Nutrition for Dogs with Kidney Disease

Kidney disease is a serious problem that affects dogs and humans. If you suspect your dog has kidney disease, it is important to take your pet to the vet immediately. You will also need to change your dog’s diet to help slow the progression of the disease.

In this article, we’ll go into full detail about what canine kidney disease is, how to identify it, and nutrition for dogs with kidney disease. It is important to note that you should only use this article to increase your knowledge of kidney failure in dogs. Always follow your veterinarian’s advice and instructions when caring for your dog.

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What is Dog Kidney Disease?

The kidneys perform a number of bodily functions, such as regulating hydration, balancing electrolytes, releasing hormones, and removing toxins. If your dog’s kidneys are not functioning properly, kidney failure will occur. Kidney disease roughly refers to the loss of kidney function. You may also hear of kidney failure called kidney failure.

Acute Kidney Failure vs. Chronic in Dogs

In dogs, there are two types of kidney disease: chronic kidney failure and acute kidney failure. Chronic kidney failure is when the kidneys lose their function over a period of time. Most often, chronic kidney failure is caused by old age as the body deteriorates over time.

In contrast, acute kidney failure is when kidney function suddenly declines. This can happen over a span of hours or days. Most often, acute kidney failure is caused by toxins or infections. Acute kidney failure is often reversible and curable if caught early enough, whereas chronic kidney failure can be managed but not reversed.

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Identifying Kidney Failure in Dogs

Identifying kidney failure early is important for acute kidney failure, but it can also make your dog more comfortable if he is struggling with chronic kidney failure. Knowing the symptoms of kidney failure in dogs can allow you to take your dog to the vet early for a proper diagnosis.


The most common signs of kidney failure in dogs are as follows:

  • Chemical smelling breath
  • Blood in urine
  • Drunk behavior
  • Intestinal spasm
  • Lethargy
  • pale gums
  • Significant changes in water intake
  • Significant changes in urine volume
  • Significant decrease in appetite
  • Significant weight loss
  • Stumbling and other uncoordinated movements
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • throw up

bulldog lying on carp_heathergunn, Pixabay


If your dog has had one or more of the previous symptoms, you should take him to the vet immediately. Only a veterinarian can determine if kidney failure or another problem is to blame for your dog’s symptoms.

Your vet will diagnose kidney failure through blood and urine tests. This will assess the severity of the disease. Your vet may also use X-rays, ultrasound, and special blood tests to determine the cause of kidney failure. A biopsy is sometimes also recommended.

Even through this intensive test, the cause of kidney failure is not always found. In some cases, such as chronic kidney failure, the cause of the disease may never be found.


Causes of Dog Kidney Disease

There are several causes of canine kidney disease. Many diseases affect the kidneys, as well as the consumption of various toxins and substances. Let’s take a look at the most common causes of kidney failure.

1. Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure is almost always caused whenever a dog ingests poison. Chemicals such as antifreeze, household cleaners, and poor food are common causes of acute kidney failure. Acute kidney failure can also occur whenever there is an obstruction of urine in your dog’s body. If blood flow decreases, the kidneys are less oxygenated, causing more infections.

Acute kidney failure can also occur due to severe dehydration, heatstroke, snakebite, and leptospirosis which is a bacterial infection.

2. Chronic Kidney Failure

As we have already mentioned, chronic kidney failure is most commonly seen in older dogs. The exact cause is sometimes difficult to know because these symptoms are slow to develop. Often, dental disease leads to chronic kidney failure. This happens whenever bacteria builds up under your dog’s teeth and is ingested over time.

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Potential Treatments for Dog Kidney Disease

There are several actions veterinarians can take to treat canine kidney disease. The type of kidney disease, as well as its severity, are the two main factors that will determine the course of treatment. Other health problems can also affect the treatment chosen.

1. Treatment of Acute Kidney Failure

Since acute kidney failure is usually caused by an infection or ingested poison, veterinarians typically focus on flushing the venom, monitoring the animal, and prescribing fluids and medications. Most often, acute kidney failure will be treated with plenty of IV fluids to restore the dog’s hydration and flush out harmful substances.

The vet can also prescribe medication, especially if the kidney failure is caused by an infection. For example, antibiotics are often given to dogs with acute kidney failure.

Many dogs refuse to eat when they have acute kidney failure. To ensure that your dog is still getting the nutrition he needs, your vet may give your dog a temporary feeding tube. The feeding tube ensures that the dog gets the nutrients it needs to fight kidney disease.

All of these treatments are paired with body monitoring. Blood pressure, weight, blood tests, urine tests, and an electrocardiogram are used to make sure your dog stays healthy during treatment. The vet may even place a urinary catheter to measure the volume of your dog’s urine.

2. Treatment of Chronic Kidney Failure

Because chronic kidney failure is only managed, not reversed, the treatment for chronic kidney failure is very different. If kidney failure is caught too late, your vet may recommend humane euthanasia to get the dog out of his pain and suffering.

However, many dogs live for months and years after diagnosis if kidney disease is detected early enough. For dogs that fall into this category, the vet will usually recommend a two-step process. The first phase involves giving the dog intravenous fluids to drain the bloodstream and kidneys.

This step is called diuresis. The point of the first step is to create a slightly healthier environment so the kidneys can heal a bit more. From this first step, the kidneys may start to function a little better, but this is not guaranteed. If the situation gets worse, your vet may recommend euthanasia.

If phase one is going well, your vet will recommend moving on to phase two, which involves caring for your dog at home. Caring for your dog at home helps your dog live a happy and healthy life for the rest of his life.

Phase two usually involves giving your dog a special diet, at-home fluid therapy, medication, and more. The essence of the second phase is to maintain kidney function as long as possible.

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What to Feed Your Dog with Kidney Disease?

As we mentioned above, one of the most important parts of caring for a dog with chronic kidney failure is monitoring their diet so that their kidneys can function as normally as possible. The reason why nutrition is so important for dogs with kidney disease is that the kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from the blood into the urine. Without proper nutrition, disease can cause many problems.

In fact, treating a dog with chronic kidney failure usually has four goals: control the amount of waste products in the blood, create more fluid and mineral balance, maintain adequate nutrition, and modify or slow disease progression. Paying attention to your dog’s diet can help achieve all of these goals.

If your dog is diagnosed with kidney disease, your veterinarian will help you choose the best dog food and nutrition for your dog. Again, you want low protein, phosphorus, and sodium but high in water and omega-3 fatty acids.

Most often, your vet will recommend a commercially available food made especially for dogs with kidney disease. These foods will taste good to your dog but target their health needs. When feeding your dog this new diet, remember to provide plenty of water throughout the day as well.

Chihuahua dogs eat_tanyastock, Shutterstock

What You Need to Change

Once your dog is diagnosed with kidney disease, you should immediately change your dog’s diet. You especially need to focus on the water, protein, phosphorus, sodium and omega-3 fatty acids in your dog’s diet.

Starting with water, your dog will need more water than ever before. Due to kidney disease, your dog’s body is unable to excrete toxins, making him feel more thirsty. Give your dog more fresh water than before to quench his thirst. Wet dog food can also help with this need.

Dogs usually have a high protein diet, but reducing the amount of protein in your dog’s diet often slows disease progression. This is probably because protein requires a lot of filtering from the kidneys. Only feed your dog 14% to 20% protein.

You also want to make sure that your dog has a low intake of phosphorus. It will slow down the progression of chronic kidney disease as well. Shoot for a phosphorus range between 0.2% and 0.5%. Kidney disease makes it very difficult for the body to process sodium as well. Limit your dog’s sodium intake slightly. This will help your dog feel less thirsty and keep your dog’s blood pressure in check.

Finally, supplement your dog’s diet with additional omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation that causes stress in diseased kidneys. Adding omega-3 fatty acids will help slow chronic kidney disease by reducing protein leakage through the kidneys.

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Final Thoughts

Kidney disease is a very serious problem in dogs that cannot be treated. Whether your dog has acute or chronic kidney failure, they should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Acute kidney failure is often curable if caught early enough, but chronic kidney failure can only be managed.

Changing your dog’s diet can largely help manage your dog’s kidney disease. What you feed your dog plays a big role in the kidneys. Reduce the amount of protein, sodium, and phosphorus you give your dog, but increase the water and omega-3 fatty acids. Talk to your vet to find a specific brand of dog food for your puppy.

  • Next on your reading list: 6 Best Dog Foods for Kidney Disease (Veterinary Approved) – 2022 Review

Featured Image Credit: Phuttharak, Shutterstock

Nutrition for Dogs with Kidney Disease
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