Low Protein Diet for Dogs: The Ultimate Guide

Once the vet informs you that you need to change your dog’s diet to be low protein, the questions start popping up: what is a low protein food, where can you buy it, will your dog like it, how low in protein the diet should be and more. Here’s everything you should know about low protein diet for dogs.

When Dogs Need Low Protein Diet?

It is not up to you to decide whether your dog needs a low protein diet. If done improperly, decreasing protein intake can do a lot of harm to your dog. Switch your dog to a low protein diet only if your vet prescribes it.

Low protein diet for dogs is often recommended when pets have a medical condition which affects the functions of their liver or kidneys, or if they have a particular type of bladder stones. Studies have shown this type of diet to improve the condition, make dogs feel less lethargic and even extend lifespan in terminally ill dogs (1, 2).

Liver and kidneys contribute to metabolizing proteins in the dog’s body. When either of these organs are already under significant strain due to some other dysfunction (e.g. liver disease, kidney disease), decreasing the amount of protein they need to process will prevent further complications, such as kidney failure (3).

This diet change may be permanent, especially if your pet has a chronic kidney or chronic liver illness. It may also be temporary, such as in the case of bladder stones. With the latter, you’ll switch away from low protein diet and back to a normal diet when your dog gets rid of the stones (4, 5).

Research has shown that feeding low protein dog food diet can lead to losing less protein through kidneys that have some kind of dysfunction (6). Therefore, in these particular cases only, less protein in the diet can paradoxically mean more protein supplied to your dog’s body (7).

What Are the Side Effects of a Low Protein Diet?

Never decrease your dog’s protein intake by yourself. While a low protein diet for dogs can be very useful in certain cases, this dietary change needs to be taken extremely seriously and approached with caution.

Only a veterinarian can recommend your dog this type of diet and they will give you the necessary advice on how to stick to it, specific timeline, and even prescribe the appropriate food for your dog.

Low protein diet can have side effects such as losing weight and muscle mass, vitamin deficiency and malnutrition – all of which leads to further health problems (8). If you choose to feed your dog low protein diet on your own, you risk disregarding the other important  nutrients which need to be compensated for. This is why only a vet or canine nutritionist can design a low protein diet for your individual dog.

Low protein diets are also known to weaken dog’s immune system, cause “mood swings,” exhaustion, muscle trembling and melancholy. These symptoms will be worse in the dogs that don’t actually need to be put on a low protein diet.

How Low in Protein Can a Low Protein Diet for Dogs Be?

If you look, you will find several low protein dog food brands available for purchase. However, not every low protein dog food brand will fit your pet’s requirements. In order to understand the vet’s recommendation, you need to know how much protein your dog consumes on a daily basis.

Look at the dog food label. The protein content is expressed in percentages on a dry matter basis. Recommended protein intake for an adult dog should be 18%, and for a puppy this number is 28%. Working and athletic dogs should consume about 25% of protein, while lactating dogs will need 28%.

Regular dog foods which you normally buy will contain around 20-25% of protein. Low protein dog foods will vary in percentage, but the amount will usually be halved.

Type/Growth Stage Protein % Fat %
Puppy 28% 17%
Adult dog 18% 9-15%
Performance dog 25% 20%
Racing sled dog 35% 50%
Lactating dog 28% 17%

What Should You Feed Your Dog on a Low Protein Diet?

You have three options to agree with your veterinarian on in terms of the new diet:

  1. Buy prescription dog food brand for a specific health condition (very expensive)
  2. Make low protein homemade dog food meals (somewhat expensive)
  3. Buy regular dog food brands that are lower in protein (average priced)

The first option can be the easiest and most appropriate. Your veterinarian simply prescribes a very specific dog food brand that’s been designed for the exact health issue that your dog has. You’ll need that prescription to buy the food, which can sometimes be purchased at the vet’s clinic. Prescription foods are the most expensive on the market, and they’re also harder to find.

The second option is less expensive than prescription foods, but it’s time-consuming. You need to design each meal with specific ingredients your dog requires while at the same time avoiding protein-rich foods. You need to be extremely precise and follow instructions for a tee. Every homemade low protein dog food recipe needs to be approved by your vet.

The third option is simply buying dog food from pet stores or online the way you normally do, except you’ll need to pick among foods labeled as “Low Protein.” While this is the least expensive and time-consuming option among the three, it’s not always possible to find the kind of low protein dog food that fits your pet’s current requirements. Ask your vet which “regular” dog food brands they believe can be a good fit for your pooch.

Note: Make sure that you’re veterinarian doesn’t push for prescription dog foods only without explanation. There is no reason you cannot feed a dog homemade diet as long as every recipe has been approved by the vet and you stay precise with ingredients. Always confirm whether you can buy a “regular” dog food brand instead of prescription foods, and if the veterinarian says it’s not an option, ask them to explain why that is the case.

How to Make Low Protein Homemade Dog Food Meals

You can follow a low protein diet for dogs with homemade recipes as long as your vet has approved them (here’s an example recipe). Before you decide to do that, it’s crucial you understand the intricacies of such a dietary approach.

Low Protein Homemade Dog Food Recipe

First, keep in mind is that all proteins are not the same. They are ranked based on the dog’s body’s ability to utilize a specific protein source (9). This is the part that’s vital to dogs on a low protein diet. A protein’s “quality” is referred to as biological value.

Chicken Eggs have the highest biological value for protein (94/100 BV) among the foods that dogs can eat. Thus, eggs present the point of reference for all other types of foods to be compared to, and it’s the most common ingredient in low protein diet for dogs (10).

Below are the rest of foods ranked from highest BV for protein:

Buckwheat: 90 BV
Cow’s milk: 90 BV
Cheese: 84 BV
Quinoa: 83 BV
Rice: 83 BV
Fish: 76 BV
Beef: 74.3 BV

Eggs, fish, red meat and poultry protein are good quality sources with decent BV (11). For a homemade low protein diet for dogs, you need to account for this to accommodate your dog’s needs.

While soy and corn are also rich in usable protein, they should be avoided as they aren’t necessarily the best food items for a canine. When you’re designing your pup’s meals, you should always try to hit as many birds with as few stones, so seek out foods with a specific protein amount and BV, and those that are also saturated with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

Additionally, how much protein your dog needs will also depend on their breed, daily life, habits, health history and age, as well as the exact health issue they’re currently dealing with. This is why it’s important for a low protein diet to be tailor-made by your vet and worked out specifically for your individual pet.

Best Low Protein Dog Food Brands

The below are some of the best low protein dog food brands you can buy instead of prescription dog food or homemade meals. However, you need to be certain that the percentage of protein dry matter basis fits the needs of your individual dog – ask your veterinarian about each brand you’re considering.

Sticking to a New Diet

If your dog is used to eating a particular type of food, it is normal that they will find the change difficult at first. Some owners find it easier to mix low protein dry dog food with a little bit of low protein wet dog food. It’s more expensive, but makes the switch easier.

Generally, when it comes to switching to low protein diet for dogs that are picky, homemade foods are likely to have the best ratio of success.

When you change your dog’s diet, your main task will be to stick to it. Don’t forget about dog treats you give your pup between meals – they can be high in protein.

Make a plan of your dog’s meals and stick to that plan. There can be no more giving into your dog’s puppy eyes. If you are consistent in what you are offering them in the beginning, it will be easier for both of you in the future to control your pet’s protein intake.

READ NEXT: Feeding Dogs With Renal Disease and Kidney Problems

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