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What Percentage of a Dog's Diet Should be Protein?


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Published: 03/02/2021
Despite what some people think, dogs are not solely carnivores. Sure, canines love meat—but dogs can (and should) also eat plant-based ingredients in their food, including vegetables, fruits, and grains. Sweet potatoes, blueberries, and brown rice are all excellent sources. 

In fact, there are many plant-based proteins out there that your dog’s digestive system has evolved to process. You may see peas, lentils, and chickpeas listed on the food label of your pooch's favorite kibble. These are a few of the great plant-based protein sources, while meat sources to look for are chicken, beef, and fish.

Pet parents should look for food that has the following ingredients:

  • Water

  • Fat

  • Vitamins and minerals

  • Carbohydrates

  • Proteins (meat and plant-based, typically seen as vegetable and animal proteins)

What does protein do for dogs?

Protein for dogs is very important. The amino acids in protein (meats are the best sources of these essential nutritional components) are what makes it so essential. 

Protein gives your precious pooch energy and also helps to build muscle and repairs the body after exercise and injury. Your dog's organs need protein and their nails and coats do, too. Protein is also critical to a dog's body processes like oxygen fueling of the blood.

Why is good dog food important?

Because of protein! 

That’s right, good dog food will have an adequate amount of protein for your dog. You’ll want to purchase dog food that has protein as the first ingredient, not a product that is primarily corn-based, for example. 

It’s important to have a balance in dog food, however, and that’s why checking dog food labels is essential. Look for these ingredients:

  • Real meat - look for chicken, beef, pork, buffalo, turkey, and other meat proteins

  • Fish like salmon

  • Vegetables such as sweet potatoes, kale, peas, blueberries, and more

  • Eggs

Avoid artificial colors and dyes. Your dog does not care if the food is colorful, so stay away from dyes!

Amino acids

Everyone has heard that amino acids are “the building blocks” of protein. 

Some amino acids are produced in the body and some must be provided in the diet. This scenario is the same for both dogs and humans. Twenty-two is the magic number for essential amino acids, with 10 of them required in the diet.

These are the essential 10 amino acids:

  • Arginine

  • Histidine 

  • Isoleucine

  • Leucine

  • Lysine

  • Methionine

  • Phenylalanine

  • Threonine

  • Tryptophan

  • Valine

Dog food that contains a complete protein source will have these amino acids. Highly digestible protein is well used by the body. Look for fish, eggs, and real meat in your dog’s food. These are excellent sources, too:

  • Duck

  • Turkey

  • Rabbit

  • Venison

  • Lamb

Animal by-products like kidneys, lungs, and liver are slightly less digestible but are well-accepted proteins also found in dog food.

Meat meals are typically made from rendered meat and rank just under real meat and animal by-products. Typically, a stew-like process takes place, with the meat being dried until it becomes a powder. The best meat meals are specified as chicken meal versus poultry meal and beef meal versus meat meal.

To add protein to your pooch’s diet make homemade treats using eggs and peanut butter. It’s important to verify on the peanut butter bottle label, however, that there is no xylitol. It is very toxic to dogs. Cottage cheese is another delicious treat for dogs. Add a spoonful to their kibble. Your dog will be thrilled!

How much is too much protein?

Too much protein can be a problem for your dog and that’s why we mentioned balanced dog food. It’s not healthy at all to give your dog a high protein diet. The 3 macronutrients, fat, carbohydrates, and protein, are required for good canine health.

Meat-only diets are not recommended, not just because it is too much protein, but also because other nutrients will be missing.

Excess protein is typically converted to fat or excreted in the urine but dogs with health issues (such as kidney disease) don’t fare well with too much protein.

And remember, an inadequate amount of protein is not good either. Healthy joints, strong bones, and muscles ready for running and playing are ensured when your dog has good quality food. Talk to your veterinarian for advice.

What percentage of a dog’s diet should be protein?

According to the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials), dog food is required to have a minimum of 18% crude protein. Puppies and nursing moms will require more (22.5% protein).

Other factors to consider are:

  • Age

  • Breed 

  • Size

  • Activity level

  • Health condition

Protein Takeaway

Are you still wondering about how much protein your dog needs? Ask your vet for advice and be ready to discuss things like your dog’s typical day, their favorite treats, and their present health status.

Protein is essential for your dog to thrive. Keeping your pooch well-fed with high-quality food will ensure healthy skin, a beautiful coat, and a robust energy level!

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