Low-Protein & Low-Phosphorus Diets for Dogs

For years, the standard approach by veterinarians to manage kidney disease and kidney failure in dogs has been to prescribe a low-protein diet. Recent research, however, reveals older dogs may require more protein. The management of phosphorous levels provides better support than reduced protein for the dog experiencing renal issues. Luckily, many commercial dog food manufacturers provide specialty formulas that minimize protein and phosphorous levels while providing good overall nutrition.

Cute little girl feeding her puppy
Little girl watching a puppy eat.
credit: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images

Find the Best Protein

Not all proteins are created equal. Your dog needs high biologic value proteins, meaning he can digest and absorb them easily. The proteins contain all necessary amino acids to ensure the development and maintenance of good muscle growth. Eggs are the best high biologic value protein, as are lean meats derived from organ or muscle tissue. If your dog food label lists meat byproducts, soy or corn as the primary protein source, they are not providing quality proteins. As for protein content, a low-protein diet typically contains about 16 percent protein, compared to a normal protein content of 22 percent or more. Proteins also provide dietary phosphorous, which works in conjunction with calcium to support bone health.

Get Accurate Phosphorous Measurements

Most commercial dog food labels display the minimum phosphorous level of the food, not the maximum levels the food could contain. Dogs eating a restricted calorie diet that contains lower "as fed" phosphorous levels may consume more food than a higher calorie, higher phosphorous food. That means your dog actually could consume more phosphorous if his meals are not closely measured and monitored. The best way to measure phosphorous in your dog's diet is to determine the number of milligrams of phosphorous per 100 kilocalories on a dry weight basis. Since most dog food labels don't contain this information, you may need to contact the dog food manufacturer to obtain an accurate dietary comparison. Ideally, an adult dog should receive a diet containing 0.5 percent phosphorous, which translates to 140 mg per 100 kilocalories. No dog should receive more than 1.6 percent phosphorous in his diet, which would be more than 400 milligrams per 100 kilocalories.

Good Commercial Foods

Most commercially prepared dog foods take into account the amount of nutrition your dog requires to ensure proper organ function and good health when formulating low-protein, low-phosphorous dog foods. Based upon information supplied by the manufacturers, Hills K/D (Kidney Diet) contains 0.24 percent phosphorous and 14.9 percent protein, the lowest of any commercially prepared dog food. As a comparison, the recommended level of phosphorous intake for a healthy adult dog, as published by the Association of American Feed Control Officials is 0.5 percent, with a maximum level of 1.6 percent. Other commercial foods falling within ranges considered to be low-protein and low-fat include Diamond Low Fat/Senior, Science Diet Senior, Nutro Max Weight Control Formula and Nature's Recipe Lamb Meal and Rice.

Consult Your Veterinarian

Prior to changing your dog's diet to one containing low protein and low phosphorous levels, make sure you consult with your veterinarian. Together, you and your dog's vet can develop a strategy that will ensure your dog's diet meets all of his nutritional requirements, provides the best nutritional support for any medical issues he may have, and provide for optimal quality of life.