Wag! for Pet Parents

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews

Install

pet-parent-illustration

Pet Parent

Find Pet Caregivers on Wag!

Sign up

Already have an account?

Sign in

pet-parent-illustration

Pet Caregiver

Find pet care jobs on Wag!

Approved Caregiver?

Get the app

7 min read

How Much Protein Does My Dog Need?

wellness-how-much-protein-does-my-dog-need-hero-image

By Adam Lee-Smith

Published: 07/05/2023, edited: 10/06/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Save on pet insurance for your pet

You don't have to choose between your pet and your wallet when it comes to expensive vet visits. Prepare ahead of time for unexpected vet bills by finding the pawfect pet insurance.

Overview

Understanding a dog's protein needs is vital for their health. A good balance of plant and animal-based proteins gives your dog the essential nutrients they need for growth, cell production, and a healthy immune system.

Pet parents usually won't need to worry about whether their dogs are getting enough protein — most commercial dog foods contain all the protein your dog needs to thrive.

That said, protein deficiency can cause serious issues. Dogs who don't receive enough protein can experience adverse effects like reduced growth, weight loss, and weakened immunity.

But why is protein so impawtant to a dog's diet? And exactly how much protein does your dog need? Scroll down to learn about the benefits of protein for dogs, how much protein a dog needs, the best protein sources, and much more!

bowl of whole food protein sources, including meat, beans, and eggs, set between the front paws of a brown dog

How much protein does my dog need?

First things first: All dogs are different, and protein needs change from pup to pup. Consult your vet if you're unsure of the optimal protein requirements for your dog.

Here's roughly how much protein your dog needs based on their age:

Puppies and pregnant/nursing dogs: 22.5% crude protein minimum

Adults: 18% crude protein minimum

Senior dogs: 28% crude protein minimum

When shopping for dog food, be sure to check the guaranteed analysis on the packaging. This tells you how much crude protein (and other macronutrients) the product contains.

Factors that affect your dog's protein needs

  • Age: Growing puppies and seniors need more protein than adult dogs. Seniors find it more difficult than adults and puppies to gain and maintain muscle mass. However, a balance between protein intake and exercise is vital to prevent excess weight gain.

  • Breed and size: Large and giant breeds, like Newfoundlands and Cane Corsos, need more protein than smaller dogs. Depending on your dog's size, your vet may recommend a dog food for large breeds that contains a minimum of 22% crude protein.

  • Activity level: Dogs with high activity levels, like Huskies, Border Collies, and working breeds, may require high-protein dog food for extra energy and optimal muscle health.

  • Health conditions: Some medical conditions can affect a dog's protein requirements. For example, dogs diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) generally need less protein.

brown shiba inu dog smiling and sitting in front of a yellow photography backdrop

Benefits of protein for dogs

During digestion, protein breaks down into amino acids, which power all sorts of metabolic processes from digestive health to bladder function.

Over 20 essential and non-essential amino acids are involved in this process. Dog food provides the 10 essential amino acids your dog's body can't make on its own:

  • Arginine
  • Histidine 
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Let's take a closer look at what else protein does and how it benefits your dog's health.

Boosts coat and skin health

Protein supports coat health and muscle development. A dog's coat is 95% protein, and 20% to 30% of a dog's daily protein intake is used to support their skin and coat health.

Feeding a dog food with high protein levels from quality sources like chicken, lamb, and beef is a grrreat way to keep your pooch looking and feeling their best.

Promotes muscle development and growth

Many animal-based proteins, including chicken, lamb, and beef, are high in isoleucine, valine, leucine, and lysine. Isoleucine helps boost endurance levels and heal injured muscles. Valine improves muscle coordination and aids tissue repair and muscle growth. 

Leucine and lysine help dogs build and maintain muscles and bones. Muscle meats, eggs, and seafood contain taurine, which promotes heart health and strengthens muscles. 

Supports immunity

Several amino acids in animal-based proteins, like histidine, play a significant role in immune function. Histidine metabolizes into histamine, which helps a dog's body to respond to allergens.

Provides energy

Carbs are often the chief energy source in dry dog food, but surprisingly, dogs do not require carbs in their diets. Carbs aren't bad for dogs — some glucose from carbs is converted into energy.

That said, dog foods that are high in carbs don't provide the best nutritional value. The Association of American Feed Control Officials' (AAFCO) nutrient profiles for dogs don't include a minimum carbohydrate requirement. 

Dietary fats are the most important energy source for dogs. Remember, protein breaks down into essential and non-essential amino acids. Some of these amino acids produce energy, but less efficiently than dietary fat. A balance of protein and fat is necessary for maintaining energy levels. 

Helps with weight management

Protein is excellent for managing a dog's weight. Protein helps dogs feel fuller for longer, which helps prevent overeating and obesity. Carbs contain a similar amount of calories to protein, but those calories are less nutritious. Dietary fat is also much higher in calories than protein, which is why it's so important to maintain the right balance of protein, fat, and carbs.

protein sources including raw chicken, raw beef, raw salmon, a cracked egg, beans, and cottage cheese, set on a granite counter

Sources of protein for dogs

Meat and plants are both excellent protein sources for dogs. Let's take a closer look at how each type of protein benefits your dog's health, plus which foods contain a healthy amount of protein.

Animal sources of protein for dogs

Meat is the most important protein source for dogs and should be abundant in a dog's diet. Chicken is among the best protein sources for dogs, as it's low in fat and high in all essential amino acids.

Here are a few more of the most pawpular animal-based protein sources for dogs:

  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Venison
  • Rabbit
  • Bison
  • Eggs
  • Fish (salmon, tuna, whitefish)

Plant sources of protein for dogs

Plant-based proteins are commonly included in dog foods and are ideal for dogs with sensitivities and allergies to meat protein. Dogs are omnivores, so they can be vegetarian or vegan as long as their food meets their nutritional needs. (However, your vet is unlikely to recommend a plant-based diet for your dog unless it's medically necessary.)

Common plant-based proteins in dog foods include:

  • Soy
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Rice
  • Potato
  • Chickpeas
  • Quinoa
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Buckwheat
golden retriver dog lying down on a gray tile floor next to a white plate of dog kibble

High-protein dog food: what to know

The definition of a high-protein diet for dogs isn't clear due to the many factors that affect a dog's recommended protein intake. Generally, commercial dog food that contains more than 30% crude protein would be considered high-protein.

Thinking of switching your pup to a high-protein food? We've sniffed out answers to the most commonly asked questions about high-protein diets below.

Can high-protein diets improve a dog's coat condition?

Yes, a protein-rich diet can improve a dog's coat condition. As we mentioned above, a dog's coat is 95% protein, and as much as 30% of their daily protein intake goes toward their skin and coat health. High-protein diets may be especially beneficial for show dogs who are judged on the appearance of their coat.

Can dogs have too much protein?

While too much of a good thing can be a bad thing for some dogs, excess protein won't usually cause problems for healthy dogs.

Whatever protein isn't broken down into amino acids is converted to energy, stored as fat, or passed through the urine. Extra protein that's stored as fat could contribute to weight gain, and too much protein can also place stress on the kidneys.

High protein levels also mean higher levels of nitrogen in your dog's urine, which can cause yellow spots and stains on your lawn. While these yellow patches won't usually indicate a health condition, they can wreak havoc on your garden. So if you've noticed this in your own yard and you're concerned about it, check the protein content of your dog's food before trying other remedies.

Dogs with certain medical conditions such as liver disease and kidney disease will likely be advised to restrict their protein intake, as too much protein can have a negative effect.

(Always consult your vet before adjusting your dog's protein intake.)

golden retriever puppy placing their head in a white ceramic bowl of dog food

Can dogs with sensitive stomachs tolerate high-protein diets?

High-protein diets can cause diarrhea and other digestive issues for dogs with sensitive stomachs.

The quality of protein in dog food is also important to consider. Meat meals are highly processed and made with animal byproducts, which are harder to digest and have less nutritional value.

Minimally processed, human-grade meats are best for dogs. Raw or gently cooked meats have the highest nutritional value and are easier to digest than their highly processed counterparts.

High-protein dog foods

Thinking of switching your dog to a high-protein food? Check out some of these furrific brands:


Can dogs be allergic to certain proteins?

Yes, dogs can be allergic to certain proteins. According to a 2016 study, beef is the most common food allergen in dogs, followed by dairy products, chicken, wheat, and lamb. Beets and rawhide chews rank among the most surprising food allergens for dogs. 

Food allergies are far less common in dogs than airborne or environmental allergies. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), only 0.2% of dogs have a food allergy. 

Several dog breeds are suspected of being more prone to food allergies than others, including Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and West Highland Terriers

If you suspect your dog has a food allergy, you'll need to perform a food trial in partnership with your vet to find the cause. Food trials involve limiting the ingredients in your dog's diet as a process of elimination to identify what's causing an allergic reaction. There is also the option of running an IGE blood test.

vet wearing green scrubs and purple stethoscope petting a white bichon frise dog sitting on a vet exam table

Signs of protein deficiency in dogs

We may see protein deficiency in those with chronic medical issues, such as malabsorption disorders of the gut and parasite burdens.

A lack of protein in a dog's diet can also lead to protein deficiencies (which are rare in dogs fed a commercial dog food). Common symptoms of protein deficiencies in dogs include:

Contact your vet if your dog is showing signs of a protein deficiency.


Protein supplements for dogs

A complete and balanced diet is the best way for your dog to meet their required protein needs. That said, puppies, pregnant dogs, seniors, and dogs with health conditions may need a protein supplement for additional support. This would be rare and one should only be given on the advice of your vet. Protein supplements can increase muscle mass and support growth and milk production. 

Be aware of signs of excess protein if you're giving your dog protein supplements. Weight gain, diarrhea, and yellow stains after urinating are common signs. Contact your vet to find out if protein supplements would benefit your dog.


Protein for dogs: Recap

  • Protein is essential to a dog's diet, providing amino acids that support immunity, coat health, muscle development, and weight management. 
  • A good balance of protein, fat, and carbs is key for maintaining healthy energy levels.
  • Adult dog food should contain a minimum of 18% crude protein.
  • Dog food for puppies and nursing/pregnant dogs should contain a minimum of 22.5% protein.
  • Active dogs and senior dogs need more protein, but their exact needs will vary based on their activity levels and age.
  • Beef, dairy, chicken, wheat, and lamb are among the most common food allergies in dogs.
  • Excess protein can cause digestive issues, kidney issues, and weight gain for some dogs.
  • Dogs can have protein deficiencies, with symptoms including weight loss, lethargy, poor digestion, and a dull, rough coat.


Looking for advice on your dog's protein requirements? Use Wag! Vet Chat for answers in 6 minutes on average!


Wag! Specialist
Need to upgrade your pet's leash?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews

Install


© 2024 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.