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You might wonder who would want to buy low protein dog food when people everywhere are looking for high protein, grain free foods. That’s a reasonable thing to ask.

First, let me say that Mary Straus at DogAware.com has collected some great research on this subject (and on many other topics).  Her web site is highly recommended for anyone looking for in-depth information about protein and kidney disease.

To answer the question, for a long time it was thought that high protein could be dangerous for dogs and harmful to their kidneys. This idea was apparently based on some old research with rats. It’s only been in the last 20 years or so that researchers, vets, dog food companies, and owners have changed their mind about protein. The thinking now has shifted toward feeding your dog plenty of high quality protein.

That still leaves the issues of a dog’s kidneys. Most dogs can eat normal protein diets without any problem. Even dogs with some degree of kidney disease can eat good, high quality protein. They do not have to lower their protein percentage. It’s only dogs with a greater degree of kidney disease who start benefiting from a lower protein diet. But these dogs do start needing a lower protein dog food.

It used to be thought that senior dogs would benefit from eating a lower protein diet but this has also been disproved. However, many pet food companies still make senior dog food with lower levels of protein and lower fat levels. If you have a senior dog, we encourage you to look for a dog food with high quality protein and at least a moderate percentage for protein. You do not have to feed him an extremely high percentage of protein – especially if you are not having his kidneys checked by a vet annually – but it is important for senior dogs to have good protein that is easy to digest. A senior dog can have less efficient digestion as he gets older, so he needs to be able to get the nutrients in the food easily.

Some pet food companies, unfortunately, combine a weight loss dog food with a senior dog food, as though all senior dogs are overweight. This is false. Many senior dogs have trouble keeping their weight. The last thing you want to do is feed them a weight loss dog food that contains fewer calories. You would be starving your poor old dog to death. Unless your senior dog is specifically fat, look for a senior dog food that has a moderately high protein percentage from good quality ingredients, with higher calories, and easy-to-digest ingredients. Even if your old dog is fat, who cares? He’s an old dog. Let him enjoy his food and cherish every day you have with him. Unless your senior dog is so obese that it is endangering his life, you should probably let him enjoy his food. If he is really obese, you can try to find a food with fewer calories or reduce his portions. Try to get him to take some walks. But remember that he is old. You don’t want to do something that might cause a problem for him. Sometimes with older dogs it’s better to leave well enough alone.

It’s also a good idea to keep the protein percentage you feed your puppy in the mid-range instead of seeing how much protein you can give him. The quality of the protein should always be very good, however. With puppies you are not trying to feed them any excess. You want to give them the right amount.

Species and Growth Stage Recommended Protein Recommended Fat
Puppy 22-32% 10-25%
Adult Dog 15-30% 10-20%
Performance Dog 22-32% 15-40%
Racing Dog 28-34% Greater than 50%
Lactating Dog 25-35% Greater or equal to 20%

Chart reference: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?aid=459

So, when it comes to lower protein diets, dogs with serious kidney disease or chronic renal failure may need these foods. There could be a few other conditions where a dog might benefit from eating a lower protein diet. But most dogs will do better on a moderate to moderately-high protein diet.

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