Mar Vista Animal Medical Center

3850 Grand View Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066






The kidney is normally a tremendous organizer of our small ions. It determines how much calcium to keep and how much to dump. It controls our blood’s pH by controlling which acids and bases to keep and which ones to lose. It controls sodium, potassium, carbon dioxide, water balance, and more. The kidney filters unwanted toxic biochemicals and gets rid of them via a process called "excretion." Not only are toxins removed but they are removed using just the right amount of water so that hydration is maintained. In failure, however, everything goes haywire. The wrong things are dumped, the wrong things are kept, toxins build up and the patient is sick. The state of toxicity that results is called “uremia” or “uremic poisoning.”

Most every animal hospital can provide diuresis: a therapy where extra fluid beyond what the patient can drink is provided thus giving the kidney its excretion medium so that it can remove toxic waste. This works well in a large number of patients but there comes a time when, even with plenty of fluids, the sick kidney simply cannot get the toxins out. For most patients this is the “end of the line.” In fact, however, dialysis may be another choice. though it must be understood that dialysis is substantially more expensive than diuresis and centers that perform dialysis for pets are still few and far between.



dog receiving dialysis
(Courtesy of ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals -
Used with Permission)

Dialysis is a process that can be thought of as cleansing the blood of toxins. This is done using a membrane, called a "dialyzer membrane" and a fluid called the "dialysate." The blood is separated from the dialysate by the dialyzer membrane. The dialysate fluid is formulated so that the toxins present in the blood will be attracted across the dialyzer membrane and into the dialysate fluid.

There are two types of dialysis: peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis. When most people refer to someone needing dialysis, they mean hemodialysis. The patient is hooked up to the dialysis machine by an intravenous catheter and a pump forces the patient's blood into the machine for cleansing. The detoxified blood is returned to the patient. Peritoneal dialysis is less "high tech" and uses the patient's own abdomen as the "dialyzer membrane." The belly is filled with dialysate fluid, toxins are attracted into the fluid over several hours and the fluid (with its toxins) is drained from the belly at the end of the procedure.



The intravenous catheters used in hemodialysis are very large and very long so as to support the appropriate speed of blood flow through the dialyzer. Such catheters are very difficult to place; surgery may be necessary to place them. A long term IV port under the skin may be needed if treatments are to be on going. A single catheter may be in place for months.

Dialysis catheter in place
Dialysis catheter in place
(Courtesy of ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals -
Used with Permission)

The treatment lasts 3-5 hours (sometimes longer) during which the patient must calmly sit on a table attached to equipment. Treatments typically are performed three times a week either indefinitely (as in Chronic Renal Failure) or until the kidney has healed (as in Acute Renal Failure).

There are actually numerous conditions that will benefit from this type of blood “cleansing” besides kidney failure. Electrolyte imbalances , heart failure, and many poisonings can also be treated via hemodialysis.



Part of the problem has been that dialysis machines are generally designed for human patients. The amount of blood that goes through the human dialysis machine is too large a blood loss for a veterinary patient to withstand so smaller machines had to be built. A veterinary dialysis machine had to be designed for patients as small as a 5 or 6 lb cat. Further, a dialysis center requires specially trained staff and 24 hour care. It was difficult to get such centers financed. The procedure is still expensive and requires a dedicated owner but at least it is now an option.



The patient who depends on dialysis to relieve the symptoms of uremia must have dialysis three times a week on the average. The pet owner must be able to bring the pet to the dialysis center with this frequency and leave the pet for the several hours needed for the treatment. Kidney transplant patients, of course, only require dialysis until they are well enough for surgery. Patients with a stone obstructing a ureter (the tube connecting the kidney and bladder) will require dialysis until stable for surgery. Patients who have lost kidney function acutely from a poisoning (usually antifreeze) or infection (usually leptospirosis) typically require a month of therapy while their kidneys heal. Other patients may require therapy indefinitely.



Not all patients respond to dialysis. How a given patient will do in part depends on what caused the kidney failure in the first place (toxin vs. infection vs. metabolic causes).  Here are some statistics:

Out of 138 dogs that failed to respond to conventional therapy for kidney failure (diuresis as mentioned above) at the University of California: 40% responded to dialysis. Infectious causes (generally leptospirosis) tend to have a better prognosis. As leptospirosis has re-emerged has a common cause of canine acute kidney failure the overall response rate for dogs receiving dialysis has improved to 50%.

A study in 2003 with cats requiring hemodialysis, the response rate was 56% (the best was prognosis for those with a ureter obstruction where over 70% survived).



If dialysis is being considered, it is best not to wait until conventional therapy has completely failed and the pet is on death’s door. Let your veterinarian know from the start that this is an option you are interested in so that your veterinarian can consult with the dialysis center on the best time to refer.



A new world of complications (beyond those of conventionally managed kidney patients) is introduced to the renal patient on dialysis.

  • Malnutrition and Nausea
    The toxin build-up in kidney failure causes nausea directly and appetite loss follows. Toxins further cause ulcers in the stomach and intestine which contribute even more to the loss of appetite. Once the toxins are removed, the intestine heals quickly but appetite loss may persist. Making the nutrition issue worse is the fact that dialysis patients have an increased protein requirement and an increased calorie requirement. It is particularly important for the dialysis patient to get nutrients in one way or another. Feeding tubes or IV feeding may be necessary.
  • Metabolic Bone Disease
    When the sick kidney does not properly excrete phosphorus, calcium is mobilized in a complicated hormonal reaction (see the Calcium Phosphorus Balance page). Dialysis patients appear to be at higher risk for actual broken bones than are conventionally managed kidney patients.
  • Carnitine Deficiency
    Carnitine is a nutrient that facilitates the transport of the body’s energy sources. Unfortunately, dialysis inherently depletes the patient of carnitine. Carnitine deficiency results in heart disease, low red blood cell count, and muscle weakness. Supplementation is often necessary for dialysis patients if dialysis is going to be regularly performed for periods longer than one month.
  • Taurine Deficiency
    Taurine is an amino acid of animal protein origin. As is the case with carnitine, taurine is lost in the process of dialysis. Taurine deficiency can result in heart disease and (in cats) blindness if it is allowed to persist. This amino acid must be supplemented for long term dialysis patients.
  • Problems with the Dialysis Catheter
    The presence of the catheter may induce formation of a blood clot at the catheter tip. This can interfere with the high blood flow rates necessary for proper dialysis. When a clot occurs, a forceful flushing of the catheter may be adequate to dislodge it but if not, clot dissolving medications must be used and this becomes expensive and may lead to inability to clot.
  • Infection from the Dialysis Catheter
    An infected dialysis catheter is bad news. The resulting blood infection can be lethal and, at best, requires months of antibiotic therapy. One should be aware of skin reddening or pus at the catheter site. The development of a fever is of great concern so the owner should become familiar with taking the pet’s temperature.



The following information was taken from the UC Davis-San Diego Dialysis web site July 2016:

Patients requiring dialysis: Our standard dialysis estimate is $3500-$4000 for the first 2-3 treatments and $600-$700 per treatment thereafter. (This includes lab tests, dialysis catheter placement, feeding tube placement, anesthesia, oxygen, and transfusion if necessary), not including hospitalization at the Veterinary Specialty Hospital. The first three treatments will span 3-5 days. Depending on the caliber and intensity of care required by a given patient, hospitalization costs will range from $300-$1200/day. Detailed estimates are provided once a patient is assessed. Clients whose patients will be receiving dialysis will be required to leave a deposit of between $2000-$3000 before treatment and will also be required to leave a deposit at Veterinary Specialty Hospital.



The following are animal dialysis centers. Where possible, we have included web links which include more details about the procedure. We hope to add more centers as they open. If you are aware of an animal dialysis center not listed here please contact us so it can be included.

Access Specialty Animal Hospital
9599 Jefferson Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

The Animal Medical Center
510 E. 62nd St.
New York, N.Y. 10021

Tufts Foster Hospital for Small Animals
200 Westboro Road
North Grafton, MA 01536

University of California Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
Companion Animal Hemodialysis Unit
1 Garrod Dr.
Davis, CA 95616

University of California Veterinary Medical Center at San Diego
10435 Sorrento Valley Rd, Suite 101
San Diego, CA 92121

Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania Hemodialysis Center
Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital
3900 Delancey St.
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle
20115 44th Avenue West
Lynnwood, WA 98036

School of Veterinary Medicine
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803-8410?

University of Florida, VMTH
2015 SW 16th Avenue
Gainesville, FL 32610

4224 Northern Pike
Monroeville, PA 15146

Red River Animal Emergency Hospital
4491 23rd Ave S
Fargo, ND 58104


Continual Renal Replacement Therapy (abbreviated “CRRT”) is another form of blood filtration similar to dialysis; in fact, which procedure represents the best choice for the human patient is hotly debated in human medicine. While dialysis removes toxins built up over the previous couple of days over a 3-5 hour treatment period, CRRT involves continual removal over a 24-48 hour period which mimics the patient’s natural kidney function more closely. The idea here is to continually remove toxins until they are all gone if that is possible. Sometimes a couple of treatments are needed. This is not a regularly performed procedure like dialysis is.

The catheters are similar to the dialysis catheters but because the procedure requires being hooked to the equipment for up to two days, sedation is generally required for this entire period though this depends on the hospital.

Lower blood flow rates are used in CRRT when compared to hemodialysis which makes for fewer blood pressure issues. Also the dialysis complications that are seen over time (carnitine deficiency, high dietary Calorie requirement, catheter infection, and most of the other issues listed above) are not problems with CRRT because CRRT is done as a one time treatment). Sedation may be necessary for CRRT depending on the protocols of the facility.

Centers performing CRRT include these. (Please let us know of any others and we will add them to the list):

Advanced Critical Care and Internal Medicine
3021 Edinger Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780

Animal Medical Center at Cooper City Florida
9410 Stirling Road
Cooper City, Florida 33024

School of Veterinary Medicine
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, LA 70803-8410?


Blood cleansing therapies such as these are still new to the veterinary field because their use can be high maintenance and costly. As Pet Insurance becomes more popular, expense becomes less of a deterrent so more facilities are likely to open up. At the present time, dialysis is chiefly used on a temporary basis for acute conditions but as treatment becomes more available and affordable more chronic patients are likely to come forward. If dialysis is something you want to consider, let your veterinarian know so that you can be directed to the appropriate specialist.


This page is also part of the Chronic Renal Failure Center.
Other Pages in the Chronic Renal Failure Center:


 Page last updated: 10/10/2021