Low protein dog food has been a major source of controversy in the world of science. There are so many questions and counter questions about how good they are for dogs.
So many veterinarians are against feeding dogs food with a protein content that’s too high. At surface value, it does make sense that a higher protein content won’t be good for dogs, especially those with a renal problem. However, results of studies have shown that this might not be the case at all.
But before we go into all that jargon, let’s first answer the most important question…
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What Is A Low Protein Dog Food?
A low protein dog food, as the name probably already gives away, is a dog food that contains protein in levels lower than in normal dog food. Usually, it is recommended by a vet to be fed to a dog with certain health conditions.
Health conditions that might warrant a dog to be placed on a low protein diet are usually conditions where digesting protein is difficult or impossible for a dog. In that case, feeding your dog with dog food high in protein would be a very bad idea and could actually be dangerous.
Besides that, feeding your pooch a diet that is too low in protein is bad for a regular, healthy dog. For this reason, most of these low protein dog food are only obtainable with a prescription. Therefore, if you think your dog needs a low protein dog food, it’s best to speak with your vet first before going out to get one.
Examples Of Prescription Low-Protein Dog Foods Include:
What Does Low Protein Mean For Dogs?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) insists that a dog’s diet must contain a certain minimum of protein content to be healthy. According to them, it should contain at least 25% protein dry matter.
By the way, food is usually calculated on a dry matter basis. This is because, according to Dr Hohenhaus, the level of protein in a food is usually diluted by water. Dr. Hohenhaus who is a staff doctor at the NYC’s Animal Medical Center shows us how this is so.
According to her, the quantity of protein contained in a portion of dry food is a lot higher than you’d find in a similar portion of wet food. Now, you see why we measure food content on a dry basis. It’s the best way to get the most accurate assessment of food content.
In a portion of regular dog food, protein content is usually kept at about 25%, thereabout. However, for a low protein dog food, the protein content drops to about 3/4 of that value. So, you find about 18% and that’s really low for a healthy dog.
For this reason, it’s only in certain dire health conditions that a vet would be hard-pressed to recommend a low protein diet.
But back to the protein content thing… If you check out most low protein dog food brands in the market today, you might find only about a couple of brands that keep up with this requirement. It’s not that they are not complying with the standards, it’s just there’s a bit of a paradigm shift these days in the veterinary world.
Today, vets tend to focus more on other things other than the amount of protein in the food alone. So you see them talking more of the phosphorus levels than the amount of protein.
The reason for this change is due to an observation made by some experts that controlling the phosphorus levels is more important. By controlling phosphorus levels, it has been observed that dogs with renal impairments of mild to moderate levels actually fared better.
Canine Health Conditions That Require Low-Protein Dog Food
Several conditions might warrant a vet to place your dog on a low protein diet. The main conditions are liver diseases, bladder stones, as well as kidney disease.
Here’s how Dr. Hohenhaus explains it. The kidneys and the liver are responsible for the metabolism of protein. This means that if you reduce the quantity of protein being consumed by your dog, his liver and kidney won’t have so much work to do. So, they’d be less stressed.
However, for a dog to be administered a low-protein dog food strictly, Dr. Hohenhaus explains that your dog would have to have chronic liver and/or kidney problems. The low protein diet, in addition to resting his organs, will work together to keep your pooch from losing more protein.
Dr Ariel Monesco (clinical associate professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia) reports that many dogs with kidney problems also often have a case of Protein Losing Nephropathy (PLN).
PLN is a disease associated with increasing renal dysfunction. It’s a condition that causes the kidney to lose a lot of protein molecules in addition to nitrogenous wastes. According to studies, experts have been able to prove that this can be limited by reducing the quantity of protein in a dog’s diet. In other words, feeding your pooch a low-protein dog food.
Now, while liver and kidney failure might demand that the patient be placed on a low protein dog food permanently, the case is a bit different with bladder stones.
In the case of urate bladder stones, Dr. Hohenhaus says that a low protein dog food would be recommended to get the bladder stones to dissolve specifically. However, she explains that the diet doesn’t have to be permanent like we have for chronic liver and kidney failure.
Here’s A Brief Look Into Each Of The Various Conditions That Might Require A Low Protein Dog Food
Renal failure is a disease condition in which the kidneys are no longer able to carry out their fundamental function. This function consists of the filtering of blood for the removal of waste which is then eliminated in the urine. Urine, as we already know, is also produced by the kidney.
Now, if the kidneys fail, and can no longer do the above, there’s a buildup of nitrogenous waste in the body. As nitrogenous wastes increase, so does blood urea nitrogen (BUN). So, that’s a brief summary of what renal failure is about.
Now, from clinical studies, we’ve been able to find that reducing a patient’s intake of protein can help to slow down the progression of renal failure. This is common sense science as, naturally, it should follow that a higher intake of protein would lead to more nitrogenous wastes in the body. Remember, the kidney can no longer eliminate these wastes well, hence the accumulation.
That said, renal failure in dogs could occur due to a number of reasons. Sometimes it is brought about by diverse health conditions like:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Lyme disease.
- Chronic gastrointestinal disease.
- Diabetes mellitus.
- Skin infections.
- Genetic abnormalities.
Protein Losing Nephropathy
As we’ve explained earlier, PLN is a disease associated with rapidly progressing renal failure. In this condition, the kidneys’ ability to filter is largely impaired and so what’s normally ultrafiltration turns out to be… well… not so ultra anymore. Really large molecules then pass through and some of them turn out to be proteins.
It’s just like when your net develops really large holes and then all your fish falls out. This is kinda how it works with PLN. The holes in the kidneys are larger, so they are losing more protein. This condition is referred to as proteinuria.
Normally, it might seem logical to take in more protein but that would only make the holes larger. If you do it the other way, it would mean that fewer protein molecules would be lost.
As you may or may not know, the liver helps to process toxins such that it doesn’t poison the body. Although it is quite efficient, it too is prone to failure if pushed too far.
Now, one of the toxins that the liver is supposed to process is a nitrogenous waste. And if the liver doesn’t process them then they will accumulate in the body. This could lead to hepatic encephalopathy which is a condition in which the nitrogenous buildup reaches up to the brain.
If protein intake is reduced, then there will be little for the liver to process. As a result, the body might accumulate less nitrogenous wastes or the wastes might even get eliminated altogether.
Urate bladder stones account for only 6% of the total cases of bladder stones in dogs. However, they are easily reversed by a low protein diet. Low protein dog food containing cranberries which are natural acidifiers are even more effective.
As we mentioned earlier, this diet is only temporary and would only have to be continued until the stones are dissolved.
Large Dog Breeds That Grow Too Fast
Puppies of large dog breeds usually grow up real fast. While this occurs naturally, it can turn bad real fast – literally. Because, when puppies grow fast in a short time, it could be spell bad news for them.
So, what are these dangers?
Overgrowth causes the bones to get strained which means that the dog’s skeletal system won’t be strong enough to support its weight. For a large breed dog, that could spell trouble especially for dogs of their breed. Aside from this, there’s also the danger of joint problems.
Due to these problems, it is usually advised that you switch from formula to a low protein dog food after the puppy has turned 6 months of age. This is only for puppies of large dog breeds though.
Benefits Of A Low Protein Dog Food
So, what are the benefits of feeding your dog a low protein dog food? That is dogs who need low protein dog food, in case we weren’t clear. Remember that a low protein dog food isn’t for healthy pups.
Let’s summarize the main benefits in the following bullets.
- With a low protein dog food, the major organs involved in the metabolism of proteins get a much-deserved rest. Plus, their overall workload is much reduced as well.
- Also, with a low protein diet, the symptoms presented as a result of the failure of these organs are minimized.
- Nitrogenous wastes and toxins do not accumulate. An accumulation of nitrogenous waste can seep into the brain and cause encephalopathy as well as other grave diseases in your dog.
- Less protein means fewer stones – or even zero stones – so, no blocking of the bladder.
Now that we know what a low protein dog food can benefit your dog, it’s time to ask another question…
Is A Low Protein Dog Food Good For My Dog?
Dr. Hohenhaus explains that low protein dog foods are prescription foods and must never be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. She also advises against preparing one on your own.
You must understand that dogs are carnivores. They thrive on protein, especially from animal sources. If you make yours on your own, then you could aggravate the issue with your dog. Plus, you can only monitor the effectiveness of the diet via a blood test which can only be carried out in a vet’s office, anyway. So?…
Anyway, to answer the question, you are not in the best position to answer this. And neither are we. Only your vet should tell you whether a low protein dog food is good for your dog at any point or not.
And when your vet puts your dogs on a low protein dog food, if they do, it doesn’t end there. You’d have to lend a hand to assure success. First off, make sure you get a high-quality low protein dog food. That is dog food that is low protein but still contains other nutrients in their required amounts.
In addition to that, Dr. Mosenco explains that low protein dog food means that your dogs are not taking in enough amino acids.
Now, dogs need some very essential amino acids to live a healthy life, renal failure or not. So, if they won’t be getting those from their diet, they will need to get it elsewhere. You could try giving him some amino acids supplement to help.
Also, you’d have to lend a hand by monitoring your pup’s weight and ensuring that there isn’t any inordinate weight loss or weight gain due to the new diet he’s on. If you want him to remain healthy, then you’d have to keep up with his weight constantly.
How To Choose The Best Low Protein Dog Food
We’ve considered a lot of things about a low protein dog food. However, there are two things we are yet to uncover. One of them is what we are going to go through right now. The other, we will get to immediately after. But for now, let’s show you how to pick the best low protein dog food.
Look Out For Animal Proteins
Whatever kind of dog food you’re looking for – be it low protein or not – you must pick those that come with animal proteins. And it’s not just about having animal protein, they must have animal protein as their number one source of protein.
Want to know why?
This is because dogs are carnivores. Their guts are wired to digest animal protein far more easily than plant protein. So, with animal proteins in your low protein dog food, fewer protein molecules would end up wasted.
Look Out For The Minimum Percentage Of Crude Protein
Now, remember what we told you earlier? Protein content in a low protein dog food should be around a steady 18%, on a dry basis of course. If you decide to feed your dog with wet food, then you’d have to take the moisture content into account. Remember what Dr. Hasenhaus said, water dilutes the protein content.
So, if you want to find out the actual protein content in a wet food, here’s one way to calculate that.
Say the food you want to get has 75% moisture and 10% protein, take the following steps:
- Subtract the percentage moisture content from 100, this gives you the dry matter i.e.
100% -75% = 25%.
- Now take the 10% (for the protein content) and divide it from the result of step 1.
10% ÷ 25% = 40%
So, the protein content in this wet food is actually 40% instead of the 10% printed on the packaging of the food.
See how this could have caused a lot of problems? And that’s why you need to be careful.
You Want A Balanced Diet
The only thing you’re trying to reduce a bit is the protein. Every other necessary nutrient needed for your dog’s health must also be present in the dog food. Altogether, the dog food to be bought must be well balanced. No point reducing the protein and increasing the fat now, is there?
Now, even though we have shown you the factors to look out for in a good low-protein, it’s still not enough. You still have to consult with your vet before getting any low protein dog food at all.
Disclaimer: A High Protein Diet Does Not Lead To Renal Failure
According to Drs. Foster and Smith, the information some people have about a high protein diet causing renal failure is nothing but a rumor. They explain that a high protein diet can never lead to renal failure.
Apparently, the kidneys are so superb. In fact, even a single one of them has awesome abilities to excrete all nitrogen wastes produced by excess proteins for the rest of a dog’s life!
The myth probably began when vets began recommending low protein dog food for dogs with renal issues. But like we said, that paradigm has shifted. And vets are more concerned with feeding such dogs more digestible protein and less bothered about a low protein diet.
So, in order words, the better thing to do is to make the protein more digestible by minimizing the amount of phosphorus in their food. Dogs with renal failure actually fare better with the lower phosphorus content.
So, in conclusion, let’s reiterate what we said earlier about talking to your vet. You must never switch to a low protein dog food on your own. You must always seek your vet’s permission first.
And in many cases, your vet will most likely not change your dog’s diet. This is with the exemption of cases of severe liver dysfunction such as hepatic encephalopathy.
Arguments Against Low Protein Dog Food For Dogs
Firstly, we will be gleaning from research carried out by these scientists: Robertson et al. 1986, Bovee 1991, Finco et al. 1994, Hansen et al. 1992, Laflamme et al. 2008.
These scientists maintain that an average dog is a protein-consuming machine, that is it can consume and digest an unbelievable amount of protein. Now, here’s the incredible part of it all.
To conduct their test, these scientists replicated chronic renal failure in healthy dogs by cutting off all supply to the kidneys up to 75 and 90%. After this happened, they gave them food that was very high in protein and still the dogs digested them well.
With this pretty solid evidence, many scientists are coming to the conclusion that even with chronic kidney failure (CKF), a dog has no reason to be on a low protein diet.
Here’s another mind-blowing discovery we found.
Dodds is a canine hematologist and he’s of the opinion that some of the signs that vets are interpreting as early signs of renal failure might be wrong. He explains that dogs kept on a genetically correct diet (lots of meat protein) tend to hive higher blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatine. On the other hand, dogs fed primarily by kibble, do not have as much protein content in their blood.
So, many times, people get it wrong when interpreting high levels of protein. And it’s particularly worse, especially in a dog that feeds primarily on meat. Interpreting high levels of protein as renal failure may be a huge mistake. It might not be for dogs that feed on high car kibble, but it is for dogs that are correctly fed.
The truth is actually that the former is actually consuming more protein. So if protein appears more in his blood then that should be logical. And so experts in this school of thought believe that a high protein diet can actually help in a case of renal failure. The only exception to this is in the case of proteinuria.
At the end of the day, your vet is still your best friend. And it would be in your best interest to listen to them for everything concerning your dog. They should have the final say on what your dog ingests. But then a little self-education on your part won’t be bad too.
Thumbs up for reading through this guide.
PS: If your dog is on a low protein diet and you’ve ever thought of cheating, please squelch it. This is not like cheating on your own diet. Cheating on your dog’s low protein diet could actually harm him.