Why a Low Protein Diet for Kidney Disease in Dogs?  What are other important features?

The following is a guest blog by Dr. Travis Atkins, DVM, Nutritionist at SquarePet Pet Food

Low protein, low phosphorus dog food is the most commonly recommended food for kidney disease – why is this?  Dietary therapy is a key component to the management of kidney disease in dogs as it plays two important roles.  The first is to provide specific nutrition to help prevent the progression of the disease.  The second is to support a better quality of life by helping to control or limit the clinical signs of kidney disease that make our pets feel sick or unwell. 

What do healthy kidneys do?

Kidneys play a very important role within the body.  They help to filter the body of waste and harmful substances while keeping vitamins, proteins, hormones and other important substances in the bloodstream.


Low Protein Dog Food

Veterinary diets for kidney disease contain lower amounts of protein.  The rationale for this rests in the kidneys lack of ability to process protein when they are no longer healthy.  Normal and healthy kidneys filter out the bad stuff but hold onto the proteins to keep them in the bloodstream.  As kidney disease worsens the ability of the kidneys to handle protein decreases.  Just like an old worn-out kitchen strainer the protein molecules are able to escape the kidneys and end up in the urine (called proteinuria).  An oversimplified explanation is that as more protein sneaks through the kidneys, the more severe the kidney disease can become. 


Offering a high quality low protein dog food will limit the amount of protein introduced to the kidneys.  This controlled reduction in protein helps to not overwhelm the kidneys abilities and therefore helps to slow down the progression of disease itself as well as support a higher quality of life. 


Low Phosphorus Dog Food

To start, what is phosphorus?  It is a mineral found in the foods we eat and plays many important roles within the body.  Healthy kidneys will remove any extra phosphorus that may be present in our pet's bodies but as kidney function deteriorates the kidneys can't remove it as well.  The result is extra or excess phosphorus accumulating in the bloodstream (called hyperphosphatemia).  Holding onto extra phosphorus in the bloodstream is one of the most common consequences of kidney disease and can lead to many other health implications.  Retention of phosphorus can lead to further kidney dysfunction, weakening of bones and muscles as well as hormone regulation problems. 


A high quality low phosphorus dog food strictly limits the total amount of phosphorus it contains.  This is typically less than 0.4% on a dry matter basis.  Controlling the amount of phosphorus that is introduced to the kidneys helps to prevent the progression of kidney disease and improve quality of life.


In addition to a low protein, low phosphorus dog food – what are other features that are important when looking for a high quality kidney diet for dogs? 


Highly Digestible Protein Sources

-          When limiting the total amount of protein in a kidney diet it is extremely important to make sure that the protein that is being consumed is of high quality, contains all of the essential amino acids needed as well as being very digestible.  Eggs are natures perfect protein and are what is used as a bench mark when comparing other protein sources.  Eggs and fresh meat sources can be excellent considerations.


Omega 3 Fatty Acids DHA & EPA

-          Kidney diets for dogs should contain quality sources of the Omega 3 fatty acids DHA & EPA.  These types of fatty acids are very commonly found in fish oils and are known for their anti-inflammatory properties which can help support kidney disease.



-          Unfortunately dogs with kidney disease tend to urinate more than their healthy counterparts.  A result of this is the excess loss of many water soluble vitamins, namely B-vitamins.  Kidney diets for dogs should be supplemented with slightly higher amounts of these B-vitamins to help maintain vitamin storage pools within the body.



-          Oxidation or free radical damage can be a contributing factor in the progression of kidney disease.  Supplementing kidney diets with potent antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E have been shown to be beneficial to pets with kidney disease and help slow the progression. 


Prescription or Non-Prescription Dog Food for Kidney Disease

There are many choices to choose from when selecting a kidney diet for dogs.  There are prescription veterinary kidney diets, homemade low phosphorus dog food recipes and other non-prescription low phosphorus dog food options becoming available.  A veterinarian can help make the best choice based on the specific needs of an individual dog.