How To Keep A Dog’s Kidneys Healthy

Just like people, dogs have two kidneys that serve to regulate blood pressure along with calcium and vitamin D metabolism, but they also help in the creation of new red blood cells. The kidneys help normalize salt and water in the dog’s body.

A dog’s kidneys balance certain substances in the bloodstream while helping to filter out waste as urine. If the kidneys malfunction, toxins back up in the blood and a dog can become seriously ill and die.

keeping a dog's kidneys healthy

Some estimates say that 1 in 10 dogs will develop kidney disease in its lifetime. We’re all about preventative medicine to keep kidneys healthy. Sadly, kidney disease happens when something malfunctions, and by that time, kidneys are likely functioning at a much lower-than-normal capacity.

In an ongoing effort to provide our readers with the very best health and wellness news, Fidose of Reality is examining the organs of dogs all year long. Let’s talk canine kidneys, how to prevent illness, what to do if your dog has kidney disease or kidney failure, and how a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes may change your dog’s prognosis.

How to keep a dog's kidneys healthy

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About Canine Kidneys

Very similar to human kidneys, located in the back are a dog’s kidneys near his mid-abdominal region. They are atop the bladder and are a part of the dog’s urinary system.

Inside the kidneys are little filtration units called nephrons. Each of those nephrons has a filter – think of your kitchen strainer – with a long tube that modifies the material filtered to produce urine. Now imagine all those tubes coming together at the center of the kidney and then emptying into a small tube. That small tube is called a ureter.

The ureter carries urine to the bladder to store before being excreted.

With age comes breakdown and those nephrons may stop working. If they do, kidneys are compromised. Kidneys lose their essential function when nephrons are depleted, and chronic kidney disease results.

x-ray of dog kidneys

How to Keep A Dog’s Kidneys Healthy

Most articles discuss what to do if your dog is diagnosed with some form of kidney disease, whether acute or chronic. First, let’s talk preventative care of canine kidneys.


Fresh real whole food that you quickly make in 15 minutes or less each week may keep a dog’s kidneys at optimum functionality.

By adjusting the amount, type, and quality of protein your dog consumes, his health and longevity are both positively affected. I’m all about food without preservatives, dyes, or artificial ingredients. I am also not a kibble feeder for a variety of reasons.

Kibble is low in water content, and that can lead to dehydration. Kibble may increase the workload on a dog’s kidneys, especially if that dog has kidney disease. So kibble can actually make a dog’s kidney problems worse. It contains anti-caking, curing, drying, firming, oxidizing, reducing, pH control and surface active agents, not to mention synergists, texturizers, emulsifiers, humectants, and stabilizers to control the exact texture of the pellet. Bleh!

Kibble generally contains colors and preservatives, which need to be filtered out by the kidneys.

I went face-to-face with THE Dr. Harvey of Dr. Harvey’s Fine Food for Pets and asked about dietary needs for dogs with kidney problems.

One of the things to consider is the ratio of calcium to phosphorus in your dog’s diet. Dr. Harvey’s adds tricalcium phosphate, which is the most highly absorbable form of calcium, in all of their pre-mixes. There is whole food calcium in the green leafy veggies in those mixes, too. The phosphorus comes from the meat added in preparing the meal.

What we like about adding our protein is that you have control over this and the phosphorus amounts.

We aren’t alone. Keep reading for success stories of dogs who switched foods to Dr. Harvey’s and their kidney issues were rectified, managed, or eliminated in some cases. Here’s how to decide what food is best for your dog.

diet to keep dog kidney's healthy

Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean

You’ve probably heard that not brushing your dog’s teeth can lead to heart problems via bacteria from gums and teeth getting into the dog’s bloodstream.

When bacteria invade the kidneys, it damages glomerulus membranes, causing them to malfunction. Bacteria also can cause functional changes in the liver of dogs. Not only do bacteria get lodged in kidneys but the constant effort against bacteria creates an enormous amount of junk for the kidneys.

If your dog hates teeth brushing, don’t fret. Here are 10 Tips for Dogs Who Hate Teeth Brushing.

good oral care for dog kidney health

Avoid Chemicals In And On Your Dog

We hate fleas and ticks, but we hate the toxic chemicals to eliminate fleas and ticks even more. Here’s our reality: A topical chemical flea and tick preventative treatment burned the hair off my dog (it never grew back) and caused what I believe to be the beginning of her end.

Our rule of thumb is that if we cannot use the product, neither can our dog. Most chemical tick and flea preventatives instruct the user to wear gloves and/or wash hands thoroughly after application. That product is getting into the dog’s bloodstream via the skin.

Overvaccination may lead to kidney disease, thus aggravating the immune system. In turn, the kidneys come in to try and clean it up. Here’s what we use to keep fleas and ticks away without chemicals.

Blood and Urine Screening

We recommend your dog has bloodwork and a basic urinalysis every six months. The dog’s body ages faster, so it’s better to get ahead of a problem than behind it.

Blood tests should include a complete blood count, blood chemistry panel, and blood electrolytes.

At Home Urine Screening

Dip the Urine: Seriously, check your dog’s urine from home. I purchase the Urinalysis Test Strips that test for many different levels of things in my dog’s urine. If your dog battles urinary tract infections (UTI’s), these strips can be a lifesaver for detecting levels such as pH and blood in the urine in between vet visits. Collect the dog’s urine with a free catch in the morning when it is most concentrated, dip the stick in, wait for the time recommendations (2 minutes for most) and then compare against the colors on the bottle.

dog's kidneys urine test strips

Acute Renal Failure In Dogs

If your dog’s kidneys suddenly fail, as in over a few days, this is acute renal failure. Generally, toxins cause acute renal failure in the form of antifreeze, poisonous plants, rat poison, medications, or chemicals.

Get ready for a shocker: Repeated urinary tract infections may lead to kidney infections if left untreated or uncontrolled. Taking your dog out for frequent bathroom breaks means urine is excreted and not stored with all that nasty waste needing to come out.

Dehydration, heat stroke, and trauma can cause acute renal failure.

Another reason I monitor my dog’s urine at home every week is noted above. I want to see how his kidneys are functioning. Never hesitate if you suspect a kidney issue: seek immediate veterinary care.

Symptoms of Canine Kidney Disease

Early indicators of both acute and chronic renal failure are similar:

• Polydipsia (increased thirst)
• Polyuria (increased urination)
• Anorexia (decreased appetite/no appetite)
• Lethargy
• Nausea and vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Weight loss, especially in chronic kidney disease.

As the condition worsens, other signs include dehydration, high blood pressure, oliguria (decreased urine output), hematuria (blood in the urine, anemia, fluctuating body temperature, and even seizures.

Dogs can develop kidney stones, sometimes from a taurine deficiency. The causes of taurine deficiency are due to an inherited disease called cystinuria, which can lead to the formation of stones in the bladder, ureter or kidneys.

keep dog's kidneys healthy

Kidney Disease Treatment In Dogs

In addition to diet, which is monumental in controlling the disease, fluid therapy is essential in the form of intravenous fluid. I learned to administer IV fluids to my first Cocker Spaniel, called ‘subQ’ fluids, at home, from her veterinarian. Kidneys need fluid.

Under veterinary care, medications may be administered, including phosphate binders, antacids, antiemetics to control vomiting and nausea, and even ACE inhibitors to control blood pressure due to protein loss from the kidneys.

Vitamins and supplements may help. A whole-food supplement called Kidney Health by Dr. Harvey’s is an easy way to support a dog’s kidneys. You add it to your dog’s food based on their weight.

• Contains Rehmannia Root, a Chinese herb used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine that helps support kidney health by strengthening the kidneys, strengthening the adrenal glands, and tonifying the blood.
• Contains Organic Reishi, Organic Shiitake, Organic Poria and Organic Cordyceps. All edible medicinal fungi (mushrooms) that are strongly anti-inflammatory and tied to longevity, better immune function, and mental clarity.
• Contains Codonopsis, an herb that works to boost the immune system to increase the body’s general performance in ways that help the whole body to resist disease. Codonopsis is also supportive of the kidneys and the urinary function generally.
• Contains Organic Astragalus Root, a well-known adaptogen (a unique group of herbal ingredients used to improve the health of the adrenal system, the system in charge of managing the body’s hormonal response to stress) that helps reduce inflammation in kidney disease.

Always talk to your dog’s veterinarian, and you can also call and talk to Dr. Harvey about these products and what would work best for your dog’s kidney needs.

kidney health for dogs

Can A Dog Have A Kidney Replacement

Renal transplantation is tricky in dogs. According to the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia, “Dogs present a unique problem in veterinary transplantation. Because their immune system differs from cats and people, dogs tend to reject their kidneys very rapidly. Other complications, such as blood clots and infections after transplantation, are also more common.

Additionally, dogs tend to have protein-losing renal disease, which complicates long-term care and lessens the prognosis. To be considered for transplantation, the donor must be young, healthy, and related to the recipient. Additional tests will also be required to minimize the chance of rejection after surgery.”

Cats have been receiving kidney transplants since the mid-1980s, but the procedure is more complicated in dogs. The UC Davis program in California reports a 40 percent success rate for canine kidney transplant patients.

dog's kidney health

Cocker Spaniels and Familial Nephropathy

Cocker Spaniels, more so the English Cocker, is an inherited disease affecting young dogs between the ages of six months and two years old in most cases. Proving ultimately fatal, dogs are born with the inability to remove waste products from their blood as they normally would. This is because the kidney tubules are abnormal.

DNA testing is available to determine if your dog is a carrier of the gene, thus not a dog for breeding purposes. For example, Paw Prints Genetics has a panel of DNA tests recommended for Cocker Spaniels. We used the Embark DNA for our dog, and this was one of the screening tests included in the panel.

dog getting kidney exam

Canine Kidney Disease Life Expectancy

Many dogs with chronic kidney disease will flourish, and others are not as fortunate. Early detection and the changes noted above (diet, medications, etc.) are critical.

Dogs with kidney disease will need to urinate more, so if your dog is home alone all day or will be alone for a more extended period, please arrange for someone to take your dog outside for potty breaks more frequently. Dogs may urinate in the home, but remember, this is a medical condition so do not get angry with your dog. Blame the disease, not the dog.

Avoid foods with a high salt/sodium content as they can increase your dog’s blood pressure and worsen kidney damage. This includes, but is not limited to, products like cheese, bread, processed deli meats, and many commercial dog treats. Here are several dogs who have been helped by dietary changes from Dr. Harvey’s. 

The kidney is not a regenerative organ, so any destroyed units are not replaced. Treatment may slow the disease while preserving the remaining kidney cells. There is no cure for chronic kidney disease.

Washington State University Veterinary School says that The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) has developed a method to estimate the stages of CKD. Stages are numbered 1 through 4 where one is the least severe and four is the most severe. The higher the stage number also generally corresponds to the greater number of symptoms seen in the pet. Some treatments are recommended when the pet has a particular stage of CKD.

Research and Sources On Dogs With Kidney Issues—familial-nephropathy

If you are a member of our engaging Facebook group, Club Cocker, we’ve compiled search results on ‘kidney’ here. If you are not a member, join the club here.

If you found this article helpful or would like more information, please subscribe below to our twice-monthly newsletter to help your dog stay healthy and well!

Your Turn

Has your dog ever experienced kidney issues? Bark at us in the comment box below.

Disclosure: After using the line of Dr. Harvey’s products for well over 20 years, I asked them if I could become a brand ambassador since it made perfect sense. This is another commitment I make to you, our trusted readers, to be fully transparent and only share things we use and that have worked for us. They did not pay me to say this, but I do receive payment from them in exchange for my honest reviews of their products. They are not responsible for the content of this article.  This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, meaning if you click on a link above and then make a purchase, Fidose of Reality will receive a small commission with no extra cost to you. You help us keep the site up and running and in exchange, you get to shop for items you love. Wags!

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  1. We feed our dogs a super high quality dry food, and they drink a lot of water, so I think we’re good there. We also make sure they get routine dental check ups at the vet and cleanings whenever needed. Until our vet filled us in, we had no idea that bad teeth could lead to kidney damage.

  2. We had to put a great loving boy to sleep a couple of years ago due to renal failure. Poor guy. We tried what we could to make him comfortable. This is a great read and great advice.

  3. I’m glad there are some easy ways to help them out at home. I’d really want to monitor what I could to keep them on the right track.

  4. Love this post!
    Picked up a few great things to use, especially those 6-month blood tests.
    I do agree not to use the chemicals on dog’s skin that penetrates the bloodstream. It’s like skin care for humans.
    Thank you for a powerful info.

  5. Our old dog had kidney problems at the end. I always wondered if there really was a benefit to not feeding dogs kibble.

  6. There are lots of information here, glad I found this! I’ve got to share this to all the dog owners I know.

  7. Our dog has congenital kidney disease. Her life expectancy was 4 years. She is now 7 1/2 years old. We have carefully monitored her diet since we got her. She recently took a bad turn and began to vomit everything she ate or drank. She is on antacids now and is doing better. We know that this may be temporary so we are paying close attention so her quality of life is good for as long as possible.
    This article is valuable. Thank you.

  8. My 15 year old Cockapoo was recently diagnosed with stage 2 kidney disease. She was diagnosed with a heart murmur a little over a year ago. I recently started using Dr Harvey’s Canine Health, salmon oil pump and Coq10. Already the diarrhea she’s had for a year has cleared up. My question is about the Pimobendan and Theophylline that she’s been prescribed for heart and lungs. Re her lungs; my vet said she has developed a chronic bronchial condition that’s causing her to cough. Are these medications affecting her kidneys?

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