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When your dog’s kidneys start to fail, his dietary habits may change. He may not like his old food, or he may lose his appetite.

When that happens, and you notice other symptoms of renal failure (more on that below), you should consult your vet immediately.

While renal failure is generally irreversible, especially when it’s chronic, there may still be hope. Working with your vet, you can treat the symptoms, and in the process slow the failure and prolong your pet’s life.

Among other medications, you will probably have to change his diet to a more restricted regime. This guide should help you find the perfect food for pooches suffering from kidney failure.

5 Food for Dogs with Kidney Disease Compared

Our Top Choice

Small Product image of Hills Prescription Diet Kidney Care
Hill's Prescription Diet
Our Top Choice
Chicken fat
Pork liver
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Optimal Nutrition

Small Product image of Purina Pro Plan Veterinary diets Kidney
Purina Pro Plan
Optimal Nutrition
Meat by-products
Corn grits
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Great Taste

Small Product image of Royal Canin Renal Support
Royal Canin
Great Taste
Brewers rice
Chicken fat
Brown rice
Chicken by-product meal
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Overall Health

Small Product image of Blue Buffalo Kidney Support
Blue Buffalo
Overall Health
Chicken broth
Potato starch
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Sensitive Stomach

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Instinct by Nature's Variety
Sensitive Stomach
Lamb meal
Pea protein
Canola oil
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Hill's Prescription Diet – Our Top Choice

First Five Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Carrots
  • Rice
  • Chicken fat
  • Pork liver

Hill’s Prescription Diet is Hill’s line of dog food specialized in diets for specific diseases, and among them is their k/d line for renal disease. Amongst all their kidney care products, our choice is their chicken and vegetable stew recipe because it protects your dog’s failing kidneys while providing all the nutrients he needs to maintain his quality of life.

Built by veterinarians and nutritionists, it contains a lower amount of protein, while keeping its quality high, which means, your pet will have all the amino acids he needs to maintain his muscles and prevent a loss of mass.

It is also low in phosphorus and sodium, making it safe both for kidney and heart diseases. It does contain omega fatty acids and L-carnitine, which are known for their beneficial effects.

Overall, this stew of meat and vegetables provides all your dog needs from a renal diet, and that is why it has our highest recommendations. Even though this condition is irreversible, with this diet, his life can be lengthened considerably, while also maintaining a high quality of life.

For more details about other quality formulas, learn more in our top rated dog food guide.

Purina Pro Plan – For Optimal Nutrition

First Five Ingredients:

  • Meat by-products
  • Rice
  • Corn grits
  • Beef
  • Liver

Renal failure means that your dog’s lifestyle must change. Certain nutrients may put more strain on his kidneys, and they must be reduced in a balanced renal diet. On the other hand, further ingredients can help with the condition, and those must be included as well.

Of all the formulas specialized in renal failure that Purina Pro Plan has to offer, our choice is their canned NF Kidney recipe. It has lower amounts of high-quality proteins, just enough to feed your dog’s muscles and keep them lean. It is also low in phosphorus and sodium, further reducing the strain on the kidneys.

This formula also provides omega fatty acids to help with the inflammation and blood flow in the kidneys, as well as other beneficial processes. It also includes potassium to help prevent other symptoms, such as muscle weakness or loss of appetite.

The recipe provides the optimal amount of nutrients, all to provide for all your pet’s needs without needlessly straining his kidneys.

Royal Canin – Best in Flavor

First Five Ingredients:

  • Corn
  • Brewers rice
  • Chicken fat
  • Brown rice
  • Chicken by-product meal

This Royal Canin’s Veterinary Diet dry food is our choice because of its exquisite aroma and shape, making it even more appealing to pooches suffering from renal diseases. As they can suffer from reduced appetite, this formula should encourage them to continue eating.

It features a reduced amount of protein, and the one that is there is of higher quality. That should make sure your dog’s kidneys aren’t needlessly strained by metabolizing protein. It also contains lower quantities of phosphorus and sodium, which further reduces the stress on their kidneys.

While reducing those ingredients, the formula is rich in others, more beneficial to dogs suffering from renal failure. It has larger quantities of B vitamins, as well as omega fatty acids, so it should contain all your dog needs to maintain a quality of life even with his declining health.

All these ingredients make this formula valuable for pups suffering from renal failure. Its pronounced aroma should help their appetite, and its nutrients should keep your dog going even though his health may be failing.

Blue Buffalo – Best for Overall Health

First Five Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken broth
  • Potato starch
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots

Blue Buffalo’s Natural Veterinary Diet is a series of prescription dog food, and their KS Kidney Support canned food is our choice for your dog’s overall health.

The formula is based on chicken as the primary source of protein, and it is present in limited quantities. While reduced in quantity, the protein in this recipe is of higher quality.

It also has lower amounts of minerals such as sodium and phosphorus, which should reduce the strain of your dog’s kidneys. Alongside that, it is also free of grain, wheat, soy, or corn, making it safe for pooches with food sensitivities.

And along with reduced amounts of minerals, it has higher quantities of omega fatty acids, L-carnitine, and antioxidants to provide all the nutrients for your dog’s overall body condition.

So, if you’re looking for a formula that will preserve your dog’s general health while his kidneys are failing, this is our recommendation. It provides all your dog needs to lead a healthy life despite his renal failure.

Instinct by Nature's Variety – Best for Dogs with Sensitivities

First Five Ingredients:

  • Lamb meal   
  • Peas
  • Tapioca
  • Pea protein
  • Canola oil

As this isn’t a specialized renal formula, it is only recommended for dogs in the early stages of renal failure. And, since it is made from a limited number of ingredients, it shouldn’t strain your dog’s metabolism.

This line of foods boasts only one source of protein and one vegetable as sources of nutrients. Among the selection of Instinct’s products based on limited ingredients, our choice is their recipe that is based on lamb and peas.

The grass-fed lamb should provide the protein your dog needs daily, and the peas should provide all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber for a balanced and well-rounded daily diet. It also contains omega fatty acids to protect your dog’s immune system, as well as their skin and coat.

At the same time, this formula is free of grain, wheat, corn, or soy, as well as dairy, eggs, chicken, beef, fish, potatoes, and many other ingredients, making it safe for pups with sensitivities. It also doesn’t have any artificial preservatives, flavors, or colors.

This recipe is our recommendation for sensitive pups, as well as those in the early stages of renal failure. Its low number of ingredients means they can enjoy all this recipe has to offer while not risking any adverse reactions to potentially harmful components.

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What Breeds Are More Prone to Kidney Failures?

According to a recent study, purebred canines are more prone to chronic renal failure than crossbred brethren. They account for more than 83% of all cases of renal failure.

Based on the study, the breeds most susceptible to kidney failure are:

  • Chinese Shar-Pei
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Bull Terrier
  • Boxer
  • English Cocker Spaniel
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Jack Russell Terrier
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • German Shepherds
  • Lhasa Apso

Other breeds are prone to a condition called renal dysplasia, which can also lead to chronic renal failure, and that ailment is most common among these breeds:

  • Golden Retriever
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Shih Tzu
  • Rottweiler
  • Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

Here is a list of common genetic kidney problems among breeds that can lead to renal failure by the age of 5.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Renal Failure?

Canine kidney problems can be difficult, and they can negatively affect their quality of life. While it most commonly affects older dogs and, as we’ve seen, certain breeds, all dogs can develop acute kidney injury. That’s why it’s important to differentiate between acute and chronic renal issues.


Acute renal failure among canines is a condition that mostly has a sudden onset, and usually a clear cause. It can develop from poisoning, for instance, and most typically, the substance causing problems is antifreeze. Another common cause is ingestion of grapes or raisins, for example.

It can also be a result of dehydration, infection, medication, or trauma, so if you notice any of these symptoms, consult your veterinarian immediately.

  • Change in water consumption
  • Change in urination
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation and difficult coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting

The outlook and prognosis depend on how advanced the failure is. Some dogs make a complete recovery, while for others, their acute kidney injury can transition to chronic renal failure. That’s why it’s important to catch the symptoms early.


Chronic kidney failure usually affects older dogs, even though younger can also develop it either because of congenital defects or as a result of poisoning. The disease affecting older canines usually develops slowly, making it hard to detect in its early stages.

It is a progressive disease, meaning it will only get worse, and there is no cure. If caught early enough, your dog can, with proper help and diet, still lead a fulfilling life. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms:

  • Change in drinking or urination
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pale gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Lack of coordination
  • Anemia

If you catch these symptoms, you should take your dog to your veterinarian for a full exam.

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What Other Diseases Can Appear Alongside Kidney Problems?

Kidney failure is painful on its own, yet further complications can make things even more challenging. This is a list of common comorbidities. Bear in mind, this is a list of diseases which can commonly appear together with renal problems, not of that which your dog will necessarily develop.

Congestive Heart Failure

There is a strong link between heart and kidney problems, so strong that they are commonly discussed together under the cardiorenal syndrome. It means that heart conditions can cause kidney failure and vice versa.

A recent study showed that most dogs that developed kidney problems also had problems with their heart.

This means that the therapy for kidney problems should also consider the possibility of heart problems, and that should be reflected in your dog’s diet, as well, since his diet is a part of the treatment.

Liver Failure

One of the main causes of chronic renal failure is, surprisingly, bacteria from your dog’s gums. The bacteria can enter the bloodstream and over time, cause damage to the kidneys, as well as liver and heart. That is the primary reason that liver failure accompanies kidney problems.

The symptoms for liver problems are like those of chronic kidney failure and include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, lack of coordination, seizures, weakness, and similar. Your vet should be able to give you more information about potential treatments, which include a special diet or medication.


This is one of the symptoms of kidney failure, and it is usually a result of the disease. It usually afflicts older dogs, but younger pooches can be affected as well. The symptoms are likewise similar to chronic kidney failure and include weakness, depression, apathy, rapid breathing or heart rate, fatigue, or weight loss.

Treatment for renal failure usually includes medications and hormone therapy that reduces the symptoms and brings more life to your dog, and he can have a fulfilling life despite his ailments.


As kidneys play a vital role in regulating blood pressure, your dog may develop hypertension caused by chronic renal failure. In fact, 60 to 90% of dogs with renal failure develop hypertension as well. What’s worse is that the disease doesn’t have obvious symptoms, and can cause damage to your pet’s heart, blood vessels, brain, and eyes.

Treatment usually includes medication, but you may need prescription food low in sodium, as well.


As another common problem to develop from chronic kidney failure, renal tubular acidosis is the slow increase of blood acidity due to kidneys’ inability to filter it out. And as it is both a symptom and a side effect, treating your dog’s acidosis also slows the progression of their renal failure.

Therapy includes hospitalization until the blood acidity and potassium levels return to normal.

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Tips for Choosing Dog Food for Renal Failure

The choice of diet for canines suffering from kidney failures can be intimidating, especially if your dog develops other diseases which usually accompany renal problems. This guide should help you get the hang of general principles to best choose a diet for your sick pooch.

Canned Formulation

Wet food is recommended for dogs whose kidneys are failing because water is needed for successful filtration of toxins from their bloodstreams, and canned food contains high quantities of water. It is the best option to keep your dog hydrated, and alongside wet food, you should make sure he has plenty of sources of fresh water.

Read our recommendation for Best Canned Dog food.

Reduced Sodium Levels

High amounts of sodium can increase your dog’s blood pressure, which can, in turn, worsen the damage to his kidneys. Thus, keeping his pressure down can reduce the symptoms and prolong his life. That means you should feed your dog food low in salt, which is the primary source of sodium. You should also avoid salty treats such as bread, cheese, or dried meat.

Food low in sodium is also recommended if your dog has other problem alongside kidney failure, such as heart problems.

Added Antioxidants

Most antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, are necessary to fight off free radicals and prevent cell damage, which can be useful for dogs with failing kidneys. While they won’t stop the progression, they will slow it down, and in conjunction with other useful ingredients, they can ensure your pet lives for years.

Antioxidants also help boost your dog’s immune system, which can be especially significant when dealing with renal failure.

Increased Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids improve kidney function by reducing pressure in the kidneys and by helping with inflammation, which can benefit your dog’s wellbeing. They also enhance the removal of waste materials from the bloodstream.

They are especially important because they can’t be metabolized or created by your dog’s body. As omega fatty acids need to come from food, it is important that the formula contains enough to help with the symptoms and ensure a longer life for your pet.

Increased B-vitamins

While vitamin B doesn’t benefit the kidneys directly, it can help ease the symptoms. It is also dissolvable in water and easily cleared from the system, so it shouldn’t strain the kidneys further.

Overall, it is not as important for kidney functions as the other ingredients, but it is vital in managing other symptoms of chronic renal failure, so it should be valuable.

Decreased Phosphorus

While phosphorus is an important mineral for maintaining your dog’s bones and teeth, for pups with kidney problems, it can be poisonous.

As kidneys normally remove the extra phosphorus from the bloodstream, if the kidneys are failing, they may not be able to reduce the amount. That can lead to an excess of phosphorus in the bloodstream, which can have other harmful effects, such as loss of bone density or vitamin D deficiency.

Low Protein Level

Kidneys usually remove the toxic byproducts of protein breakdown, and when they start failing, it could lead to a buildup. That’s why it’s essential that your dog’s food provides reduced quantities of protein.

While a good renal diet should contain less protein, however, they should be of higher quality. Higher quality proteins break down without so many toxic byproducts and are therefore easier on the kidneys.


When your dog’s kidneys start failing, he begins to lose his ability to break down and clear cheap ingredients or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives that a normal dog food may include. That’s why it is imperative that his renal diet contains only natural sources of all its nutrients.

As he can also lose his appetite, organic food from natural sources might encourage him to eat, as well. And as renal diets don’t contain as much protein, they may not be as tasty, which is why your dog might prefer a diet with natural ingredients.

Image of food to avoid

Foods to Avoid for Kidney Health

Generally, if your dog is suffering from kidney failure, you should put him on a special renal diet. However, if he’s still in the early stages, he can still eat his normal formula. There are, however, certain ingredients you should avoid.

  • Food high in protein, such as recipes for active or working dogs, is strictly off limits. The excess in protein will only strain your dog’s ailing kidneys.
  • You should also avoid formulas rich in phosphorus. While that mineral is vital for strong bones and teeth, excessive amounts only exacerbate the kidney problem.
  • Just to be safe, avoid food rich in sodium, as it raises your dog’s blood pressure, which further strains his kidneys.
  • Additionally, while it can be beneficial to feed him fruits and vegetables, you should avoid raisins, grapes, garlic, and onions, as they are toxic to dogs.
  • You should also try not to feed him anything containing wheat gluten.

How to Switch Your Dog to a Renal-Supportive Diet

During the early stages of kidney failure, it may not be necessary to put your dog on a restricted diet. While some restriction may be needed, a full renal diet is usually reserved for later stages. You can, however, switch him to a formula made for dogs with sensitivities, as those are generally easier on the digestion.

When your vet estimates it’s time to change to a renal diet, you should do it gradually, even slower than normal switching. As a renal diet doesn’t contain as much protein, it isn’t as tasty for your pup so he may reject it. You may need to rotate his formula to encourage him to eat, maybe add a homecooked meal.

In the case your dog still refuses to eat, you can season the food with certain natural additives, such as flavors or aromas, to make it more appealing. You should, however, make sure not put too much and ruin the benefits of a renal diet.

Frequently Asked Questions About Kidney Disease in Dogs

What homemade dog treats can I give them?

As your dog should avoid protein, phosphorus, and sodium, you should avoid giving him treats such as bread, dry meat, or cheese. The safest bet is treats made from fruits and vegetables that are not onions, garlic, raisins, or grapes.

Most dogs like a carrot here and there, so that should be a good source of treats. Likewise, your dog may also like green beans.

What is the life expectancy of sufferers?

According to a recent study, the median life expectancy from diagnosis to death, including from euthanasia, was at 226 days. The vast majority was somewhere in the range between 112 to 326 days.

While that may seem bleak, with a proper diet to slow the advance of the disease, your dog can live even longer, some even years if the failure is caught on time.

Why should I go for specific a renal diet for my dog?

Renal diets are specifically made for dogs suffering from kidney failure. As such, they don’t contain ingredients known to make the problem worse. There are, however, other conditions which your dog may develop alongside kidney problems, and those may make food selection even more difficult.

As each dog is different, and they may display different symptoms or develop different diseases, you may need to tailor the formula to those requirements. That is why it’s best to consult your vet and together find the best food for your ailing pet.

What to feed a pooch who refuses to eat?

Your dog may not find his renal diet as tasty as normal food, but there are ways to encourage him to eat. Diets with more calories can help with appetite loss, and their appetite may come in waves so you may need to feed them more than usual.

If nothing seems to work, however, you may need to prepare a homecooked meal. Those have been known to inspire dogs to eat. Just make sure you don’t use ingredients which may further stress his kidneys.

What are the risks for senior dogs?

Risks of renal failure increase the older your pooch gets. Generally, it affects anywhere from 0.3 and 4% dogs. Lifestyle can also be a contributing factor, as most chronic kidney failures are caused by bacteria in their mouth entering the bloodstream.

Kidneys also filter artificial ingredients and chemicals from, normally found in dog food, from canine bloodstream, and extended exposure to such elements can and will cause damage. So, a balanced lifestyle and food devoid of harmful ingredients can reduce the risks of renal failure.


Even though kidney failure can be a serious problem, your furry friend’s life doesn’t have to be over. With proper care and diet, he can live for years despite the disease.

Generally, that means your vet will prescribe your dog a renal diet, which is usually low in protein, phosphorus, and sodium. That will reduce the strain on your dog’s kidneys and slow the progression of the disease.

So, even though your dog’s major organs are failing, he can still have a life ahead of him. No matter how bleak the outlook may seem, with a simple change in lifestyle, your pet can overcome these obstacles and live a fulfilling life despite the disease.