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How Much Protein Do Old Dogs Need To Eat?

  • July 12, 2021
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How Much Protein Do Old Dogs Need To Eat?

Maggie is one year from being classified as a “senior”. And in classic dog mom form, I’m preparing myself by researching what I need to do to help her as she ages.

I had previously heard that older dogs needed less protein, but there are more recent articles that were saying otherwise. So which is it?

Do old dogs need more or less protein in their diet?

How Much Protein Do Old Dogs Need To Eat?

Early Scientific Studies Claiming High Protein Diets Causes Kidney Damage in Dogs

The first studies suggested that high protein ingestion affected renal (kidney) health dates back to the 1920s. Rodents were used in the study. These rats were fed high quantities of protein containing 75% liver. After that, another study in 1941 on ten dogs with kidney disease was done. The results led Morris to produce and sell a reduced protein diet for dogs with renal failure. 

This idea that high protein feeding may be harmful was even adopted by the NRC in 1972.  

The Tide Turns

But the medical community, both for humans and animals, was learning more about how the kidney functions and realized their mistakes.

Since then, it has been found that there is no evidence to support the view that high levels of protein are harmful to aging dogs and the recommendation has been dropped.

There is now new evidence the opposite – that high protein diets enhance renal function in dogs.

More Recent Studies Show Old Dogs Need More Protein:

The experts chime in.

Here’s a recent reference on this topic:

“…restriction of protein intake does not alter the development of renal lesions nor does it preserve renal function. Considering these (research) findings, the authors do not recommend reduction of dietary protein in dogs with renal disease or reduced renal function in order to achieve renoprotective effects.”

-Kirk’s Veterinary Therapy XIII, Small Animal Practice, page 861, written by Finco, Brown, Barsanti and Bartges

They do recommend, though, that once a Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) level reaches 75, which is very elevated, that some restriction of protein intake be considered for beneficial effects unrelated to kidney function dynamics. These authors point out that phosphorus blood levels can play a major role in the health status of dogs with compromised kidney function.

Another expert states: 

“The dog can digest large amounts of proteins, especially those of animal origin” stated Prof. Dominique Grandjean DVM, Ph.D., at the Fourth Annual International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association Symposium (page 53 of 1997 PROCEEDINGS).

Current, and even ignored thirty-year-old research by Dr. David S. Kronfeld and others, spells out the evolutionary need for canines to have sources of high-quality protein such as is found in animal tissues. Meat (muscle tissue), organ tissues such as liver, kidneys, spleen, and heart are particularly rich in the complex molecules called amino acids that end up as protein.

How Much Protein Do Old Dogs Need To Eat?

Older Dogs Lose Muscle Mass

Just like humans lose muscle mass when we age, dogs do too.

Protein builds protein (tissue and muscles). And feeding an older dog a diet with at least 25% protein is ideal.  

When asked about the low protein recommendations from the past: 

“Those recommendations are based on a myth,” says Wendy Volhard, author of Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog. “In fact, the whole theory of low-protein diets for dogs with kidney disease was blown apart in 1975 by David Kronfeld, PhD, who was at the time a veterinary researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. His concept was not to feed less protein but rather to feed higher-quality protein. “The low-protein myth is like an old-wive’s tale, something based on ignorance that just won’t die. Yes, inferior-quality protein can harm a dog’s kidneys, but the solution isn’t to continue with inferior-quality ingredients and feed less of them. The solution is to improve the quality of ingredients and in that way provide what the dog needs for good health.” 

What To Look For In Dog Food For Your Senior Dog

Kibble Diets For A Healthy Dog

  • Feed your dog the highest quality dog food you can afford.
  • Select food with real, recognizable, whole food ingredients. 
  • Ensure your senior dog is getting at least 25% of their calories from animal protein 
  • Add in fresh food as follows. 
    • Eggs 3 times a week
    • Add protein 3 times a week rotating between pork, chicken, turkey and beef
    • When adding protein, feed more red meat than white meat because dogs need more L-carnitine a they age
    • Add fish 3 times a week
  • Decrease kibble by 20% when topping off with fresh food
  • Check body condition scores weekly

Home Cooked and Raw Diets For A Healthy Dog

  • Level up your dog’s meals by selecting grass fed or minimally processed meat at least twice a week
  • When feeding eggs, look for cage-free, pasture-raised organic eggs
  • When feeding fish, look to fresh feed fish as opposed to canned fish 

What If Your Senior Dog Has Kidney Failure

  • Feed a diet that is higher in fat with moderate amounts of high-quality protein
  • Feed low amounts of phosphorus. Feed less bone if you are raw feeding. And look to use bone meal instead of calcium carbonate.  
  • Whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, millet, and other whole grains are moderately high in phosphorus and should not be fed often or in large amounts. White rice is low in phosphorus, and glutinous or sticky rice is the lowest-phosphorus grain.
  • Supply filtered low mineral bottled water instead of tap water to drink.
How Much Protein Do Old Dogs Need To Eat?

Final Thoughts

Boston Terriers live an average of 11 to 13 years. Maggie will be 7 next year – entering the dawn of her “senior” years.

In her case I’ll look to add more grass fed meat, and decrease her bone levels but very gradually. I also plan to check her blood count and have the Parsley Pet Test done annually.

Remember every dog is different and what might work for my dog may not be optimal for yours.

If your dog is aging well and is otherwise healthy then feed a diet that has at least 25% protein look to improve the quality of protein they eat.

It’s essential to keep a diary to understand track what you are feeding. No matter what diet you are feeding monitor their: 

  • Teeth
  • Skin
  • Coat
  • Eyes
  • Stool
  • Energy
  • Behavior

Visit your vet regularly and have your dog’s blood levels checked. 

At the end of the day, your dog’s health markers will give you a clear indication of whether or not you are on the right path.  

Let your dog and their health determine what’s best for them.  

Thank you for reading this far, dear friends. To your own dog’s health and happiness. Best of luck in your information-seeking journey.

Stay steadfast and curious as you research and form your own opinions on what’s best for YOUR dog. 

How Much Protein Do Old Dogs Need To Eat?


Nutrition for aging cats and dogs and the importance of body condition

Robertson JL, Goldschmidt M, Kronfeld DS, et al: Longterm renal responses to high dietary protein in dogs with 75% nephrectomy. Kidney Int 29:511–519, 1986.

Mythology of Protein Restriction for Dogs with Reduced Renal Function

Focusing on Protein in the Diet

A Low-Protein “kidney diet” Is Not Always the Answer

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Hannah Zulueta and her two dogs Maggie and Orbit

Hello, my name is Hannah, and learning about Boston Terriers and canine nutrition has become my life’s work. 

First and foremost I am a dog owner, a Boston Terrier breed enthusiast, and a seeker of the truth.

I started this blog because there isn’t enough space to write on our Instagram.

My mission is to equip Boston Terrier owners and dog owners alike with the knowledge I have so that your dog will live a longer life and better health.

I have two dogs.  Maggie is my socially awkward one; which I find highly relatable because I am completely out of place in large groups myself.  And Orbit is the freebird. She used to have terrible allergies but since she started eating fresh food she’s been symptom free.

You won’t read about cats here… but you will get a fairly large dosage of articles dedicated to the Boston Terrier.   Read more about us. 

By, July 12, 2021
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