Renal (Kidney) Failure in Small Mammals

Chronic renal or kidney failure (CRF) is when the kidneys can no longer perform excretion, regulation and endocrine functions. The kidneys are two organs that function to filter the blood, excreting the end products of body metabolism in the form of urine, and regulating the concentrations of hydrogen, sodium, potassium, phosphate and other ions in the extracellular fluid.

The loss of kidney function usually results in the following: abnormal filtration of blood and retention of waste materials, failure of hormone production and derangement of fluid, and electrolyte and acid-base balance. Chronic renal failure causes many changes throughout the body affecting almost every body system.

It is important to differentiate between acute renal failure (ARF) which has a sudden onset, and chronic renal failure that has a longer duration. The causes and treatment can be very different. ARF is a potentially reversible disease, whereas CRF is not.

CRF can be caused by many different processes, including toxins, infections, cancer or immune system abnormalities. Some of these conditions can be secondary to other disease processes or trauma.

What to Watch For


Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize CRF and exclude other diseases. Not all tests are possible for all small mammals. Ferrets and rabbits are most often treated more aggressively than smaller animals.

For any sick animal, a complete medical history and physical examination are crucial. The results can help determine appropriate additional tests. Some tests may include:


CRF can be a life threatening condition that requires hospitalization and treatment for stabilization in extremely ill pets, while trying to identify and correct the most life-threatening problems.

Treatments will vary from pet to pet and may include:

Home Care and Prevention

Chronic renal failure is life-threatening, and if you suspect your pet has this condition, you should see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

After diagnosis, some owners can administer subcutaneous fluid at home. Your veterinarian can provide instructions.

Administer any medications as directed by your veterinarian. Drug therapy may include phosphate binders, potassium supplementation or drugs for vomiting.

There are no specific recommendations for prevention of chronic renal failure. Provide free access to fresh clean water.