Signs & Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Horses

Being the stoic animals that they are, horses rarely show signs or symptoms of kidney disease until it has reached a critical stage. According to the article "Why Equine Kidneys Rarely Fail" in Equus Magazine, the few signs that horses do show are often attributed to other types of disease. Horses can develop either acute kidney disease, which may be reversible, or chronic kidney disease, which slowly destroys kidney cells. Here are some signs and symptoms that a horse may show when suffering from kidney disease.


A horse with kidney disease may appear to be depressed or distant. He may be sluggish and put less effort into his performance. The horse may seem duller in his coat and his expression. Additionally, he may show less interest in his feed.

Loss of Weight

Horses with kidney disease are less inclined to eat because of the bodily wastes that their bodies cannot process and eliminate. These excessive wastes suppress a horse's appetite, causing progressive weight loss. Unfortunately, this is a symptom of other conditions as well. Because of the low occurrence of kidney disease, it may not be one of the first illnesses that a veterinarian suspects.

Increase or Cessation of Urination

Kidney disease may cause your horse to urinate much more than the normal one to three gallons excreted by a healthy horse each day. Because the horse's kidneys are not functioning properly, she is unable to conserve water. This can occur even if a horse is not drinking excessively. The colour and smell of the urine may also be more concentrated than usual.

Horses who develop acute kidney disease may suddenly stop waste excretion, causing water and electrolytes to build up in the body. Again, horses with kidney disease may not always show signs like excessive drinking or cessation of urination.


Kidney disease causes wastes like urea and ammonia to become trapped in the body. These wastes circulate in the body, where they accumulate in areas like the gums and teeth. This causes tartar build-up on the teeth and inflammation of the gums. If your horse's teeth are routinely floated, this sign of kidney disease may be caught easily.

Fluid Retention

Since fluids are not being circulated and eliminated properly in a horse with kidney disease, oedema may occur. The swelling will likely appear on lower parts of the horse's body like the belly, the chin and throat and the lower legs. Again, swelling in the legs is seen with various conditions in horses. However, combined with any other signs and symptoms, or if the swelling is obviously abnormal, this may indicate kidney disease.

Other Signs and Symptoms

Colic may be connected with kidney disease. In some cases it may be a symptom of the disease. In others it may trigger a bout of acute kidney disease by altering blood volumes in the body. Kidney disease may also cause pale gums and mucus membranes.

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