Is a Low Protein Diet for Dogs Needed? Here’s What You Should Know

Your dog may need low protein dog food when he is suffering from some stress, medication condition, or after surgery

What is Low Protein Food/Diet?

Using terms like low or high can be somewhat confusing and irritating in pet nutrition. Healthy adult dogs (over 12 months of age) need a low protein dog food with a minimum of 3.5- 4.5 grams of protein for every 100 calories they eat.

Beyond this minimum requirement, there is no actual definition or consensus of what exactly a ‘high’ or low’ protein food is. Each veterinarian, trainer, or pet nutritionist might have different ranges for what they consider acceptable in each category.

It’s essential to clarify the actual amount of low protein dog food recommended by the world’s best veterinarians in research or recommendations so the dog owner and dog alike may benefit from low the advantages of a low protein dog food.

What Are the Benefits of Low Protein Dog Food?

A low protein and low phosphorous dog food is commonly recommended for dogs suffering from kidney disease. Ultimately, this low protein diet can prevent the progression of kidney disease and helps support a better quality of life for your dog.

A Low Protein Diet Doesn’t Mean Low Calories

Sometimes these terms are confused because some feel that a low protein diet equals fewer calories, but this is not the case. It really all comes down to the dog food recipe because a low protein diet can still contain the exact number of calories your dog needs.

Since the liver and kidneys metabolize protein, you can ensure the organs don’t have to work as hard by reducing the amount of protein in your dog’s diet. Many of the medical conditions that would ultimately lead to a low protein diet for your dog are chronic conditions, so the diet will become permanent.

While a low protein diet can significantly help dogs with medical conditions, it isn’t always recommended for a senior dog. A healthy senior dog actually requires more protein, not less. The protein is needed to fuel their muscles. The loss of muscle mass is a big problem for an older dog and can lead to difficulty walking while unassisted.

Here are a few examples of some of the best dog food options:

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Canine Renal Support

Royal Canin

Royal Canin Veterinary Diet is a savory dry dog food that can help stimulate your pet’s appetite and encourage them to eat. It is a highly palatable and energy-dense formula that helps promote kidney function with antioxidants, fatty acids from fish oil, low phosphorous, and targeted protein levels.

Royal Canin has been specially formulated to care for the kidney health of an adult dog who is under veterinarian supervision. This dry dog food can be mixed with other Royal Canin renal support formulas, so you and your vet can find the right combination of nutritional support for your dog.

Hills Prescription Diet Kidney Care Dog Food

Kidney Care

Hills Prescription Diet kidney care dry dog food was specially formulated by nutritionists and veterinarians to support your dog’s joint and kidney health. It has been clinically proven to improve mobility and lengthen the quality of life for your dog. It contains controlled phosphorous and low sodium and has been enriched with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, alongside beneficial levels of omega 3 fatty acids.

When Is a Low Protein Diet for Dogs Necessary?

A recent study suggests that your canine friends will be much happier if kept on a low protein diet. In general, your dog may need low protein dog food when suffering from stress and certain medical conditions. Additionally, they may benefit from a low protein dog food when they are engaged in POC (Post Operative Care) or suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Healthy animals excrete uremic toxins in their urine. The ratio of these toxins may increase when a dog has malfunctioning kidneys due to a continuous high protein diet. Digesting protein may create potent toxins, so you must keep the toxins at minimal levels by restricting the protein in your dog’s food.

Other medical conditions that may require your dog to be put on a low protein diet include kidney disease, liver disease, and bladder stones. A low protein diet can also help prevent your dog from losing the protein he is already ingesting. Limiting protein in the diet can limit the amount of protein lost by the kidneys.

Always use low protein dog food. Following a low protein diet allows the dog’s body and organs to work less.

What is the Safe Protein Level to Feed to Your Dogs?

So long as the food and diets are nutritionally complete and balanced for your pet, ideally having low protein dog food (3.5-4.5 grams of protein in every 100 calories), they always remain at the safe level.

There is also no predefined safe upper limit for protein because every dog breed/species has different protein requirements according to age, environment, temperament, etc.

As a general rule of thumb, low protein dog food is ideal among all age groups and all breeds due to zero side effects. But you must consult your veterinarian about diet changes, significantly if your pet is growing, pregnant, lactating, or has any medical conditions.

Protein Ratio in Low-Protein Dog Food:

The amount of protein generally present in a “low-protein” diet can vary but range around 11% to 16%, though they can be higher depending on the dog feed recipe, protein quality, and protein amount.

Many commercial low protein dog foods will not have the same protein percentages as you want in prescription, recommended by your veterinarian, though they will tend to be in the 11-15% range.

What Health Issues Require a Low Protein Dog Diet?

Your vet may prescribe low protein dog food for many reasons. Low protein foods should be given to dogs with serious health issues, especially those with medical conditions that affect the kidneys or liver.

Even though many people think they should switch to a low protein dog food as their dog ages, this is not necessarily true. A senior dog doesn’t necessarily require this kind of diet.

Health issues that may require a low protein diet include:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Stress condition
  • Aged dogs
  • Glomerulonephritis
  • Liver shunt
  • Hepatic encephalopathy
  • Lyme-disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Other inflammatory kidney diseases
  • Prevention of lethal urinary stones

Commercial and homemade Low-Protein dog food comparison:

Some pet owners prefer to feed their dog a homemade low protein diet, but most pets do not like it. This can be due to the palatability of the food. The best option to go for is a commercial low protein dog food that contains all the necessary ingredients your dog needs, along with some flavor and additives that give extra taste and palatability.

If you prefer to use homemade low protein dog food, always discuss your homemade low protein dog food recipes with your veterinarian. You must be sure you’re feeding your dog the right amount of protein, fiber, and fat. If necessary, the vet may also recommend vitamins and other supplements in addition to their low protein diet.

So, what should consumers look for in a low protein dog food?

Primary Composition Commercial or Homemade Low Protein Dog Food:

It’s best to have your veterinarian work out the proper nutritional needs of your dog so you can provide the correct combination of ingredients. The composition of a high-quality protein food includes:

  • Moderate to high amounts of fats.
  • Meager amounts of phosphorus.
  • Moderate amounts of low-phosphorus carbs
  • Plenty of broth, water, juice, and other liquids to keep your dog hydrated
  • Moderate amounts of very high-quality protein

Your dog needs one-third total protein calories, one-fourth total fat calories,  and almost one-third total carbohydrates. Additionally, find a low protein dog food made with high-quality, whole-food ingredients. Avoid anything loaded with fillers because it won’t provide your dog with the proper nutrition he needs.

Avoid These ingredients Low Protein Dog Food:

There are many ingredients you should avoid when making homemade dog food or when purchasing commercial dog food. For example, polyunsaturated vegetable oils can be terrible for your furry friend’s health. Instead, it’s suggested to use fish oil, which is helpful for chronic renal disease and kidney failure.

Examples of ingredients to avoid include:

  • Soy. Most soy is genetically modified and contains toxic glyphosate that can cause cancer and leaky gut. Soy can also lead to other health problems, including hypothyroidism, allergies, and seizures.
  • Corn. Dogs cannot properly process corn. Instead, it can attack the sugar-controlling functions of your dog’s liver and pancreas. This can lead to dog obesity, pancreatitis, diabetes, and liver disease.
  • Cod liver oil. Some use cod liver oil to supplement EPA and DHA levels; however, this is not veterinarian recommended. The omega 3 fatty acid in cod liver oil can be especially harmful to a dog diagnosed with specific gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Flaxseed. When used in large doses, flaxseed can prove toxic for dogs. It contains low levels of cyanide and may not be readily converted into an active form of EPA and DHA in your pet.
  • Sunflower. This is high in omega 6 and needs to be taken in proper proportions to omega 3 fatty acid. If your dog receives the wrong ratio, his immune system can be negatively impacted.
  • Phosphorus. This can be very lethal to your dog when he has chronic renal failure, so it’s essential to regulate the amount your dog consumes. Phosphorus is found in bones, cheese, bone-in fish, egg yolks, and organ meat.

Dog Behavior & Low Protein Diets

What does modern research say about the link between low protein dog food and dog behavior?

Although certain amino acids taken from specific proteins in high protein dog foods have been found to modify the synthesis of neurotransmitters (chemical ‘signals’) in the brain, neurotransmitter release, and behavior can also be influenced by training routine changes.

So, to avoid aggression and neurological disorders in your pets, you must use low protein dog food. Another study found that owner-directed aggression was the only dog behavior affected when dogs were fed a higher protein diet.

More research is needed to fully recognize the potential behavioral impacts of various protein content and dog food ratio (and the total protein content and every amino acid composition). Given the limited number of studies currently available, low protein dog food provides maximum potential benefits to your dogs.

What Can You Do in Addition to a Low Protein Diet for Dogs?

In addition to introducing your dog to a low protein diet, there are certain things to look for when finding a high-quality protein dog food.

  • Look for Highly Digestible Protein Sources – When you limit the amount of protein in your dog’s diet, you want to ensure that the little protein they get is a high-quality protein. The food you choose should have all the essential amino acids your dog needs and should be highly digestible.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acid, DHA, and EPA – Only give your dog food with high-quality Omega 3 fatty acid sources. These fatty acids are commonly found in fish oils and have anti-inflammatory properties to help support kidney disease.
  • B Vitamins – A dog suffering from kidney disease will urinate more than a healthy dog. This results in the loss of water-soluble vitamins. Your low protein diet dog food should be supplemented with B vitamins.
  • Antioxidants – Another contributing factor to kidney disease is oxidation or free radical damage. Supplementing your dog’s low protein diet with Vitamins C and E can help slow the progression of kidney disease.
  • Prescription Diet Dog Food – When choosing the right food for your dog, there are many choices, including homemade low phosphorous dog food or prescription diet food. Your veterinarian can help you make the right choice for your dog.

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