Just like humans, a dog’s kidneys play a vital role in their overall health. Unfortunately, research shows that approximately 10 percent of geriatric dogs suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD), which can manifest as significant weight loss, vomiting, lethargy, and more.
Kidney disease should always be taken seriously, and there are several things that you can do to help your dog’s kidney health. Monitoring your dog’s phosphorus intake is one of them, and some veterinarians may recommend a low phosphorus dog food. Here’s what you need to know.
What is Phosphorus?
Phosphorus is a mineral that is essential in the formation of strong bones and teeth. Because of this, it’s often found in commercially prepared diets for dogs. It also helps regulate the body’s pH level and maintain hydration.
In dog food, phosphorus is often found “combined with either sodium or calcium, in the form of calcium phosphate, dicalcium phosphate, and sodium phosphate,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC’s chief veterinary officer.
What is Low Phosphorus Dog Food?
A dog food that’s low in phosphorus will be made with less than 0.4 percent phosphorus. Regular dog food, in contrast, may contain as much as 3 percent phosphorus. Too much phosphorus in your dog’s food can lead to kidney problems or bladder stones over time, says Dr. Klein.
“Regarding regular dog food, young dogs and small breeds need between 0.6 and 1.3 percent phosphorus,” he added. “Larger breeds of dogs need between 0.7 and 1 percent phosphorus, depending on their age and activity level.”
If a veterinarian has recommended a low-phosphorus diet, that means that your pet must stay below a certain amount of phosphorus daily. “This includes food and treats,” says Dr. Marcy McKeithen, The Motor City Pet Doc. “If one switches to a low phosphorus dog food, but still gives treats that are high in phosphorus, this will add to the daily phosphorus intake, which would be counterintuitive.”
Why Dogs May Need Low Phosphorus Dog Food
The main reason your veterinarian may recommend a low phosphorus dog food is its impact on kidney health.
How Low Phosphorus Dog Food Helps Dogs With Kidney Disease
Veterinarians often recommend a diet change as a first step after a pet has been diagnosed with changes in kidney function. Kidney changes are typically detected through abnormalities in blood or urine values when evaluated by a veterinarian.
“Research has shown that adjusting certain factors in foods can provide significant benefits to a dog or cat in terms of improving their clinical condition by reducing the workload on the kidneys and decreasing the levels of toxins in the bloodstream,” says Dr. Klein.
In fact, the formation of specialized dog foods in recent years for dogs and cats with kidney issues has had a significant and positive impact on their health and quality of life, Dr. Klein adds. “A change in diet is almost universally recommended by veterinarians as an essential part of the treatment regime.”
Best Low Phosphorus Dog Foods
You should never change your dog’s diet—especially to a low-phosphorus food—without consulting your veterinarian. If you’ve decided together that a low phosphorus diet might be right for your dog, the following are some good options to discuss.
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This prescription dog food option was specially formulated by veterinary experts with your pet’s kidney needs in mind.
- Prescription food formulated by nutritionists and veterinarians
- Clinically proven to enhance quality of life
- Made with controlled phosphorus and low sodium for optimal kidney and heart care
Things to Consider
- The price point on this product is on the higher side
- You’ll need veterinarian approval to purchase
The “A” in this food option stands for “aromatic.” The goal of this food is to help stimulate your dog’s senses and help with their appetite.
- Nutrient-dense food packs a punch with smaller portions, which might help if your dog is suffering from a decreased appetite due to kidney issues
- A veterinarian-approved combination of fish oil, low phosphorus, and targeted protein levels help support overall kidney function
Things to Consider:
- As a prescription diet, you will need veterinarian approval to purchase
- There are multiple versions of the Royal Canin Renal Food for dogs, differentiated by letters. Make sure to pay attention when ordering to avoid choosing the wrong food for your dog.
This low phosphorus dog food from Purina also has a restricted amount of protein to help support kidney function in dogs. It was formulated by veterinarians, nutritionists and researchers and has less than 0.4% phosphorus.
- Formulated by veterinarians and pet nutritionists
- Available in a wet and a dry version
- Dry food is available in 3 different bag sizes
Things to Consider
- You will need a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase this food
- The kibble is a bit large, so may be tough for smaller dogs to eat
With both a wet and dry option, this grain-free Blue Buffalo food allows you to switch up any dog’s diet to a low-phosphorus dog food with ease. It is a prescription diet, so it will require your veterinarian’s authorization to purchase.
- Made with real chicken
- Enhanced with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for additional kidney support
- Contains no chicken by-products, corn, wheat or soy, and there are no artificial flavors or preservatives
Things to Consider
- You’ll need veterinarian approval to purchase
- It is a grain-free formula
- The kibble size may be too large for some very small dogs and toy breeds
This low-phosphorus dog food was made with your dog’s ultimate digestion needs in mind, with a real focus on sensitivities and allergies. This is a good non-prescription option, but you should speak to your veterinarian if you’re interested in trying this food.
- Single-source of animal protein—real chicken—and easily-digestible rice should help satiate even the most sensitive stomach
- Enhanced with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to provide a balanced diet, while still excluding artificial flavors and colors, wheat, and wheat-gluten
- You don’t need veterinarian approval to order this food
What to consider:
- The bland taste might not be for every dog
Low Phosphorus Dog Food Buying Guide
When considering a low phosphorus food for your dog, be sure to consult your veterinarian. Remember that most dogs do not need a low phosphorus diet, especially puppies, says Dr. Klein.
With that in mind, if you are switching to a low phosphorus food, Dr. Klein suggests looking for options that are moderate in protein, sodium, and phosphorus, and that promote healthy kidney function, contain antioxidants like vitamin C and E, and include omega-3 fatty acids.
Some of the things that make a low phosphorus food optimal for a dog with kidney issues might not be beneficial for a healthy dog. Two key differences between regular and low phosphorus food to keep in mind include:
Low-quantity, high-quality protein content: Special renal diets contain less protein than regular foods, but the protein used in them is typically of higher quality than in a normal diet. “Many of the toxic waste products that the kidneys remove from the bloodstream are the result of protein breakdown,” says Dr. Klein. “Less protein in the diet means a reduced amount of waste for the kidneys to process.”
Restricted phosphate content: Reduced phosphate content in low phosphorus dog food formulas will help to protect the kidneys from further damage, thereby slowing the progression of kidney disease. “Restricting the dietary phosphate content also helps to reduce the incidence of calcification of various body tissues, including the kidneys,” says Dr. Klein.
Precautions When Feeding Low Phosphorus Dog Food
Dogs just starting to have mild changes in kidney function may see benefits with certain over-the-counter foods, while dogs with more serious issues—like kidney failure—may require a prescription diet.
“Some devoted owners also cook for their dog, but this should only be done with the assistance of a board-certified veterinarian nutritionist working with your veterinarian to ensure the diet is properly balanced and will be beneficial and not cause side effects,” says Dr. Klein.