High Protein Dog Food: Is it Good for Your Dog?

High Protein Dog Food: Is it Good for Your Dog?


What we feed our dogs is a serious subject, and nutrition can be complicated. So, let’s cover some basics when it comes to canine nutrition and why, yes, so-called “high-protein dog food” may be a good choice to keep dogs at a good weight, with lean muscle mass and strong bodies.

What is high protein dog food?

Dogs need a balanced diet with fats, carbohydrates, and protein. According to AAFCO nutritional guidelines, adult dog food must contain at least 18% crude protein. The majority of dry dog foods sold in the US contain about 21 to 27% crude protein. This is primarily because protein is the most expensive ingredient in dog food, so keeping protein lower helps the manufacturer maintain a healthy profit. Dog foods higher than 28% protein have become labeled “high-protein,” although that term has no actual regulatory or medical meaning. So how do some of the most popular dog foods rate in terms of protein content? 

Dog Food

Protein

Orijen Regional Red Dry Dog Food

38%

Blue Buffalo Wilderness High Protein Dry Dog Food

34%

Taste of the Wild High Prairie Grain-Free Dry Dog Food

32%

Wild Earth Dry Dog Food

31%

Purina ONE SmartBlend True Instinct with Real Turkey & Venison Adult Dry Dog Food

30%

Pedigree Adult Complete Nutrition Roasted Chicken, Rice & Vegetable Flavor Dry Dog Food

21%

Purina Dog Chow Complete Adult Dry Dog Food With Real Beef

21%

As you can clearly see, there’s a wide range in the protein amount of dog foods. We’re proud of the unique protein in our non-meat-based Wild Earth adult dog food, but you can see we’re nowhere near the top of the “high-protein list.” And that’s exactly how we designed our food.

That’s because we believe around 28 to 32% protein is ideal for most adult pet dogs. This is based on decades of data that conclude a higher-protein, higher-fiber formula such as ours is better for weight loss and maintaining lean muscle mass. My research and work in pet obesity over the past 20 years has taught me that American indoor dogs need every bit of nutritional help we can offer when it comes to maintaining a healthy body condition.

Optimal dietary protein levels also ensure a dog’s immune system and organs have the essential amino acids needed for health and well-being. Amino acids are truly the building blocks of life, and we want to make sure every dog has a healthy foundation for life.    

Is high-protein dog food good for your dog? Yes

Decisions about nutrition are based on your dog at this moment: Is your dog underweight or overweight? What is your dog’s body condition score? How much exercise does your dog really get each day? (Be honest!) Does your dog have any underlying medical issues?

Why does your dog need protein? Proteins are one of the most important parts of your dog’s complete and balanced diet along with healthy fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Proteins are made of amino acid building blocks and are necessary to maintain a dog’s immunity by synthesizing hormones, enzymes, and antibodies, to keep the skin and coat healthy, and build strong bones and muscles. Proteins also serve as valuable energy sources to keep your dog bounding all day. 

In general, higher-protein diets are associated with a more natural diet, the kind of food a dog -- or your dog’s ancient relatives, the wolves – might have eaten in the wild. Companies like Solid Gold, Blue Buffalo, Orijen, Petcurean, and others offer animal meat-based dog foods high in protein. And for dog owners concerned about factory-farmed meat or for dogs who’ve shown allergies to particular animal proteins, there are non-meat-based ways to get that protein, as we’re proving with Wild Earth diets.

Is high-protein good for the planet? Depends on the Protein

As the race for higher and higher protein levels in “ancestral,” “primal,” and “evolutionary” dog foods continues, there’s a limit to what both our planet and our dog’s health can handle. Dog and cat foods have more meat than the average US adult diet, meaning dogs and cats now consume about 25% of the total calories derived from animals. That also means more factory farms, more water and air pollution, and more climate change. 

Dog foods containing higher than 35-40% protein may also have health consequences, especially for older dogs with kidney or heart conditions. Of source, healthy, active dogs can easily handle, and likely benefit from, diets containing 28 to 32% protein. This amount of protein, when combined with higher fiber, may also help prevent obesity.  

Wild Earth's meat-free protein source is highly sustainable and can be grown in just a few days. It uses nearly 90% less resources than meat. 

Dog running on the beach

High-protein dog food can also help fight obesity

Have you noticed your dog putting on a few extra pounds? Has your veterinarian told you that your dog is on the heavy side? Obesity can be hard on your dog’s body and joints. In addition to arthritis and joint injuries, the majority of damage caused by obesity is from inflammation. Chronic inflammation secondary to obesity has been linked to many diseases in dogs including kidney failure, diabetes, decreased life expectancy, and many forms of cancer. Obesity also leads to reduced life expectancy, with some studies indicating a loss of over two years of life expectancy in dogs fed too much and an increase in cancer and arthritis compared to dogs fed less.   

High-protein, high-fiber diets can promote a lean body mass and healthy weight in dogs. With the majority of dogs in America overweight or obese, high-protein diets can be a crucial part of the equation to better dog health. Protein is metabolically more difficult for a dog’s body to turn into fat, so more protein and fewer carbohydrates can help a dog lose fat and maintain a healthy weight. That’s why many therapeutic or prescription diets designed for weight loss in dogs are high in protein and high in fiber. The research is clear that protein and fiber help prevent and combat obesity in dogs

What happens if my dog eats too much protein?

The biggest red flag is kidney problems. If your dog has kidney disease or kidney-related issues, talk to your veterinarian before changing your dog’s food. Either too much or too little protein can cause problems for dogs whose kidneys aren’t properly processing waste from protein in the food. You can learn more about signs of kidney-related conditions and chronic kidney failure from this veterinary school.  

However, for a healthy dog, there's no need to worry about too much protein in a balanced diet from a reputable dog food manufacturer. People think of kidneys like a car part, with more protein making the car part work harder and giving out sooner. But kidneys, and living bodies in general, are more adaptable than we think. Kidneys are less like a car engine and more like an orange tree: Do you wear down an orange tree by picking more oranges from the tree? Nope. The orange tree, with enough nutrients, uses those nutrients to produce more branches and more oranges in the next season. A little more protein in a healthy, active dog helps fuel energy and rebuild tissues all over the body.

But just because most dogs can handle most diets doesn’t mean a big change, like switching from regular to high-protein dog food, should be done without care. Before you make significant changes to a dog’s diet, always consult with a veterinarian. Every dog is different. A veterinarian can help you make sure your calorie count, nutrient mixture, and balanced nutrition are just right for your dog.     

 

BIO: Ernie Ward, DVM, is an internationally recognized veterinarian and author of four industry-changing books, including Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter and The Clean Pet Food Revolution: How Better Pet Food Will Change the World



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