Low protein dog foods are not without controversy. At one time, they were prescribed for many types of organ diseases in dogs but now they are reserved for certain types of liver and kidney disease. Under the right circumstances, they play a vital role in supporting your dog’s kidney function.
If your vet has recommended that your pooch starts on a low protein diet, it can be difficult to know where to start. It is not just the protein content that you need to watch out for. The quality and source of the protein are also vital and you need to be careful about mineral content, especially phosphorous. To get you started, here is our guide to the best low protein dog food.
The Best Low Protein Dog Food
This low fat low protein dog food has a crude protein level of 19% and 8% fat. It is a high-quality kibble that is specially formulated for senior dogs so you can safely feed it to any dog over seven years of age. The protein is provided by a single meat source, which is lamb meal. To that is added ground rice as a lean source of carbohydrates so that your senior dog can maintain their energy levels. Barley and oatmeal provide enough fiber to keep their digestive system working efficiently.
It has plenty of added vitamins and minerals to maintain overall health and meets the nutritional standards specified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance. It has a delicious taste to tempt older dogs to eat.
19% protein content
8% fat content
Protein provided by lamb meal only
Carbohydrates provided by ground rice
- BrandNature’s Recipe
- Weight15 pounds
As the name implies, Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ is formulated for senior dogs and is delivered in a small kibble that older dogs will find easier to chew. It contains 19.6% protein and 14.9% fat. The protein content is provided by chicken meal. The carbohydrates include brown rice and cracked pearled barley.
L-carnitine is added to help your older dog maintain an ideal weight and a youthful energy. Omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E have been added to help their skin and coat. The formulation is also enriched with glucosamine and chondroitin to help their joints. It contains no artificial additives.
19.6% protein content
14.9% fat content
Protein provided by chicken meal
Carbohydrates provided by wholemeal rice and grains
Added nutrients targeted at senior dogs
- BrandHill’s Science Diet
- Weight33 pounds
The 20% protein content of this natural dog food is provided by Bison which is a lean meat, rich in amino acids and low in calories and fat compared to many other meat sources. For simplicity and safety, the formulation has a small number of ingredients. Carbohydrates are provided by sweet potatoes which are also rich in potassium and very easy to digest.
There are no artificial additives in this product but it is fortified with added nutrients to support digestive health, the immune system, joint health and to support healthy skin and a shiny coat. These include Omega 3, Omega 6, Docosahexaenoic Acid, Calcium and Phosphorus.
20 % protein content
10 % fat content
Protein provided by lean buffalo meat
Carbohydrate provided by sweet potatoes
- BrandNatural Balance
- Model26 pounds
There is 20% crude protein and 9% fat in this healthy kibble which has been developed by veterinarians and animal nutritionists. The protein is provided by deboned chicken and it contains no chicken or poultry by-products. It’s designed to make your dog feel full but on a limited number of calories so it controls weight gain in older dogs.
The kibbles are fortified with the manufacturer’s own blend of LifeSource Bits which are made from antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. These are processed at a lower temperature than the other ingredients so that they don’t degrade. The added glucosamine and chondroitin will help with joint mobility in senior dogs.
20% protein content
9% fat content
LifeSource Bits with added nutrients
Glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints
- BrandBlue Buffalo
- Weight30 pounds
The protein content of this special formula is particularly low at 13.0 % and the fat content is 14.5 %. This low protein dry dog food has been designed to support kidney function and is suitable for dogs with chronic kidney disease. Proteins can lead to a buildup of toxins in the kidney and so vets recommend a diet of low quantities of high quality protein for dogs with this condition. It is a low phosphorus dog food (0.4%) to prevent build-up in the kidneys.
There are added Omega-3 fatty acids to help control inflammation and reduce the blood pressure inside the kidney. The carefully formulated additives work to control the delicate biochemistry of the blood and the urine and support a dog that has chronic kidney disease. Potassium citrate will help to counteract metabolic acidosis and the low levels of calcium and vitamin D3 will promote a neutral pH of the urine.
13.0 % protein content
14.5 % fat content
Formulated to support blood biochemistry
Omega-3 fatty acids to control inflammation
- Weight6 pounds
A low protein wet dog food for dogs who suffer from intestinal problems. It is also low in fat and fiber. It is suitable for dogs with chronic intestinal conditions such as chronic diarrhea, acute and chronic pancreatitis, hyperlipidaemia and lymphangiectasia and should only be used under the supervision of a vet.
The protein content is just 6.00% and is provided by pork liver and pork meats. The fat content is also very low at 1.5% as is the fiber content at 1.50%. This helps to protect and support the digestive system. To further nourish the natural intestinal flora, hydrolyzed yeast, fructooligosaccharides and zeolite are also added.
Only 6% protein content
Only 1.5% fat content
Supports the canine digestive system
Added elements to nourish intestinal flora
- BrandRoyal Canin
- Weight7 ounces
The formulation of Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Urinary SO has been carefully put together for dogs who have or who are at risk of developing some form of lower urinary tract disease. The protein content is only 18% and is provided by dehydrated poultry. The fat content is 17%. Rice, maize flour and maize gluten provide the carbohydrates.
It helps to prevent a build-up of minerals in the urine and increases the volume of urine. As a result the concentration of the minerals that form kidney stones is reduced. There are also ingredients that will make your dog’s urine more acidic and this will prevent stones from building up.
For dogs with existing stones, there are compounds that dissolve struvite and help to eliminate the stones. Omega-3 fatty acids have been added to help your pooch fight infection and inflammation in the urinary tract. There are also very carefully controlled concentrations of magnesium and phosphorus to prevent a buildup of toxins in the kidney. This food should only be taken under supervision by a vet.
18% protein content
17% fat content
Formulated for dogs with urinary disease and stones
Increases volume of urine
- BrandRoyal Canin
- Weight6.61 pounds
The aim of this dog food is for your pooch to be able to enjoy their food and feel full afterwards but not be in danger of putting on weight. It contains 23% protein and 10 % fat. It is specifically formulated for dogs who need help with weight management and contains only high-quality meat protein sources. The main constituents of the food are chicken, lamb and salmon. Added to this are no fewer than 15 superfoods including chia, kale, blueberries and vine-grown tomatoes.
Carbohydrates are provided by brown rice and wholegrain oats and there are added vitamins, minerals and omega acids. It is aimed at adult dogs who need help with weight management. It is a low protein grain free dog food and is suitable for most dogs with food allergies as it contains no chicken by-product meal, no corn, no soy and no wheat. There are no artificial additives.
23% protein content
10 % fat content
Packed with 15 superfoods including kale
No corn, soy or wheat
- Weight30 pounds
A low protein (6.8%) and low phosphorus (0.1%) treat for dogs that have kidney disease. This is not a complete food, it’s just a healthy treat for your pooch to enjoy when they have been good. The treats have no meat content. They are also low in fat (2.2%) and contain Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils which are great for their skin and their coat. They contain no wheat, soy or corn and therefore safe for dogs who are allergic to these grains.
They have a delicious pumpkin and cinnamon flavor and are meant as a complement to the diet prescribed by your vet. A percentage of the value of the sale will be donated towards canine kidney disease research to help prevent further dogs developing the problem in the future.
6.8% protein content
Low phosphorus content
Formulated for dogs with kidney disease
Contains no wheat, soy or corn
- BrandMattie’s Treats
Designed for large breed dogs, this Canidae recipe is suitable for all life stages and contains 23% protein and 13% fat. The high-quality protein is obtained from turkey meal with carbohydrates derived from peas, brown rice, oatmeal, millet and rice bran. Calcium and phosphorous proportions are optimized to support the bones and joints of larger dogs. It is a low protein puppy food and is also suitable for older dogs.
Probiotics have been added to promote a healthy digestive system and there is added omega 6 and omega 3 for healthy skin and a healthy coat. The recipe is fortified with antioxidants but there is no chicken by-product meal and no wheat, corn or soy. It’s suitable for adult, puppy and senior dogs.
23% protein content
13% fat content
Contains peas, brown rice, oatmeal
- Weight30.3 pounds
Best Low Protein Dog Food Buying Guide & FAQ
What to Consider When Buying a Low Protein Dog Food
You will not have any problems finding a low protein dog food because there are plenty out there. These are some of the things that you should consider before making a purchase:
- Veterinary recommendation
This is the most important consideration. Not all dogs with kidney disease need a low protein diet. Your vet will be able to determine the type and stage of kidney disease that your pooch has and recommend an appropriate food.
- The protein content
A low protein dog food has less than 20% protein. Some have much less than this but it is important that it contains enough protein for your dog’s body to work properly.
- The protein source
Some protein sources are better than others! For dogs with kidney disease, the source of the protein is essential. Animal by-products and organ meat and are not ideal. Lean muscle meat is the best option.
- Free from allergens
Some dogs are allergic to certain ingredients in food and wheat, soy and corn are the usual culprits. You may want to avoid these.
A dog’s digestive tract needs a healthy mix of friendly bacteria. Some foods have added probiotics to aid digestion.
- Fatty acids
Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids help the body to cope with inflammation.
Phosphorous plays an important role in kidney disease. Look for a food that is low in phosphorous.
- Added nutrients
For older dogs in particular, added nutrients such as glucosamine and chondroitin can help to maintain joint mobility.
What Dog Conditions Require a Low Protein Diet?
You should always talk to your vet about your dog’s chronic health condition and how they can be best supported by transitioning to one of the top 10 low protein foods for dogs. Any dietary changes must be carried out gradually and under the supervision of your vet. Here are some chronic health conditions that may benefit from a change to a low protein diet.
- Severe Liver Disease With Protein Intolerance
Some liver disease progresses to such a serious stage that your dog is essentially suffering from liver failure. The main job of the liver is to filter toxins out of the blood and it has an important role in controlling the entire metabolism. Very advanced liver disease can lead to a condition called ‘hepatic encephalopathy’ where your dog walks around as if they are drunk and look quite spaced out all the time!
In a healthy dog, the liver breaks down protein into small molecules called amino acids and separates out the nitrogen that they contain. The nitrogen is held as part of an ammonia molecule and this is eventually passed out of the body as a waste product in the urine. During liver failure, the organ can’t do this job and the ammonia stays in the bloodstream. It, and other toxins, build up and cause issues within the brain. This causes the neurological symptoms.
By reducing the total amount of protein in the diet, the concentration of ammonia in the blood will be reduced. However, the disease has to be very advanced before a low protein diet will help.
- Excess Copper in the Liver
Some liver disease is caused by a build-up of copper because the liver is unable to get rid of this mineral. This condition is most prevalent in certain breeds such as Bedlington Terriers. It can lead to damage and death of liver cells and liver failure. To support your dog, you need a low copper diet. Red meats and organ meats such as liver contain a lot of copper. Therefore, a low protein diet made with chicken or fish as the base ingredient is the best option for your pooch.
- Kidney Disease
The kidneys are the organ that filter toxins out of the bloodstream and excrete them out of the body in the form of urea which is dissolved in urine. Dogs with chronic kidney disease are not able to do that. The toxins build up in the bloodstream and make the dog feel unwell.
When the body metabolizes (breaks down and uses) protein, a lot of toxins are released into the bloodstream. A low protein diet, therefore, reduces the levels of toxin in the blood and makes your dog feel better.
- Urate Bladder Stones
The medical term for bladder stones is uroliths or cystic calculi. They are tiny balls of minerals that form in the bladder. Some are the same size as a grain of sand and others are as large as a piece of gravel. They can occur as single stones or as clusters. They are associated with a genetic abnormality that affects how the body breaks down uric acid.
Bladder stones are fairly common in dogs but urate stones only make up 5% of all bladder stones. The breeds that get them most often are Dalmatians, English bulldogs, Black Russian terriers and male Dalmatians. Symptoms are similar to a urinary tract infection.
Purines are one of the building blocks of urate stones and purine is delivered by the protein in the diet. Therefore, diets that are low in proteins reduce the likelihood of crystals forming. They also make the urine more dilute and less acidic and this also inhibits the formation of urate bladder stones.
- Large Breeds
All pups grow quickly but large breed pups can grow extremely quickly. If their bones grow too quickly, they will be less dense and prone to fractures.
The protein content of their food is critical. Whilst it’s true that large breed pups need more protein than adult dogs, too much can result in an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus and this can damage bone and joint development. It’s important that their food contains a high-quality source of protein.
Benefits of Low Protein Dog Food
A low protein diet for dogs is often prescribed by vets to help tackle chronic health conditions. Here are some of the benefits.
- Reduces the strain on the liver
Dogs with severe liver disease cannot tolerate high levels of protein. Their liver is not able to break down protein in the way that it used to. Ammonia builds up in the bloodstream. Low protein foods reduce the concentration of ammonia in the blood.
- Reduces copper levels in the blood
Red meats and organ meats contain a lot of copper. In dogs with some types of liver disease, this can build up in the blood and cause damage. In general, a low protein diet is also a low copper diet.
- Reduces the strain on the kidneys
The metabolism of protein produces toxins which the kidney has to filter out of the blood and excrete. Low protein diets result in fewer toxins and less work for kidneys to do.
- Reduces the concentration of purines
High levels of purines can lead to bladder stones. Low protein dog food delivers fewer purines and makes stones less likely. Also, the food makes a dog’s urine less acidic and more dilute which is also helpful for controlling kidney stones.
- Growth control
It can be dangerous for large breed pups to grow too quickly because it can result in weak bones. If the protein content of their diet is reduced a little it will result in more steady growth.
Homemade Low Protein Dog Food
Commercially prepared low protein dog food recipes have been very carefully formulated by experts in animal health and nutrition. As well as balancing the content of the major nutrition groups (proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fiber), they have very carefully controlled levels of phosphorous which can play a crucial role in kidney function.
The decision to make your own low protein dog food is a big one. It will take a lot of planning, research and commitment on your part and should only ever be attempted under the close supervision of your vet.
Start by Removing Foods
It may be sufficient for you to remove the following from your dog’s diet. Try to eliminate:
- Wheat gluten
This is found in some dry foods and treats. Stop feeding them your own bread and pasta.
- Cooked meat
Stop feeding them your own cooked scraps.
Switch to low protein treats or use your own fresh vegetable alternatives. Treats do not have to contain meat.
What to Include
Low protein homemade dog food should contain a very high-quality meat protein. Organ meats like the liver and spleen are very high in phosphorous and so best avoided. Low protein dog food recipes often include chicken. Add in some high quality and easy to digest carbohydrates such as pumpkin and sweet potato. Fish oils provide valuable omega acids to help control inflammation.
It is essential that your dog drinks plenty of water to help their kidney function.
Best Low Protein Dog Food FAQ:
Q: Does a high protein diet cause kidney disease?
A: The issue of protein in a healthy dog’s diet is a contentious one. There has been a body of opinion that claimed that a high protein diet could damage the kidneys. It was thought that the canine kidneys became overloaded with toxins as the body struggled to break down all of the protein in the diet. However, that opinion was based on research carried out on laboratory rats and not on dogs. Over time, experts have questioned the validity of the research.
In nature, wild dogs live on a diet that is rich in protein so you would expect a dog’s body to be able to cope with this nutrient with no problems. It is now thought that a healthy adult dog can cope with diets that contain up to 30% protein.
It is important to remember that every dog is different. Speak to your vet about the best diet for your own dog given their breed, age, lifestyle and any chronic health conditions that they may have.
Q: What percentage is low protein dog food?
A: Under normal circumstances, dogs thrive on a high protein diet. So much so that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has stated that an adult dog’s diet should be made up of at least 18 % protein when calculated on a dry matter basis.
Most commercial dog food that you buy in the shops or online, will have around 25 % protein content. You can expect a low protein dog food to half that figure at least.
Q: What dog food has low phosphorus?
A: Prescription dog food diets that have been specifically formulated for dogs with kidney and liver disease will have low levels of phosphorous. This will have been carefully balanced with the content of other minerals and with the low protein content.
It is now thought that the levels of phosphorous are just as important for supporting failing kidneys as the protein content.
Q: Are eggs high in phosphorus?
A: Phosphorus is an important mineral but in dogs with kidney problems it can get in the way of their kidneys eliminating toxins. The phosphorous and protein content of their food must be carefully balanced. Protein is high in phosphorous and so low protein food may also be low in phosphorous.
Eggs are a source of very high-quality protein but the yolk in particular is very high in phosphorous. One large egg contains 125 milligrams of phosphorus. Speak to your vet before you feed your dog eggs, especially if they have kidney or liver disease.
Q: Should senior dogs eat less protein?
A: For years it was thought that senior dogs should have reduced levels of protein in their diet so that their kidneys did not have to do a lot of work. That is no longer the case. The current advice from the American Kennel Club is that protein is important for older dogs because they tend to lose muscle mass.
Protein is stored in muscle and this equals a loss of protein reserves. When they need to repair damaged tissue, they may not have enough protein to do so. Therefore, they need plenty of high-quality protein in their diet.
Our Top Pick
Nature’S Recipe Senior Dry Dog Food
A high-quality kibble with a crude protein level of 19%. It is suitable for any dog over seven years of age. Lamb meal is the source of protein and the carbohydrate content is provided by ground rice. The barley and oatmeal content provide fiber to help digestion.
The formulation has a carefully controlled vitamin and mineral content so that it fully meets standards laid down by the Association of American Feed Control Officials Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for maintenance.