This study examines the effect of nanoparticles with zinc oxides (ZnONPs) on diabetic nephropathy, which is the primary cause of mortality for diabetic patients with end‐stage renal disease. Diabetes in adult male rats was induced via intraperitoneal injection of streptozotocin. ZnONPs were intraperitoneally administered to diabetic rats daily for 7 weeks. Diabetes was associated with increases in blood glucose level, 24‐h urinary albumin excretion rate, glomerular basement membrane thickness, renal oxidative stress markers, and renal mRNA or protein expression of transforming growth factor‐β1, fibronectin, collagen‐IV, tumour necrosis factor‐α and vascular endothelial growth factor‐A. Moreover, the expression of nephrin and podocin, and the mRNA expression of matrix metalloproteinase‐9 were decreased in the diabetic group. These changes were not detected in the control group and were significantly prevented by ZnONP treatment. These results provide evidence that ZnONPs ameliorate the renal damage induced in a diabetic rat model of nephropathy through improving renal functionality; inhibiting renal fibrosis, oxidative stress, inflammation and abnormal angiogenesis; and delaying the development of podocyte injury. The present findings may help design the clinical application of ZnONPs for protection against the development of diabetic nephropathy.