Learning that a beloved dog has kidney disease can be a devastating announcement for any pet parent. The good news is that with early diagnosis, proper care, and treatment — which includes a highly specialized diet — often the progression of the disease can be delayed. And this could allow even dogs with compromised or minimal kidney function to live extended lives.1,2
To help pet parents navigate this topic, we talked to leading experts about the important role diet and nutrition play in treating kidney disease. Our dog food for kidney disease guide is designed to help you understand how specialized diets work to prolong kidney function, so you and your veterinarian can make the best treatment and feeding choices for your pup.
Understanding Kidney Disease in Dogs
Kidneys are critical to a dog’s overall health. When they are working properly, kidneys remove waste from the blood, conserve fluids for optimal hydration, and maintain a healthy balance of essential minerals.
However, when a dog’s kidneys aren’t working effectively, this is called kidney failure. It causes waste and toxins to build up in a dog’s bloodstream, making them sick.
Dogs can develop two types of kidney failure:
Acute Kidney Failure in Dogs
Acute kidney failure appears abruptly. It can happen after a dog ingests a toxic substance (like anti-freeze or aspirin), develops an infection, or has an underlying disease like kidney cancer or pancreatitis.
Some signs that a dog might have acute kidney disease include an increase in urine production (sometimes followed by a decrease), sluggishness, reduced appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
If detected and treated early, acute kidney failure may be reversed. However, a delay in treatment could result in permanent kidney damage.3
Chronic Kidney Failure in Dogs
Chronic kidney disease occurs gradually. A number of underlying conditions, including high blood pressure and acute kidney failure, are potential causes, as is heredity. Although dogs of any age can be impacted, it’s more prevalent in senior dogs.2
Chronic kidney disease in dogs occurs in four stages, with kidney function becoming more severely compromised as the stages progress.
Signs of chronic kidney failure in dogs include excessive thirst and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and lethargy. However, veterinarians say these symptoms are often mild and may go unnoticed in the first two stages of the disease.
Because chronic kidney disease in dogs tends to develop gradually, proper management can delay its progression. In fact, even dogs with as little as 5 to 8 percent kidney function remaining can survive for long periods of time with appropriate treatment. And dog food for kidney disease often plays an important role in the treatment plan of affected dogs.
Dog Food For Kidney Disease: How It Helps
Research shows that a veterinarian-prescribed therapeutic diet is critical to slowing the progression of kidney failure in dogs. In one study, dogs who were fed kidney disease food for dogs lived an average of 13 months longer than those fed a standard diet.4
Kidney disease diets are formulated to take the stress off a dog’s failing kidneys and remove toxins from the bloodstream, while also providing adequate nutrition, says Amber LaRock, a licensed veterinary technician for EmergencyVetsUSA. “If a dog has kidney disease, the organs are already struggling to carry out their basic tasks. A specialized diet allows the kidneys to essentially take a breath and focus on normal function, without having to filter out the ingredients of the food dogs consume.”
The best dog food for kidney disease contains reduced levels of protein and is balanced with an adequate amount of carbohydrates and fats for healthy weight control, says Dr. Jared Pitt, DVM, Partner Doctor at Heart + Paw, one of the fastest-growing veterinary care, grooming, and dog daycare center groups in the country.
“Lower protein content means that there are fewer nitrogenous waste products produced by the kidneys,” Pitt says. “Also, there is less protein moving through the filtration system of the kidneys, which helps to preserve renal function.”
In addition, therapeutic kidney diets are lower in sodium and phosphorus, which can help dogs maintain healthy blood pressure and slow the progression of chronic kidney disease, respectively, says Pitt.
Kidney disease food for dogs contains an increased amount of soluble fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants (like vitamins A and E), says Dr. Susan Jeffrey, Ms, DVM, an associate veterinarian at Odyssey Veterinary Care in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.
“They give the kidney less work to do and slow the progression of renal disease. They also help reduce inflammation, which can reduce scarring of the kidney and help lower blood pressure to the kidney. All of these aspects of the diet are meant to slow disease progression.”
Standard dog food diets can’t accomplish this. “Over-the-counter pet food contains too much protein, phosphorus, and salt for pets with kidney disease. These diets also contain acidifiers (citric acid and lactic acid, for example) which can increase the speed at which the diseased kidneys deteriorate,” says Jeffrey.
3 Best Dog Foods for Kidney Disease
The best dog food for kidney disease is available exclusively through veterinarians, says Dr. Ashley Barnes, DVM, medical director at Louisville Family Animal Hospital in Louisville, Colorado. “There are currently no over-the-counter diets that fit these requirements as such diets could actually be detrimental to animals with normal kidneys.”
So which therapeutic dog food diets ranked highest with our experts? Here are the three veterinarian-recommended kidney disease diets for dogs that rose to the top.
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As a trusted mainstay since 1968, Royal Canin relies on a team of board-certified veterinary nutritionists to develop its diets. In addition to containing the recommended amounts of protein, phosphorus, and sodium for dogs with kidney disease, the Royal Canin Renal Support diet is formulated with antioxidants like vitamins C and E, soluble fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. This line is available in a variety of appealing textures — from cans containing a yummy loaf in sauce or thin slices in gravy — as well as delectable aromas and flavors. Why is this so important? “Many patients with kidney disease are pickier about their diet,” Barnes explains. It’s more likely a picky pet will eat a specialized diet when there are various flavor and texture options.
- Contains the recommended levels of ingredients for a renal diet for dogs (protein, phosphorus, and sodium), plus antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and soluble fiber.
- Royal Canin Renal Support comes in a wide variety of flavors, aromas, and textures designed to appeal to picky eaters.
- Formulated by a team of board-certified veterinary nutritionists.
- Royal Canin is a trusted brand that’s been in existence since 1968.
Things to Consider
- Requires a prescription from your veterinarian.
- It’s pricier than standard diets. The cost of a 17.6-pound bag is about $85.
In existence since 1894, Purina has become a household name and one that’s trusted by countless veterinarians. The Purina Pro Plan NF kidney diet is formulated by a team of veterinarians, nutritionists, and researchers to ensure properly restricted levels of high-quality protein, phosphorus, and sodium. It also delivers omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil, balanced fiber, and antioxidants like vitamin E and manganese.
- Contains the recommended levels of protein, phosphorus, and sodium; as well as antioxidants, soluble fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, to benefit dogs with kidney disease.
- Formulated by a team of veterinarians, nutritionists, and researchers
- Purina is a trusted brand that’s been in existence since 1894.
- Made with responsibly-sourced, high-quality ingredients.
Things to Consider
- It’s not available without a prescription from your veterinarian.
- Though it’s the least expensive of our three recommended brands, it’s still considered pricey. An $18-pound bag runs about $77.
- The Purina NF line doesn’t carry the same range of flavors and textures as the other brands.
Hill’s Prescription Diet is another trusted brand that veterinarians recommend. The Hill’s brand has a history rooted in therapeutic dog food diets, and this has long been their primary area of emphasis. In fact, the very first dog food formula created by Dr. Mark Morris, the brand’s founder, was the forerunner of Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d Kidney Care diet.
Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d formula contains the proper balance of low-protein ingredients, as well as controlled levels of phosphorus and sodium. It also contains plenty of essential amino acids to help build muscle protein and therapeutic levels of L-carnitine and omega-3 fatty acids to boost vitality and energy. The formula also employs the brand’s proprietary Enhanced Appetite Trigger (EAT), an innovation designed to stimulate appetite and increase calorie intake in dogs with kidney disease.
- Contains the correct balance of protein, phosphorus, and sodium; and it’s formulated with soluble fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. This combination has been clinically proven to decrease episodes of uremic crisis and lengthen and improve the quality of life for pets with chronic kidney disease.
- Uses exclusive EAT technology designed to stimulate appetite and calorie intake in dogs with kidney disease
- Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d dog food comes in both canned and dry food formulas in a variety of flavors, including chicken, beef, and lamb.
Things to Consider
- Requires a prescription from your veterinarian
- The cost. A 17.6-pound bag is about $84
Dog Food for Kidney Disease: Buying Guide
Not all food for dogs with kidney disease is the same. Here are a few key elements to consider when looking for the best diet for your pup.
They require a prescription. The veterinarians we spoke with don’t recommend non-prescription dog food for kidney disease. The best diets shown to reduce the progression of kidney disease are available exclusively with a veterinarian’s prescription, says Jeffrey. If you’d prefer to feed your dog a fresh diet, “There is also an option to consult with a veterinary nutritionist who can formulate a diet that is appropriate for a pet with kidney disease,” she suggests.
One reason why these diets aren’t available for general sale, adds Jeffrey, is because they don’t contain adequate amounts of protein or phosphorus for dogs without kidney disease. Over-the-counter diets are required to contain certain protein levels, and these protein levels may make them inappropriate for a dog with kidney disease.
They’re more expensive than standard dog food. Therapeutic veterinary diets are pricier than standard dog diets. For example, a 17.6-pound bag of Hill’s Prescription Diet k/d dog food is about $84. In contrast, a 15-pound bag of their standard diet is about $41.
Therapeutic diets are expensive, in part, because of the costs associated with research and development. “The manufacturers of these diets perform food trials with dogs and study how the dogs respond to each diet,” says Jeffrey. These efforts require time and resources.
They’re typically not approved for other conditions. Though diets for kidney disease in dogs don’t hinder the effectiveness of medications, they may interfere with other health conditions, says Barnes. “For instance, a kidney diet might exacerbate food allergies as most kidney diets are not hypoallergenic. Although recently Royal Canin did come out with a hypoallergenic kidney diet. Kidney diets are also not ideal diets for diabetes control.”
You may have to try out different kidney diets. Barnes says dogs with kidney disease tend to be more finicky about what they eat. Her recommendation: “Consider buying a sampling of the different flavors and textures of the diets to find what your pet prefers.”
Kidney Diets for Dogs FAQs
What is the best dog food for kidney disease?
In general, low-phosphorus, low-sodium, low-protein dog food for kidney disease has been shown to delay the progression of the disease in dogs. These diets also contain omega-3s, antioxidants, and high-soluble fiber. Typically, LaRock says, “Your vet will help you determine what is best for your dog, and they can provide you with a prescription to purchase it at your local pet store.” Some kidney disease diets are also available from online retailers, though they require purchasers to upload a valid prescription from their veterinarian.
How much phosphorus is allowed on a renal diet?
Food for dogs with kidney disease typically contains between 0.13 to 0.28 percent phosphorus, while standard maintenance diets contain between 1 to 2 percent phosphorus, says Jeffrey.
Is tuna good for dogs with kidney disease?
Protein and salt restriction are key elements of kidney diets, so adding tuna (or any other ingredient) to a balanced formula can decrease their effectiveness. If you’re opting for tuna because of its omega-3 content, look for renal diets that already include tuna in appropriate amounts.
If you’d like to add more omega-3 fatty acids, Barnes suggests it would be better to use fish oil instead of adding tuna, because fish oil is higher in fatty acids and adds no protein. However, especially if your dog has kidney disease, always get guidance from your veterinarian before offering your dog any new supplement.
What vegetables are good for dogs with kidney disease?
Pitt usually recommends fresh or frozen carrots and green beans. “I also tell my clients that they can pick up sweet potatoes and cut them transversely, and bake them on a cookie sheet for a chewy, healthy snack.” Avoid giving your dog any vegetables — such as onions or garlic — that are toxic to dogs.
Can kidney failure be treated in dogs?
Though kidney disease in dogs can’t be cured or reversed, it can be treated and decelerated. Treatment is tailored to the patient, stage of disease, and intensity of symptoms. Generally, treatment might involve intravenous fluid therapy, prescription medications, phosphorus reduction, treatment of any underlying cause, and a therapeutic diet like the options reviewed here.