Dealing with your Dog’s Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic Kidney Failure illustration

Molly is 14 years old, and like many geriatric dogs, her kidneys have stopped functioning as well as they should. Having worked at a healthy pet boutique, I know that chronic kidney failure is extremely common, and many people seek out good-quality foods and natural supplements that will help (unfortunately, the prescription foods most vets sell don’t fit the bill). I am not a vet and this isn’t a replacement for medical advice, but I want to help pet parents dealing with this diagnosis move forward.

Kuranda Orthopedic Bed

Chronic Kidney Failure in Dogs

First, an overview of what we’re dealing with. The kidneys are the body’s filters. They remove wastes from blood and regulate chemical levels. When the kidneys begin to fail, wastes and chemicals begin to build up. Even chemicals like phosphorous your dog needs can build up to unhealthy levels.¹ For most senior dogs kidney failure is not something you can hope to cure, only slow down the process to prolong their life.

Kidney Failure Symptoms²

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Urinating during the night
  • Bloody urine
  • Anemia
  • Fluid retention in limbs and abdomen

Molly’s main symptoms were increased thirst and increased urination. She was also dealing with urinary tract infections but when her symptoms didn’t improve when the infections cleared up, we had blood work done that showed probable kidney failure. The two things they look for are increased BUN and creatinine levels, which measure the level of waste products in your dog’s bloodstream.¹

Senior Australian Shepherd Mix

Treating Chronic Kidney Failure

Molly isn’t on any medications specifically for her kidneys, and from my understanding there is no medicinal treatment for the kidney failure itself. Medications may be prescribed for the symptoms, however. We have discussed trying a medication for Molly’s incontinence for example. The main treatment will be in the form of diet and lifestyle changes as laid out below.

Living with Chronic Kidney Failure

The most important factor in living with kidney failure is a change in diet and good hydration. If your dog is on kibble, they will need to switch to canned (or fresh) foods in order to increase moisture. Also making sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times. You may be tempted to restrict water because of frequent urination but that can lead to serious complications.²

The old wisdom seemed to be to reduce protein as much as possible, but while doing research years ago to help my customers, I found a lot of information that moderate amounts of a good protein was preferable along with greatly reducing phosphorous. Unfortunately, the prescription diets the vet sells usually decrease the protein in their foods to almost nothing, creating a mostly rice diet with meat by-products for protein. I won’t call out any brands here specifically, but if you look up some ingredient labels you’ll see what I mean.They’re pretty gross, unpalatable and expensive.

Dave's Restricted Protein Phosphorous kidney dog food
image source: Dave’s Pet Food

Luckily, there are better options. Dave’s Pet Food is a brand I’ve been a fan of for years. They offer great quality at an affordable price point. And they make a food specifically for kidneys, Dave’s Restricted Protein and Phosphorous  that is grain-free and made with quality ingredients. And, at about $2.50 per can, cheaper than the lower quality prescription options. (While I do work with Chewy as an influencer this link is not an affiliate link and I purchase this food myself) I’d recommended this food for countless customers, so when I got Molly’s diagnosis I immediately ordered it for her.

After 6 weeks on Dave’s Restricted Molly’s blood work had improved. Her creatinine level went from 2.8 to 2.3 which is still slightly high, but her BUN level went from 61 to 26, which is within the normal range!

Another step I will be adding is a probiotic to help her body remove excess phosphorous and other waste products.¹ Hopefully that can get her blood levels to an event better level.


While chronic kidney failure has no cure, it isn’t an immediate death sentence. It’s serious to be sure, but manageable. The earlier it’s caught, the better the outcome. At 14, I don’t harbor any illusions that I have many years left with Molly, but I know that with these changes and treatments I can extend her life as much as possible. If you have a dog with kidney failure, please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for me and Molly!

Rescue Dog 13th Birthday Party
Molly’s 13th Birthday