A low protein diet is recommended by a veterinarian only in very special cases, such as for dogs with kidney disease or failure, liver disease or failure and, temporarily, for dogs with bladder stones. You should never switch to a low protein dog food brand without consulting with a vet beforehand.
A diet low in protein needs to be carefully designed and monitored, because there's a risk for a number of side effects. When your pet is diagnosed with a health issue that requires lower protein intake, you will have three options for this dietary change:
- Prescription dog food for kidney and liver health (very expensive)
- Low protein homemade dog food diet (cheaper but still expensive)
- Regular store-bought dog food that's lower in protein (most affordable)
The best low protein dog food is likely to be a prescription brand. Unfortunately, these are harder to find and are about twice as expensive as regular foods. However, you can save money by searching among regular dog food brands that have a lower crude protein basis (listed under “dry matter basis”). It will be trickier to pick among them, but once you find the right one, you can simply stick with it indefinitely.
Below are some of the best low protein dog food brands in different price ranges:
|Diamond Naturals Light Real Meat Recipe Natural...||$32.99||Buy on Amazon|
|Veterinary Diets Purina Veterinary Canine NF...||65 Reviews||$36.53||Buy on Amazon|
|Royal Canin Canine Renal Support S Dry (17.6 lb)||$139.97||Buy on Amazon|
|Hill's Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Adult 7+ for...||$51.99||Buy on Amazon|
|Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet Kidney...||$104.87||Buy on Amazon|
When Do You Need to Switch to a Low Protein Dog Food Brand?
Studies have shown that decreasing protein intake in a diseased dog's diet makes them more active, less lethargic, and increases survival times among terminally ill pets (1). This is because kidneys and liver are already overworked and the less protein these organs need to process, the better they will function (2).
In the case of kidney and liver problems, switch to a new low protein diet will be permanent. Make sure when you're picking the best low protein dog food for your pet that it's something they enjoy and can live with for the rest of their life. In the case of bladder stones, the dietary change is temporary, and you can switch back to regular food after urinary stones have been eliminated.
Paradoxically, studies also show that decreasing the amount of protein in an ill dog's diet actually provides more protein-rich nutrition (3). This is because kidneys are not overworked, and they lose less protein through urination, thereby having more of it available for the dog's body to utilize (4).
Most common health issues that may require you to switch to low protein dog foods include:
- Urinary stones (Uroliths, UTI)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Inflammation of the kidneys (Glomerulonephritis)
- Lyme-disease associated with kidney inflammation
- A liver shunt (portosystemic shunt)
- Hepatic encephalopathy (associated with cirrhosis of the liver)
Are There Any Side Effects from Switching to Low Protein Dog Foods?
Yes. Because protein is one of the essential macronutrients in a dog's diet, decreasing its intake may have side effects. This is why you should never switch to this type of diet of your own accord, and should consult with a veterinarian beforehand. Choosing the best low protein dog food brand will depend on your individual dog and their special circumstances, all of which will be evaluated by a vet.
Low protein diets have been shown to cause muscle loss and weight loss in dogs, and weaken their immune system (5). Unfortunately, when your dog has a chronic kidney or liver disease, and it's between those side effects or kidney/liver failure, you simply have to compromise in the interest of increasing your pet's lifespan.
That said, a veterinarian or canine nutritionist will design your individual dog's diet with extreme precision to minimize or potentially even prevent any side effects after a switch to a low protein diet.
The Best Low Protein Dog Food Brands
1Diamond Naturals Light Real Meat Premium Dry Dog Food
Diamond Pet is probably the only low protein dog food option in a fairly affordable range. They have a wide range of dog food recipes that are especially formulated for a variety of life stages and conditions, with this one being the closest recipe to prescription dog foods for kidney/liver health.
- HIGH quality PROTEIN made with...
- Premium ingredients with added...
- Nutrient rich and HIGHLY...
- FAMILY OWNED & run, MADE in...
- NO corn, wheat, filler; NO...
It's similar to many weight management formulas designed for older and less active dogs to support healthy weight with all-natural, premium ingredients, active probiotics and digestive enzymes. Their main protein source is pasture raised lamb, which can also be beneficial for dogs with allergies to beef and chicken.
Among “regular” dog food brands, this would be considered a premium dog food. Other than potentially being one of the best low protein dog food brands with an affordable price tag, many pet owners have also reported its high palatability and having even picky dogs enjoy this recipe.
2Veterinary Diets Purina Veterinary Canine NF Kidney Function
A prescription-like dog food brand, Purina's Veterinary Diets are well-designed for specific health conditions, including kidney, liver and bladder stones problems. This formula in particular will likely be approved by your vet if you choose to avoid more expensive prescription dog foods. However, while it's theoretically meets the needs of diseases dogs, many pet owners find that their canines simply refuse to eat this.
- Complete and balanced formula...
- Therapeutic diet for dogs with...
- Low in phosphorus to help...
- Rich source of omega fatty...
- Restricted amount of...
The recipe is low in protein and phosphorus and therapeutically designed for kidney health, with an added source of omega-3s. The ingredients are mainly sourced within the US and Canada, with some ingredients sourced from New Zealand. As with most prescription-like dog foods, this is an expensive choice but it's cheaper than buying something from a veterinary clinic. Among the other best low protein dog food brands that are prescription-based, Purina Veterinary Diets is more affordable (compared to Royal Canin, for example).
3Royal Canin Canine Renal Support S Dry
One of the most expensive low protein dog food brands on the list, this is something that your veterinarian is very likely to recommend. If your wallet can afford the high price tag, then Royal Canin would be considered as the number one among the best low protein dog food brands. The reason it's ranked lower is because there are similar options at a slightly cheaper cost.
- New formulation with enhanced...
- Enriched with EPA and DHA to...
- Highly digestible with low...
- Manages early stages of...
- Enriched with long chain...
Royal Canin are well-known for their therapeutic diets (similar to Hill's Science) and they're more popular in the EU than they are in the U.S. Their previous versions were disregarded by pet owners because dogs simply refused to eat those recipes; however, the new formulation is much better. While they maintained the formula to accommodate dogs with renal disease, they've improved the taste and aroma, and pet owners are reporting that even picky dogs respond well to this food.
4Hill's Science Diet Dry Dog Food, Adult 7+ for Senior Dogs
Here's another well-known brand that specializes in prescription dog foods. This Hill's Science formula is low in phosphorus, contains less protein and sodium, and is high in omega 6 fatty acids and vitamin E complex. Just like with Royal Canin and Purina formulations, this combination reduces the workload on kidneys, keeping them functioning optimally considering their impairment; it assists other bodily functions to aid the kidney, and compensate for other nutrients that these dogs are deprived of.
- This dry dog food provides...
- Uses a balanced set of...
- This dry dog food provides...
- High quality protein help...
- Made with natural ingredients
This is another one of the best low protein dog food brands that can be bought either as dry kibble or in a 12-13 ounce cans. Hill's Science is the most vet recommended dog food company because they spend large amounts of cash on designing their recipes based on most current scientific research. Despite the flak they get from some pet owners, the fact remains that when it comes to scientifically most appropriate foods for dogs with kidney, liver, heart and bladder issues, this is one of the best low protein dog food brands out there.
5Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet Kidney Support for Dogs
The final one among the best low protein dog food brands is another prescription-like recipe from Blue Buffalo. It's specifically designed by vets to be limited in phosphorus, sodium and protein, and assist with kidney and liver function. Just like Purina and Royal Canin, this one might be more difficult to locate unless you purchase online (and if you do, make sure your veterinarian is aware of this).
- Controlled levels of protein...
- Controlled levels of...
- Antioxidants, L-carnitine, and...
- Made without the grains many...
- A wholesome, natural diet that...
Unlike some other listed best low protein dog food brands above, this one does not contain any grains (which could be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your individual pet). Similar to others, on top of controlled levels of protein, this recipe also includes antioxidants, omega-3s and other ingredients in support of kidney, liver and heart function. Unfortunately, as it is common with veterinary diets, this one is also fairly expensive (though cheaper than Royal Canin)