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Does My Dog Need A High Protein Diet?

Dog foods are often advertised as packed with protein from meat to feed your dog’s inner wolf. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are essential for everything from building muscle to producing hormones to repairing injured tissue.
High protein diets are tasty to dogs and can be highly beneficial, but it’s not as simple as choosing the dog food with as much meat as possible. Here’s what you should know about high protein diets for dogs.

Benefits of A High Protein Diet For Dogs
Dog food is made up of three major macronutrients: fats, protein, and carbohydrates. The three work together to support the body’s functions. While there is no single perfect ratio of macronutrients for every dog, many benefit from a diet that’s high in protein.
Protein and fats are essential. They give your dog energy, help grow and repair muscle, fuel hormone production, aid brain function, maintain a strong immune system, and build healthy skin and coat.
Carbohydrates are considered a nonessential for dogs. They can get all of the nutrients and energy they need from a diet made up of protein and fats alone. That said, carbohydrates are beneficial when fed in the right amounts.
Our domestic dogs have evolved to digest carbohydrates more efficiently than their wild ancestors. Carbohydrate sources like potatoes, corn, peas, and rice help form kibble and add bulk, making it affordable and more filling.
While carbs do not help build muscle, they are converted to glucose and burned for energy, sparing protein to be used for muscle growth. Glucose is stored in the liver and muscles for energy when the body needs it. Excess glucose, though, is stored as fat. That’s why a diet that’s too high in carbohydrates can cause your dog to gain weight.
Many veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists feel that the high-carb, moderate-protein content in most kibbles are contributing to high rates of obesity and diabetes in dogs. What’s more, some dogs may not be getting enough protein, even from foods that have high protein content.
Dog food does not only contain protein from meat. Plant sources like rice, peas, and corn all contain protein. Vegan dog food, usually reserved for dogs with severe allergies, contains no protein from meat at all. Protein from plants is harder for your dog’s body to utilize than protein from meat. Many kibbles also contain synthetic sources of amino acids.
So it’s not enough to look for the dog food with the highest protein content. It’s also important to consider the quality of bioavailability of the protein in your dog’s food.

How Much Protein Does My Dog Need Per Day?
Your dog’s protein needs depend on their age, activity level, body condition score, and whether they have any chronic health issues.
Puppies, pregnant and lactating dams, and canine athletes all need more protein to support muscle growth and repair.
Senior dogs need plenty of lean protein to help combat muscle loss that comes with aging. However, they often have chronic health issues that make it harder for their body to process a high protein diet.
Dog food contains a minimum of 8% protein on a dry matter basis, meaning exclusive of any moisture in the food. High protein foods, including puppy foods, may contain up to 30% protein. Raw and freeze-dried raw foods can contain 50% and up.
An ideal diet will have a good balance of fat, protein from meat, and carbohydrates to fuel your dog’s energy and nutritional needs.
Quality sources of animal protein include eggs, beef, chicken, fish, organ meats like liver and gizzards, as well as “meals.” Meals in dog foods are simply ground up animal parts that have been rendered into a shelf-stable powder for easy transportation and stability. Since the moisture has been removed, they are highly concentrated sources of protein found in many quality foods.

What Happens If My Dog Eats Too Much Protein?
For the typical adult dog, eating an excess of protein is not necessarily dangerous - but it’s not particularly healthy, either.
Excess amino acids are broken down by the kidneys and are excreted in the urine. This makes their urine more acidic, so you might also notice more urine-burned dead spots on your lawn.
Dogs with kidney issues can have a hard time processing a high-protein dog food. Kidney disease is common in dogs, and it’s often not diagnosed until the later stages. Excess protein puts a strain on unhealthy kidneys, and can make kidney disease worse. However, a high protein diet does not cause kidney disease in healthy dogs.
Excess protein that is not utilized for energy or muscle repair is stored in the body as fat. Feed too much protein, and your dog might put on too much weight. Otherwise, though, a healthy adult dog can usually handle a high protein diet. It just helps if they exercise enough to burn off that extra energy.

How To Add More Protein To Your Dog’s Diet
If you’re considering switching to a dog food with more protein, consult your veterinarian first. Under your vet’s guidance, you can transition your dog to a new, higher quality food.
You can also supplement your dog’s diet by adding a protein-rich topper or high protein treats to their favorite kibble. Canned, raw, cooked, and dehydrated dog food all contain more protein than the average kibble, and they can be used as a topper if you are unable to make a complete change.