Keeping your cat healthy means giving him the highest quality pet food available. But even beyond the quality of the food, certain cat nutrition needs may need to be met to maintain his well-being. A low-protein diet is often one of the special food recommendations made by veterinarians. Pet owners may think low-protein food has a small amount of protein overall, but that might not be the best term to use, explains Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center in New York City.
“These prescription diets have reduced protein compared to regular diets, but protein still makes up a fairly reasonable portion of the diet,” she explains. Cats require meat protein because they are natural carnivores.
Low-protein cat food, defined: “All pet food is composed of protein, fat and carbohydrates—and if one goes up, the others go down so that a complete and balanced diet is created,” says Hohenhaus. When you evaluate pet nutrition, the labels can be confusing, as nutrients are reported in a variety of ways. “Your vet can help you make comparisons using ‘dry matter basis’—the food minus the water content, which has no nutritional value,” she adds. A low-protein dry version of cat food is nearly identical to the canned variety except that it might have more carbohydrates, which are required to form those crunchy pebbles your feline adores. Sensitive cats might enjoy Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Green Pea & Duck Formula Grain-Free Dry Food.
Health conditions that low-protein diets address: “The most common cat ailment for which reduced-protein diets are prescribed is chronic kidney disease,” notes Hohenhaus. Other conditions may also warrant low-protein cat food, though they occur less frequently. Cats with severe liver disease will benefit from this diet, for example. Veterinary cardiologists occasionally prescribe pets with heart failure a diet that consists of low protein and sodium levels, she says. Consider the all-natural chicken protein in Blackwood Chicken Meal & Rice Recipe Indoor Formula, which is ideal for cats with these conditions.
The benefits of low-protein cat food: While “low protein” sounds straightforward, these kinds of pet diets are not just about one ingredient. Instead, they’re multifaceted nutritional products, says Hohenhaus. “When protein is digested, the waste products are excreted through the kidneys, so reduced-protein diets help to decrease the kidneys’ workload.” Not only is the protein content smaller, but the protein used to formulate these diets is highly digestible, so it lessens the amount of waste produced during digestion. Reduced-protein diets also have lower levels of phosphorus, which aids kidney function. “Keeping phosphorus in the normal range also makes a cat feel better,” points out Hohenhaus.
Reduced-protein diets have antioxidants to help protect kidneys from further damage, as well as essential fatty acids for their anti-inflammatory properties. Frequently, potassium and B vitamins are added to compensate for the kidneys’ decreased ability to retain adequate amounts of these compounds in the body, says Hohenhaus. “These pet foods are formulated to be extra tasty since cats with kidney disease often have poor appetites.” Reduced-protein diets have high energy density (many calories per mouthful), so cats with a small appetite can consume a smaller amount of food, while still meeting their daily needs. Older cats who thrive on a gluten-free diet might want to try Solid Gold Fit as a Fiddle Fresh Caught Alaskan Pollock Grain-Free Adult Dry Cat Food as an option to meet their dietary needs.
How to offer low-protein food: Cats with kidney issues are usually older and may experience pain in their mouths when eating. To this end, the food you offer should be tasty and appealing. Speak with your pet’s veterinarian about selecting cat food that your kitty will enjoy eating. You may need to experiment with different flavors and brands before your fur baby settles on one. Wellness Complete Health Indoor Health Salmon & Whitefish Meal Recipe is an appealing option for even the most finicky of cats.
Keep your cat hydrated: Kidney distress in cats can result in dehydration, so it’s important to offer water frequently and encourage your kitty to take sips, if you can. You might also ask a pet professional about giving wet food over dry kibble, since the dry version has very little water in it.
How supplements can help: Nutritional supplements may be suggested by your veterinarian to combat some of the side effects of kidney illness. Low potassium is one such condition that may be resolved with a supplement. Ask your vet whether giving one is a good idea for your pet.
So take these points into consideration before switching your cat to a low-protein cat food to truly determine if it is the best choice for your kitty.