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If you follow the latest health and fitness trends, you may be at least a little familiar with the low-residue diet. This is a type of specialized diet that is designed to reduce the volume and frequency of stools – it is typically recommended for individuals suffering from various gastrointestinal diseases to make sure that all foods passing through the digestive tract are fully broken down. These same principles can be applied to a specialized diet for dogs suffering from digestive problems in the form of low residue dog food. Keep reading to learn the basics about what low residue dog food is, the benefits it can provide, and how to choose one for your dog.

What is Low-Residue Dog Food and What is its Purpose?

Low residue dog food is simply dog food that is made up of digestible ingredients that are almost completely metabolized during the digestive process. To put it another way, low residue dog food is highly digestible and most of it is broken down and absorbed by the dog’s body with little leftover to be excreted in the form of stools. In many ways low residue dog food is very similar to low fiber dog food because fibrous foods are hard for dogs to digest, so they do not play a major role in a low residue diet for dogs. Low residue dog food is commonly recommended in cases of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or for frequent nausea and diarrhea. Essentially, the purpose of low residue dog food is to reduce the amount of stress placed on the digestive system by reducing the bulk of waste passing through it.

Tips for Shopping for Low Residue Dog Food

Shopping for a low-residue dog food is no different from shopping for other kinds of dog food – you still need to put in the time and effort to evaluate the quality of different products in order to choose the best option for your dog. When shopping for a low-residue dog food, there are some basic things you need to look for first to guarantee the quality of the product, then you can look closer to see whether it meets the criteria for a low residue dog food. The first thing you need to look for on the pet food label is an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy. Once you find that, you can check the guaranteed analysis to determine how much protein, fat, and fiber is in the product. Finally, look over the ingredients list to make sure that they are all high-quality, recognizable ingredients and not low-quality fillers. In the next section you will learn more about the ingredients you want to see in a low residue dog food.

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) basically does for pet food what the FDA does for people food – they monitor and regulate the production and sale of animal feed, including pet foods. This organization has developed nutrient profiles for puppies, adult dogs and pregnant/lactating dogs. Before they can be sold, pet food products are compared to the corresponding nutrient profile and, if it meets the minimum nutritional requirements, the label will carry a statement of nutritional adequacy that looks something like this, “[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for all life stages”. If you see this statement on a pet food label you can rest easy knowing that the product will meet your dog’s minimum nutritional needs, but it is not necessarily an indication of quality.

There are a variety of different type of low residue dog food on the market using various ingredients. As is true for choosing any kind of dog food, you need to be careful about which brand and recipe you choose. Even some products that are marketed as low residue dog food are made with low-quality ingredients that, while they may be digestible in theory, could actually exacerbate your dog’s digestive issues. A low-residue dog food should be made up of high-quality nutritious foods that are easy to digest. The best ingredients to look for in a low residue dog food include animal proteins (meats, poultry, fish and eggs) as well as cooked fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and nutritional supplements as needed to ensure balanced nutrition.
When it comes to the nutritional makeup of pet food products, AAFCO is only concerned about making sure that a product meets the minimum nutritional needs for the intended animal. A high-quality dog food, however, will not just meet but exceed these requirements in terms of protein requirement especially, but also for fats and key nutrients. In order to determine how much of these nutrients a product contains, you need to check the guaranteed analysis. This is simply a breakdown of the percentages for crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture in a pet food product. When you check this part of the label you want to make sure that the value for protein is as high as possible, that the value for fat is within the recommended range for dogs, and that the fiber level is fairly low. For protein, you want to see a minimum of 18% for adult dogs and 22% for puppies. Fat content should be a minimum of 8% for puppies and 5% for adult dogs, though a value closer to 15% is ideal.

Once you have determined that a pet food product meets the nutritional requirements for your dog, you can check the most important part of the package – the ingredients list. The ingredients list for pet food labels is given in descending order by volume. All this means is that the ingredients at the top of the list are used in the highest quantity. One thing you want to keep in mind, however, is that the volume for these ingredients is taken before the product is cooked. During cooking, ingredients with high levels of moisture (like fresh meats) will lose most of that moisture. As a result, the final volume for that ingredient could be much lower than originally. This is why meat meals are a valuable addition to dog food, because they have already been cooked and they are highly concentrated sources of protein.

When reviewing the ingredients list for a quality dog food product, you want to make sure that a premium animal protein is listed first. Dogs are not obligate carnivores like cats, but they are still mostly carnivorous and require a meat-rich diet. Quality sources of protein include fresh meats, poultry, fish, and eggs as well as named sources of meat meals. Once you’ve determined that the product contains at least one protein source, look for digestible carbohydrates and healthy fats. Fats like chicken fat and salmon oil may not sound appetizing to you, but fat is a highly concentrated source of energy for dogs and it plays a key role in maintaining the health of numerous bodily systems. You want to see a balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Aside from the three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate), look for fresh fruits and vegetables as natural sources for key vitamins and minerals. It is also okay for dog food to include synthetic supplements – chelated minerals are the best. It is also a good thing to see probiotics like dried fermentation products on the list because it will help to improve your dog’s digestion. Finally, after reviewing all of the ingredients that ARE on the list, look for things that are NOT. You want to avoid products made with corn, wheat and soy ingredients because, not only are they likely to trigger food allergies, but they are low in nutritional value and can exacerbate digestive issues. Choose a product that doesn’t contain by-products or low-quality fillers, and be careful about selecting a recipe that contains a lot of plant proteins – these ingredients can be used to increase the product’s protein content without actually adding more meat.

Beneficial Ingredients to Look For

Now that you have a better understanding of how to read a dog food label you may be wondering how you can apply that knowledge when shopping for low residue dog food in particular. According to one of the leading pet pharmacies, a low residue dog food should contain the following characteristics:

  • High digestibility – For dogs with digestive issues, the ideal diet will have an 85% to 990% digestibility. Most commercial pet foods have a digestibility between 70% and 90%, so don’t just assume that a high-quality product is also highly digestible. Unfortunately, the digestibility of a product isn’t usually listed on the package so you may need to call the company.
  • High protein content – All dogs can benefit from a high-protein diet, but protein content is especially important for dogs suffering from digestive issues. If you are worried that your dog might be allergic or sensitive to common protein choices like chicken and beef, try a novel source of protein like lamb, duck, or venison. Just be sure that protein is always the first ingredient on the list.
  • Moderate fat content – Dogs need a certain amount of fat in their diets to provide energy, to maintain the healthy condition of their skin and coat, and to support their immune system. Too much fat, however, can exacerbate digestive issues in dogs because fats are more difficult to digest than proteins. A low residue dog food should contain about 6% to 15% fat as measured on a dry matter basis.
  • Digestible carbohydrates – Although they are not strictly carnivorous like cats, dogs still have a fairly short digestive tract which limits their ability to digest carbohydrates. The best options are gluten-free, highly digestible ingredients such as plain white rice, potatoes, or tapioca.
  • Low fiber content – While dietary fiber is important for healthy and regular digestion in most dogs, too much fiber (or too much of the wrong kind of fiber) can make digestive problems worse. Soluble fiber helps to increase the moisture content of your dog’s feces, making it softer and easier to pass while insoluble fiber adds bulk, helping to move stools through the digestive system. Each dog reacts differently to certain types of fiber, so you may need to experiment with your dog to see which the right kind is for him.
  • Contains healthy supplements – In terms of healthy supplements, you want to see things like omega fatty acids and prebiotics/probiotics in your dog’s low residue food. Omega fatty acids help to reduce inflammation in your dog’s digestive system while probiotics and prebiotics provide general support for healthy digestion.
  • Free from irritants and additives – Not only do you need to pay attention to the ingredients in your dog’s low residue food, but you should also check to make sure certain things are not there. This includes dairy products (which can cause bloating, diarrhea, and gas) as well as artificial additives like colors, flavors, and preservatives.  

Keeping these key points in mind as you peruse the label for different low residue dog foods will help you make the right choice for your dog. Just remember that any dog food product you pick needs to be as high in protein as possible and as low in fiber as possible. Fat content should be moderate, and there should be some fresh fruits and vegetables as well as beneficial supplements.

Top Recommended Brands for Low Residue Dog Food

Shopping around for a regular dog food can be overwhelming enough, but the task of finding a low residue dog food is even more challenging. While there are many dog food products out there that meet the criteria for low residue dog food, they are usually not labeled as such. Be wary of prescription and veterinary diets from brands like Purina and Hill’s because these products frequently contain low-quality and irritating ingredients. Your best bet is to find a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that offers excellent digestibility and features fresh, natural ingredients. To help you get started with your search you will find reviews of some of the top brands of low residue dog food below

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Nature’s Recipe Grain-Free Easy to Digest Fish Meal and Potato Recipe

The Nature’s Recipe company has been producing and manufacturing high-quality, natural pet food recipes for more than three decades. This company is devoted to “providing pets with ideal nutrition drawn from nature’s inherent goodness” so you can expect all of their products to be made with fresh, natural ingredients. Nature’s Recipe understands that good nutrition is the key to a long and happy life for pets, and all of their formulas are designed to provide a specific set of benefits. Nature’s Recipe’s dog food products help to improve the condition of your dog’s skin and coat while also helping him to maintain a healthy bodyweight. Because their recipes are free from corn, wheat, and soy as well as artificial additives, they are also easy to digest. Each recipe begins with a quality protein like salmon, venison, or lamb and is supplemented with fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Nature’s Recipe Grain-Free Easy to Digest Fish Meal & Potato Recipe is a great choice if you are looking for a low residue dog food. This recipe features fish meal, a highly concentrated source of protein, as its main protein inclusion and it offers a minimum of 21% protein with 10% fat and 4.4% crude fiber. According to the brand website, this recipe “avoids ingredients commonly associated with food sensitivities, such as corn or beef, and it is now fortified with prebiotics to help support healthy digestive function”. The main source of carbohydrate in this recipe is potatoes, a lean and highly digestible source of fiber and energy. Other ingredients worth noting include flaxseed to help provide omega fatty acid balance, chelated minerals, and natural flavors.

Addiction Wild Kangaroo & Apples Dehydrated Dog Food Recipe

The Addiction Foods Company markets its products as “the healthy food pets crave”. This company is headquartered in Washington, but its products are manufactured in New Zealand using many regional ingredients. Addiction was founded by a holistic veterinary surgeon in 2002 and it quickly evolved into a holistic brand of premium-quality pet food products. This company designs their products “around premium proteins and high quality wild game meats – meats that are not only much richer in nutrients, but also hypoallergenic and easier to digest”. In addition to using premium-quality proteins, Addiction fortifies their recipes with fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, nuts, and seeds for nutritional balance and plenty of natural flavor. This company doesn’t use any artificial additives or by-products and their proteins are all free-range or wild-caught, free from hormones, steroids and antibiotics.

If you are looking for a low residue dog food for your dog, consider Addiction’s Wild Kangaroo & Apples Dehydrated Dog Food recipe, or one of their other raw dehydrated formulas. This particular recipe features wild kangaroo as the primary protein – kangaroo is naturally lean and it contains plenty of healthy nutrients. Plus, because it is most likely a novel protein source for your dog, it has a low risk for triggering food sensitivities and other gastrointestinal issues. This formula is both gluten-free and grain-free, made with potatoes, tapioca, and peas as the primary carbohydrates – there are also fresh fruits and vegetables for nutritional balance. At 22% protein and 11% fat, this recipe will definitely meet your dog’s nutritional needs and he will love the natural flavor. This recipe is just one of eight raw dehydrated recipes that Addiction has to offer – this company also offers high-quality traditional dry foods.

The Honest Kitchen Dehydrated

The Honest Kitchen was founded in 2000 by a pair of pet lovers who sought to create an all-natural homemade diet for their dogs. In the years since, this company has skyrocketed to the heights of popularity and they are known as one of the highest quality pet food brands on the market. The Honest Kitchen uses a variety of human-grade and certified-organic ingredients in their products, plus they manufacture their recipes in facilities that are also used to produce food for human consumption. This company offers their customers what they call the “Honest Difference” which promises the use of healthy, human-grade whole food ingredients in carefully formulated recipes, all prepared in accordance with strict standards for safety and quality. Each of this company’s products also guarantees certain benefits such as increased energy levels, improved digestion, silkier coat and skin, and healthy weight maintenance (or weight loss, if needed).

What truly sets The Honest Kitchen apart from other pet food brands, however, is the fact that they exclusively offer dehydrated dog food products. These products are slow-cooked over low temperatures to remove moisture without compromising the nutritional integrity of the raw ingredients. There are traditional and grain-free options, but every recipe is high in animal protein with moderate fat content and supplemented with a wide variety of healthy ingredients. The Honest Kitchen uses a variety of proteins like chicken, turkey, beef, duck, and fish so try to choose one that your dog hasn’t had before. If your dog is particularly sensitive you may want to stick to a grain-free recipe. You also have the option of using The Honest Kitchen’s base mixes to create a homemade low residue dog food. 

Blue Buffalo Wilderness Rocky Mountain Rabbit Recipe

The Blue Buffalo Company was only founded in 2002 but it has already become a household name in the pet food industry. This company began with a single homemade dog food but it has since expanded to include four different product lines, each with a large assortment of recipe options to choose from. The Life Protection line of products features all-natural dog food recipes and the Freedom line includes grain-free options. The Basics line is made up of limited ingredient diets and the Wilderness line consists of protein-rich, natural diets. More specifically, the Wilderness product line is designed to mimic the natural diet of wild wolves – for this reason it is not just meat-rich, but it is also grain-free. This product line includes an assortment of life stages formulas for puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs, featuring premium proteins like duck, salmon, chicken, bison, and rabbit.

For a high-quality dry dog food that will not exacerbate your dog’s digestive problems, consider the Blue Buffalo Wilderness Rocky Mountain Rabbit Recipe Dry Food.  This recipe is a protein-rich formula featuring rabbit as a novel source of protein. It is completely free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients as well as chicken by-product meals and artificial additives. Like most of Blue Buffalo’s products, this recipe is supplemented with Blue’s LifeSource Bits which contain a proprietary blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to ensure nutritional balance. This recipe also helps your dog maintain lean muscle mass and gives him plenty of energy to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. It contains plenty of calcium and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth, plus glucosamine for joint support. It also contains a blend of omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat.

Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Lamb & Peas Recipe

The Castor & Pollux brand may have a strange-sounding name, but it is not a name that you will forget. This company was founded more than twenty years ago by a husband and wife duo who wanted to create a natural, organic pet food for their adopted dog. Their first product was such a success that they launched their own company and have become one of the biggest names in the natural pet food industry. All of their recipes are developed by a team of experts in the field of animal nutrition with the goal of providing “pet parents with healthy, safe, and innovative choices for their dogs and cats”. Castor & Pollux has several different product lines including the Natural Ultramix line of products and the Organix line. Organix pet foods are cooked in organically certified USDA kitchens, made with real chicken, lamb, or salmon as the first ingredient. There are both traditional and grain-free options.

If you are looking for a low residue dog food, consider the Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Lamb & Peas recipe. This formula is naturally gluten-free and grain-free, plus it is made with lamb which is a novel protein source for most dogs. This grain-free formula is complete and balanced for adult dogs, containing 26% protein, 13.5% fat, and just 5% fiber. With lamb and chicken meal as the top two ingredients, you can count on this recipe being protein-rich. For carbohydrates, you have organic peas, organic tapioca, and organic garbanzo beans. Together with the protein sources, these ingredients contribute to the high digestibility for this product. Furthermore, this recipe is free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients and it is also free from artificial additives.

It will take you some time and practice to get used to reading pet food labels, but it is a very important skill to have. If your dog suffers from digestive problems that necessitate a low residue diet, you will need to put these skills to work in evaluating different pet food options in search of the one that is best for your dog. Low residue dog food comes in a variety of different forms but it may not always be labeled as such. This being the case, you need to keep in mind the key characteristics reviewed earlier. If you need help starting your search, try one of the top recommended brands of low residue dog food reviewed above.

Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington holds a Bachelor’s degree in English and is the published author of several self-help books and nutrition guides. Also an avid dog lover and adoring owner of three cats, Kate’s love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. Kate holds a certificate in fitness nutrition and enjoys writing about health and wellness trends — she also enjoys crafting original recipes. In addition to her work as a ghostwriter and author, Kate is also a blogger for a number of organic and natural food companies as well as a columnist for several pet magazines.

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  • This is great info. My gsd has Enzyme pancreatic insufficiency. Looking for an affordable food for her. She’ll be taking enzymes for her condition.

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