Phosphorus in Dog Food: Why Balance Is Important


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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Vet, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.


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Dogs, just like humans, need phosphorus in their diets to maintain good health throughout their lifetimes. Phosphorus plays an important role in many body functions and keeping adequate levels is very important.

In this article, we will explore the general functions of phosphorus, how much phosphorus a dog needs, why is it important to have a balanced amount of phosphorus in the dog’s diet as well as the cases when phosphorus needs to be reduced in a diet.

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What Is Phosphorus?

Phosphorus is a mineral that works with calcium to keep the bones strong and healthy. Phosphorus plays an important role in muscle contraction as well as in the transfer and storage of energy through the body.  It is important to make sure the body doesn’t get too much phosphorus, as an imbalance could cause the phosphorus to pull calcium out of and weaken the bones. Usually, the kidneys do a great job of removing excess phosphorus from the body. However, if kidney problems are present, they may not be able to get the job done efficiently, and an overload of phosphorus could encompass your dog’s body.

bernese mountain dog eating
Image Credit: Kristesoro, Shutterstock

How Much Phosphorus Do Dogs Need?

The amount of phosphorus that your dog needs will depend on its kidney health. A large dog with healthy kidneys should eat a diet that is made up of about 1% phosphorus. Smaller dogs with healthy kidneys should eat a diet made up of between .06% and 1.3% phosphorus. However, it’s a different story for dogs with kidney disease. They should be offered food made up of no more than .5% phosphorus.

How to Calculate the Phosphorus in Your Dog’s Food

If you are feeding commercial dog food to your pooch, you don’t have to do much work to figure out how much phosphorus is in the food. All you should have to do is read the nutrition label, which should list the percentage of phosphorus, calcium, protein, and other nutrients that are contained in the food.

When calculating phosphorus content in food the calcium content should always be considered as well since these two minerals need to be balanced. Excesses or deficiencies in any of these two minerals have negative consequences on the dog’s body.

In a healthy dog’s maintenance diet the balance of calcium to phosphorus should be around 1:1 with a desirable slightly higher calcium content, for example, 1.1:1.

A growing puppy with developing bones would need slightly more calcium and the ratio can be as high as 1.8:1. Depending on their breed and age both excess and deficiencies of calcium have negative consequences for a puppy.

In simple terms meat is higher in phosphorus and bones and higher in calcium content but is not that easy and taking it on your own can result in serious health consequences for a dog. Ideally, when formulating your dog’s homemade food, you should always be advised by a professional. Some available online resources are: https://animaldietformulator.com/ and https://www.petdiets.com/Homemade-Diets

Flat Coated Retriever puppy eats a chicken carcass
Image Credit: Phil stev, Shutterstock

Does Your Dog Need a Low-Phosphorus Food?

If your dog is healthy, you shouldn’t have to worry about giving them a special kind of food, and the phosphorus in commercial dog foods should be prebalnced and at safe levels. However, if your dog has unhealthy kidneys, they may do better on a low-phosphorus diet. You should be able to find foods at the store that are labeled as low phosphorus, and your vet may be able to prescribe a special low-phosphorus diet for your pooch.divider-paw

In Conclusion

Now that you know what phosphorus is, and some of its functions, why is it important how much your dog should get, and that it needs to be balanced with calcium? You should have no problem making sure they don’t get too much or too little. If you make your dog’s food, the process of calculating phosphorus in it can be more intensive and time-consuming, but there are available resources to help you make sure your dog gets the right and balanced nutrition it deserves.


Featured Image Credit: Dean Drobot, Shutterstock



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