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Updated November 2022
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Buying guide for Best low-protein cat food

When it comes to your cat’s health, it starts with its diet. Cats may be put on a low-protein diet for a number of different reasons, one being kidney or liver disease, which becomes more common as cats age. Even a low-protein cat food still contains enough protein to fulfill your cat’s nutritional needs, and many even include additional nutrients and vitamins.

Before making a purchase for your feline friend, there are a few factors to consider. Your cat’s current health should be evaluated by a veterinarian before it starts on a low-protein diet. You should also consider factors that apply to any cat food, such as food allergies, flavor, pȃté versus gravy, and dry versus wet. Regardless of the reason, you’re looking into low-protein cat food, you’re bound to find something that appeals to your pet. 

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It bears repeating that you should not put your cat on a low-protein diet without first consulting a veterinarian. This diet is only beneficial to cats with specific diseases and conditions. Putting a healthy cat on a low-protein diet can lead to malnourishment and weight loss. 

How to buy the best low-protein cat food 

Cats need protein

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they absorb nutrients and proteins best from meat and can’t rely on plant-based foods for health. In fact, a cat will starve on a poorly formulated vegetarian diet. While even a dog can eat vegetables from time to time, a cat on an omnivore diet will be malnourished unless its food is specifically formulated with essential nutrients. 

The ideal cat diet should be high in protein and low in carbs. This can be packaged as wet or dry food. Any commercial cat food should include amino acids, such as taurine, that are necessary to feline health. Generally speaking, a healthy cat should consume a diet that consists of around 25% protein. 

Why a cat might need a low-protein diet

If the ideal cat diet is high in protein and low in carbs, why put a cat on a low-protein diet? One big reason is kidney health. A low-protein diet is often prescribed for a cat with renal failure, which is quite common in cats over the age of ten. One primary function of the kidneys is to process and eliminate protein waste, so a low-protein food is easier on a cat’s kidneys, putting them under less strain so they can operate more efficiently. 

Wet vs. dry food

There are low-protein cat food options available in both wet and dry form.

Dry food: If you primarily feed your cat dry food, you might want to buy a dry low-protein cat food for the sake of continuity. Dry cat food is easier on the wallet and doesn’t spoil as quickly as wet food. 

On the downside, dry food is high in carbohydrates. Carbs are nutritionally unnecessary for cats, as their natural diet in the wild has few carbs. Furthermore, some studies have linked excessive carb consumption to diabetes mellitus in cats.  

Wet food: This low-protein cat food has a higher moisture content, up to 75% water. Cats are notoriously fussy about drinking water, but as they age it becomes especially critical for urinary health. Furthermore, cats with kidney disease are particularly at risk for dehydration. 

One downside of wet low-protein cat food is cost, since it’s noticeably more expensive than dry. Wet cat food also spoils more quickly. It must be refrigerated after being opened and thrown out within a few hours if left uneaten in your cat’s bowl. A fair compromise might be a mixture of wet and dry food. You can save money while still offering your cat some extra hydration.

Raw food

A third low-protein option is raw cat food. As the name suggests, raw cat food is uncooked and meant to mimic the way felines eat in the wild. Evolutionarily speaking, cats have only recently begun to eat cooked food. As with wet canned food, raw food has a high moisture content. Note that raw food for cats with kidney disease isn’t necessarily low protein; rather, it contains lower phosphorus levels or only includes particular proteins.

Prescription diet

Your cat doesn’t need a prescription for low-protein cat food, but some of the more reputable brands require one, particularly those created by veterinarians. While prescription cat food is definitely more expensive, it might be worth it if you want the extra comfort of vet approval. Talk to your pet’s veterinarian about your prescription options. 

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Did You Know?
A low-protein cat food might include as little as 12% protein compared to the typical 25%.
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Features of low-protein cat food  

Low-protein vs. low-phosphorus

Kidneys are responsible for filtering protein as well as phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential mineral found in teeth, bones, and DNA. It works closely with calcium to build and maintain healthy bones. A cat with kidney disease has trouble processing the phosphorus in its diet, leading to high phosphorus levels that cause fatigue and can create excessive calcium deposits. 

Some foods for cats with kidney disease have low phosphorus levels rather than low protein levels. Some may be both low phosphorus and low protein. If you have a cat that already has trouble eating or is underweight, your veterinarian might suggest a low-phosphorus diet first. 

Flavor

Low-protein cat food has most of the same options as regular cat food. If your cat loves a particular flavor like duck or turkey, try to find the same option in a low-protein food. Chicken is one of the most, if not the most, popular pet food flavor. 

Some cats have food allergies, so keep that in mind when shopping. You can try a low-protein cat food with limited ingredients to reduce allergy risk or to easily figure out the cause of an allergy if one arises. 

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For Your Safety
Some cat owners might want to make their own low-protein cat food, but they should consult their veterinarian before doing so. Cats require specific amino acids in their diet and will be malnourished without them. 
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How much does low-protein cat food cost?

Inexpensive 

This type of cat food is a bit pricier than regular cat food, but you can find some in the $15 to $25 price range, primarily dry food in packages weighing 1 to 3 pounds. Some low-phosphorus cat food brands fall into this price range as well.

Mid-range

For $25 to $40, you’ll come across more prescription low-protein cat food options, both wet and dry. Wet food is packaged as 3.3-ounce cans in cases of 24 or 36. Some of these include extra ingredients such as antioxidants and omega-3s. 

Expensive 

A cat with kidney disease might have other expenses, so it’s in the owner’s best interests to keep costs low. Low-protein cat food that costs more than $40 is sold in large quantities, such as 5.5-ounce cans. Dry cat food comes in bags weighing more than 5 pounds.  

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Did You Know?
Some signs of kidney disease in cats include fatigue, vomiting, excessive drinking, and bad breath. If you suspect your cat has kidney disease, schedule a vet visit immediately. Blood and urine tests will confirm the diagnosis. 
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Tips

  • Avoid switching your cat’s diet suddenly. Cats have sensitive stomachs, and an abrupt change can make them ill. Start by mixing 50% of the new diet with 50% of the old. Slowly increase the percentage until your cat is eating only the new food.
  • Add flavor to new food for a picky eater. If you have a picky cat, try enticing it to eat its new diet by adding some tuna juice to the food or warming the food before serving. Once your cat does eat it, some praise and pats can reinforce the good behavior.
  • Add a little water to the cat food for extra moisture. Also make sure your cat always has access to a bowl of clean water.
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Even though cats are obligate carnivores, there are a few vegan and vegetarian food brands on the market. These products are fortified with the nutrients that cats depend on. 

FAQ

Q. Is senior cat food considered low-protein cat food?

A. It can be, but not all senior cat food is necessarily low in protein. To be sure, search for the “low-protein” label on the packaging. In fact, a healthy senior cat can greatly benefit from a high-protein diet, especially since cats often eat less as they age. 

Q. Can I make low-protein cat food myself?

A. You can try, but it’s strongly recommended that you consult a veterinarian or animal dietitian first. There are plenty of recipes for homemade cat food online, but it’s critical that you add the minerals and supplements that cats need in order to thrive, especially if your cat has kidney disease.  

Q. Will low-protein cat food extend my cat’s life?

A. It could help. For a cat with kidney disease, low-protein cat food can help their kidneys work more efficiently and improve a cat’s quality of life overall.

 

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