In this article you will find:
- Best High Protein Dog Foods
- The Benefits of High Protein for dogs
- Adding protein to your dog’s diet
- Risks of high protein diets
Looking for the best high protein dog food? The term “high protein” dog food, we always hear it, but do we know all about it? Read on.
At one time most dog foods were fairly similar in terms of their protein percentages. They tended to follow government recommended minimums for dogs.
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A few companies had some higher protein formulas (Purina Hi Protein and some other higher protein foods were available in the 1970s) but they still used the same kind of ingredients found in the other foods of the time and relied heavily on grains.
If you wanted your dog to have more meat protein you could add some canned food (average quality or less) or meat from your own refrigerator.
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Today, of course, many dog foods have higher percentages of meat protein. The current recommended minimums for protein in dog food are 22 percent for growth and reproduction (puppies); and a mere 18 percent for adult dogs (AAFCO Table 3).
Nearly all commercial dog foods have higher protein percentages than these figures. Many premium dog foods have 30 percent protein (DMB) or more.
At different times in a dog’s life he can need different protein levels, depending on his activity level:
|Species and Growth Stage||Recommended Protein %||Recommended Fat %|
|Racing sled dog||35%||50%|
Best High Protein Dog Foods
AvoDerm Natural Triple Protein Chicken, Lamb & Turkey Meals Recipe
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Crave High Protein White Fish & Salmon
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ORIJEN Regional Red
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Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe
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The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Recipe
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ACANA Regionals Appalachian Ranch
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Wysong Epigen 90 Starch-Free Formula
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- AvoDerm Natural Triple Protein Chicken, Lamb & Turkey Meals Recipe
- Crave High Protein White Fish & Salmon
- ORIJEN Regional Red
- Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe
- The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Recipe
- ACANA Regionals Appalachian Ranch
- Wysong Epigen 90 Starch-Free Formula
1. AvoDerm Triple Protein Chicken, Lamb & Turkey Meals
Crafted by AvoDerm, a pet food brand that is known for its utilization of avocados in all of its ingredients, this recipe promises not only a high protein content but also optimum levels of omegas from its signature avocado ingredient.
Caloric Content: 360 kcal/cup
The multiple protein sources (which, in actuality, are four and not just three) boost the protein levels to a high 27%.
Chicken meal, lamb meal, and turkey meal are the main animal protein sources, but the food also contains herring meal to supply the formulation with a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids.
For its carbohydrate content, this recipe uses grains. There’s ground brown rice, ground white rice, oatmeal, millet, and rice bran, all of which are premium and highly digestible whole grains.
It’s also formulated with high-quality fats like chicken fat and avocado oil to provide your dog with a balanced omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid ratio.
In the right proportions, these omegas are indispensable in keeping your pup’s skin healthy and his fur lustrous and shiny.
2. Crave High Protein Whitefish & Salmon
Crave is a pet food company that specializes in delivering food that caters to a dog’s instinctual needs. This means providing them with meals that are rich in protein and with meat as the number one ingredient.
Caloric Content: 422 kcal/cup
This Crave recipe is bulked up in protein that’s nearly high enough to sustain a racing sled dog and more than enough for a performance canine.
With a minimum 34% protein content, it offers one of the best protein levels among many dog food recipes.
Because it is designed to mimic a diet similar to that of wild wolves, it is grain-free and includes no corn, wheat, soy, byproduct meals, or anything artificial.
Instead, it uses real meat and vegetables to provide most of the nutrients your pup needs to lead a highly active lifestyle.
While the name of the recipe only mentions whitefish and salmon, the label lists down five animal proteins.
Besides the whitefish and salmon, you can also find chicken meal, pork meal, and fish meal here, which explains why the protein level is so high.
Fat is provided by chicken fat and the carbohydrates are supplied by the lentils and split peas.
3. Orijen Regional Red Recipe
Orijen is a pet food brand that boasts of crafting biologically-appropriate dog food that follows an authentic whole prey diet.
Since dogs in the wild consume all parts of their prey, Orijen meals are crafted around the idea of using whole animal ingredients.
Caloric Content: 463 kcal/cup
The Regional Red recipe provides dogs with a rich and varied diet just like their ancestors in the wild.
Not confined to a single animal protein source, this formulation makes use of ranch-raised beef, wild boar, goat, lamb, mackerel, pork, and herring to provide your pet with a whopping 38% minimum crude protein content.
Since it’s meant to be a prey diet, it not only uses the meat but the organs as well. The tripe, liver, kidney, and heart of the various animals mentioned above are utilized too. These organs are richer than their meat counterparts and are much more nutrient-dense.
85% of the recipe is dedicated to meat and organs. The kibbles are also coated with freeze-dried raw meat to make them more enticing to canines.
It is grain-free and instead uses lentils and beans to provide the carbs. Fruits and veggies like apples, pumpkin, and butternut squash round out the recipe and keep it more balanced.
4. Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe
Nulo is a US-based company that crafts dog food recipes designed to be rich in protein, low in carbs, and low-glycemic.
The brand is also known for adding a patented probiotic ingredient to each and every recipe it makes to aid your dog with digestion and support immune health.
Caloric Content: 441 kcal/cup
This Nulo recipe is made of 85% animal-based proteins that combine turkey, salmon, and trout to create a high protein recipe that’s more than good enough for performance dogs.
The more protein, the more amino acids your pup gets to fuel his lean muscle growth and an active lifestyle.
Not only is the food designed to supply dogs with enough energy, it is also created to be low glycemic to help pups with diabetes cope.
And since it does not contain any chicken or egg proteins nor grains, those sensitive to poultry and grains will be able to enjoy the nutritious meal.
Instead of grains, this formulation uses sweet potato and yellow peas to supply all the carbohydrate levels your dog requires.
While protein is best for prolonged and intense activities, carbs are good for supplying quick energy for short bursts of play.
5. The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken
The Honest Kitchen is a family-owned pet food company that is distinct for using minimally-processed and human-grade ingredients to create a more natural and healthier food option for canines.
Caloric Content: 446 kcal/cup
Unlike other high protein recipes, this formulation by The Honest Kitchen sticks to just one animal protein source. It’s made with free-range chicken that’s also 100% human-grade.
The food is dehydrated to give it a long shelf life while retaining as much of its natural nutrients. Just add water and your dog’s food is ready to go.
The formula is grain-free and does not contain soy, corn, or wheat. Instead, it uses sweet potatoes and potatoes to provide the fiber and carbohydrate your pup requires.
Meanwhile, the fat comes from the organic flaxseed that’s full of omega-3 fatty acids and phytochemicals called lignans.
There aren't any fillers in the recipe. The rest of the ingredients are made up of nutrient-laden dehydrated fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, celery, apples, papayas, and more.
Another thing that’s worth mentioning about this recipe is that it is GMO-free, antibiotic-free, and hormone-free. Just pure and natural food for your pet.
6. Acana Regionals Appalachian Ranch
Acana is a well-known pet food brand that’s dedicated to making premium food with raw or fresh animal ingredients that are balanced with whole fruits and vegetables.
Every Acana recipe is composed of at least 50% animal ingredients and 30% fruit, vegetables, and botanicals.
Caloric Content: 388 kcal/cup
Containing 33% minimum crude protein, this recipe supplies performance dogs with all of their energy needs and more.
The protein comes from the mixture of four kinds of animal protein sources and the inclusion of organ meats into the blend.
Regionals Appalachian Ranch uses meats and organs from beef, pork, lamb, and catfish for a more biologically appropriate diet.
Raw and freeze-dried liver (from the first three meats mentioned) coat the kibbles for a more enticing taste.
There are never any artificial ingredients in Acana recipes (flavors, colors, or preservatives) nor are there any soy, tapioca, corn, or wheat.
If your pup is not sensitive to the various animal proteins listed, he will thrive on this diet that’s filled with all things natural and nutritious.
7. Wysong Epigen 90
Wysong is a holistic pet food company that believes in creating food that pays attention to all aspects of the product, from using natural and organic ingredients to utilizing a system that reduces food processing to the bare minimum.
It is so serious in its pursuit of crafting healthy pet food that it produces some of the most labor-intensive and least profitable products in the industry.
Caloric Content: data not provided
Epigen 90 is the first extruded kibble that is starch-free. It is formulated with a patent-pending process that enables the brand to create a truly starch-free formula that mirrors what your canine is biologically designed to eat and what most grain-free recipes try to emulate but can’t.
The gelatin in the dog food is one of the top five ingredients since it plays an important role. It is the source of collagen in the food, necessary for bone, joint, and tissue health.
Meat protein isolate is one of the main ingredients too, and it takes the place of the starch ingredients that would normally be present in other dog foods.
For this formulation, there is only a single animal protein used — real organic chicken. Since the food is composed of 90% meat (hence the name Epigen 90), there is an unprecedented amount of protein in here.
While 5.5% of the food is carbohydrate, and the rest are made up of superfoods, fat, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.
The Benefits of High Protein for dogs
For most dogs, yes, more protein really is beneficial. According to one study, wolves have a protein-fat-carbohydrate profile of 54:45:1 percent by energy; while modern dogs have a profile of 30:63:7 percent by energy.
Our modern dogs do not eat a diet like that of their wolf ancestors, but your dog won’t thrive if you feed him nothing but meat.
However, a diet that’s high in meat protein is fine for most dogs unless they have a particular health problem that contraindicates high protein.
Protein helps build lean muscle; makes the skin and coat healthy; heals wounds; and supports the immune system and central nervous system.
If your dog doesn’t have enough protein in his diet, he can start to break down protein in his body to get what he needs which results in muscles wasting.
Without enough protein the immune system suffers and a dog can be more susceptible to injury and stress. Modern dogs have evolved from their wolf ancestors and they are able to digest carbohydrates but dogs can still benefit from eating high protein diets.
At one time people thought that high amounts of protein might lead to bone problems in puppies or cause older dogs to develop kidney disease. These beliefs have been disproven.
Most dogs with kidney disease can benefit from eating a diet with moderate protein. Puppies may develop bone problems from too much calcium but not from too much protein.
High protein for adult dogs
Today many grain free dog foods are particularly high in protein. Some of the protein comes from meat protein but often some of the protein comes from peas and lentils.
Your dog can benefit from plant-sources of protein but dogs do not digest these sources of protein as well as animal-based sources. This was one of the complaints about using grains in dog foods – they are also a plant-based source of protein as well as a source of carbohydrates, just like legumes.
Grain free dog foods that don’t use legumes typically use starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, and other carb sources.
While some of these high protein foods may have lower carbohydrates than foods with grains, they can have their own dietary issues for dogs.
If you look for foods that have more meat protein, they will generally have fewer carbohydrates, no matter the source of the carbs – whether it is peas and lentils, potatoes, or grains. However, many high protein dog foods are also high in fat.
While fat is not all bad, especially for very active working dogs, it’s not good to see too much fat in a diet for most of our couch potato pets. If your dog is overweight or if he has problems digesting fat, look for dog foods that have slightly less fat but are still high in protein.
You don’t have to choose a low calorie or weight control dog food. Just check the fat percentages (DMB) and opt for a food that has slightly less fat.
Many people like Wellness CORE because it has slightly less fat while still providing high protein. In general, look for a dog food that has twice the protein percentage as the fat percentage.
High protein for older dogs
Older dogs can benefit from eating more protein, especially protein from good quality sources that are easy to digest. Many dog foods for older dogs are formulated with lower protein, along with lower fat and calories on the assumption that most older dogs are overweight.
Yet many older dogs have trouble metabolizing nutrients as they age. Instead of reducing their protein percentages, they will do better with more protein to help keep their immune system strong and to prevent their muscles from wasting.
Be careful in selecting dog food for your older dog, especially if he is not overweight. Don’t choose a food with lower calories unless he needs that kind of food. Look for a food with plenty of good protein regardless of whether the food has fewer calories or not.
High protein for puppies
You can also feed puppies high protein diets as long as long as you are feeding a good puppy food or all life stage food. You do need to pay close attention to the calcium percentages when dealing with high protein foods and puppies.
The calcium percentage needs to be 2 percent or less (DMB) for large breed puppies under six months of age. Large breed puppies, in particular, can grow very fast. They can be susceptible to skeletal and joint problems if they have too much calcium at a young age.
Adding protein to your dog’s diet
If you are feeding a good dog food but the protein percentage is on the low side, you can increase the protein in your dog’s diet by adding meat, eggs, fish, or other sources of animal protein.
There are also some good supplemental dog foods that are 95 percent meat. These foods are not sold as “complete and balanced” meals for dogs but they make excellent toppings for your dog’s dinner and add good protein to his diet.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just the percentage of protein in your dog’s diet that matters. Your dog could eat a food with 40 percent protein but if the food is made up of low quality protein, your dog will not be able to digest it as well or obtain the nutrients from it.
As already mentioned, many grain free dog foods today include large amounts of peas and lentils which are high in plant protein and not as easily digested as animal protein.
In 2007 melamine was added to wheat gluten from China that was then (unknowingly) used in some pet foods. Melamine is an organic chemical that is normally used to make plastics. However, it is also a high nitrogen compound.
This means that if it is illegally added to glutens or other food items, it makes those foods appear to have a higher protein content. (Ingredients are often tested for protein based on their nitrogen content.) This is just an example to show that not all proteins are the same.
When choosing a high protein dog food, don’t just look at the percentages. Check the ingredients carefully.
Risks of high protein diets
Some foods today probably do have more protein than dogs need. It is possible for dogs to become overweight by eating too much protein. Calories are calories, even if they come from protein.
While some excess protein can be excreted in your dog’s urine, protein can also be stored as fat if your dog is using all the protein he needs in his diet.
Protein metabolism also uses extra water in the body so a high protein diet can lead to dehydration unless you make sure your dog gets plenty of water. You may have noticed that many dogs drink more water when they are switched to a higher protein diet.
Eating higher amounts of protein can also cause the body to expel more calcium which can weaken bones over time so it’s always important to keep an eye on the calcium levels in high protein dog foods.
You probably won’t need to worry about most of these issues unless you are feeding your dog a very high protein diet.
High protein is good for most dogs unless they have a specific health condition that indicates they should avoid eating too much protein. Many of the myths about dogs eating too much protein that people believed at one time (dogs and kidney problems, puppies and protein, old dogs) have been disproven.
In general, the more meat protein a dog food contains, the fewer carbohydrates the food will have which is better for your dog.