Protein is such an important subject for dog owners. People discussing dog food often wage battle about how much and what kind of protein dogs need. We generally like high protein diets for dogs, or at least higher protein than dog foods used to provide. And we like good meat sources for that protein instead of plant sources. But even after stating these preferences, there is a wide range of dog foods today that fall under the “high protein” label. Some are much better than others.
Why do dogs need protein?
Dogs need protein for their muscles, skin, coat, bones, and just about every body part and tissue. Every cell in the body contains protein. The amino acids found in protein form chains to create the protein molecules. There are 22 amino acids in the dog’s metabolism. Dogs can synthesize 12 of these amino acids but they have to acquire 10 of them from their diet. These are called essential amino acids because they have to come from outside the dog’s body but they are still necessary for life. Dogs can get these essential amino acids from different kinds of meat (and other proteins). Different meats have different amino acid profiles.
Your dog can get some protein from plant sources such as pea protein, corn, and other things you often see on dog food labels, but it is easier for dogs to digest nutrients from animals than from plants. Animal ingredients also have a more complete array of amino acids than grains and legumes.
So, all things considered, animal sources of protein are better for your dog than plant sources.
Are dogs carnivores?
No, they’re not. They’re really, really not.
Sure, dogs are descended from wolves. That’s true. They have fangs (canine teeth). They have a short digestive tract. They have some carnivore qualities. But dogs diverged from wolves thousands of years ago. They have been living with humans for at least 15,000 years. And during that time they have been eating scraps and grains. They were likely scavenging human camps even before that for trash. Dogs have enzymes to digest starches and fats that wolves don’t have.
Dogs are omnivores. Your dog can eat (and will enjoy) some fruits, some steamed or pulverized vegetables, and other things in your kitchen. You probably already know that he will be happy to dine out of the trash can or grab something off the kitchen counter when your back is turned. Dogs are amazing opportunists when it comes to food. They certainly don’t limit themselves to eating meat and they are not obligate carnivores like cats who have to eat meat.
Why high protein?
You might be asking, “If dogs are omnivores, why should they eat a high protein diet?” That’s a fair question and opinions will differ.
The research organizations that make pronouncements about what your dog should eat (which determines how the pet food companies make their foods and how much they suggest you feed) give the following recommendations about protein:
- AAFCO Nutrient Requirements for Dogs: Growth and Lactation Minimum for Protein 22 percentage; Minimum for Adult Maintenance 18 percent. (No maximum provided.)
- 2006 NRC Nutrient Requirements for Adult Dogs (Maintenance): Protein Minimum 20 percent; Recommended Allowance 25 percent (No maximum provided.)
As you can see, these protein percentages are a little different (and there have been some discussions to try to reconcile the recommendations). Basically, the lowest minimum is 18 percent protein for a maintenance adult dog food, with a recommended allowance of 25 percent. So a “high” protein dog food could probably be considered anything over 25 percent. When you look at most good quality “premium” or “super premium” dog foods that have one or two meat proteins in the first few ingredients, they should easily have 25 percent protein or higher, by dry matter basis.
Can Dog Foods have too much protein?
The meat protein ingredients are usually the most expensive ingredients in a dog food, so there is usually a limit on how much meat protein a dog food company will put in a food, simply for financial reasons. When dog food companies change formulas, they usually start cutting back on the meat ingredients, replacing them with other kinds of protein such as pea protein or other legumes/pulses, since corn is no longer welcome. Or you may see added eggs, whey or other dairy products which also add protein. The protein percentage will look the same or similar, but there is less meat protein. That can be okay if it’s okay with your dog – but you are usually paying the same price for less meat. The company will also tell you that the formula has been “improved.” Don’t believe it. It might be time to look for another dog food if you don’t like the changes.
As far as having too much protein, your dog can only use so much protein as calories, or store some as fat, before he excretes the excess as expensive urine.
You do not want to feed a dog food that is all meat, or nearly all meat for the simple reason that it won’t be a balanced food. Your dog needs other nutrients besides protein. He needs other things than meat. He needs fat and, yes, even some nutrients that are provided in carbs. Carbohydrates are another contentious dog food issue but they can have some benefits if not fed in excess or used as a substitute for good sources or protein in a dog food. They provide glucose for energy, dietary fiber, and they are a good way to provide calories that don’t cost as much as meat. Yes, there is an economic element to feeding carbs. They help your dog feel full.
Can all dogs eat high protein diets?
No. Dogs who have existing kidney disease (BUN over 75) should not eat a high protein diet. And, since high protein dog foods are often higher in fat, dogs who need to avoid high fat diets should be careful about eating these foods as well. If you have any questions about high protein diets, we suggest consulting with your veterinarian.
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6 Best High Protein Dog Foods to Feed your Dog
When looking for the best high protein dog foods we’ve tried to find foods that use plenty of meat protein instead of relying on lots of plant protein. It’s not enough to have a high protein percentage. The source of the protein is also important.
You will probably notice that some of the high protein dog foods recommended have raw inclusions. If you try to avoid lots of plant proteins in dog foods, adding freeze-dried raw to the kibble is one of the healthy ways to increase the protein in your dog’s diet in a way that is more bioavailable for your dog.
Victor Hi Pro Plus for Active Dogs & Puppies Dog Food
Made in Texas, Victor has become nationally know in the last few years and it’s wildly popular with many dog lovers. They currently have grain free, multi-grain, and select protein formulas for dogs. Many of their formulas are high in protein. Victor Hi Pro is one of their bestselling foods. The protein in this formula is 83 percent meat, 7 percent plant protein, and 10 percent protein from grains. It has 30 percent crude protein and 20 percent fat with 450 kcal/cup. This formula is recommended for puppies and pregnant or nursing dams because of their high nutritional needs. It’s also good for working and field dogs who need lots of energy. It has no corn, wheat, soy, or glutens. (You can have some grains without glutens.) This is an all life stage formula. The first five ingredients are: beef meal, grain sorghum, chicken meal, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), and pork meal. It has calculated calories of just 30.7 percent which is very low. We are happy to recommend Victor dog foods. Along with this Hi Pro formula, you may want to consider their Professional Formula, the Select Nutra Pro Active Dog & Puppy Formula, the Performance Formula, and the Ultra Pro 42 Grain Free Formula. All of these foods are considered high protein dog foods.
Merrick Backcountry Raw Infused Great Plains Red Recipe
Merrick makes lots of foods that are high in meat protein. Their Backcountry formulas follow the “ancestral canine diet” model which are grain free with lots of protein. The raw-infused kibble recipes have real, whole pieces of raw, freeze-dried meat, poultry or fish. Like other Merrick foods, Merrick Backcountry is cooked in the USA in Merrick’s own organically certified kitchens. Recipes contain no ingredients from China. The protein-rich kibble uses deboned meat, poultry, or fish as the first ingredient. They are grain free, corn-free, and wheat-free, with no gluten ingredients. And they contain a good balance of omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat. The freeze-dried raw pieces included in the food are made from raw meat, poultry, or fish and are easy for your dog to digest. They add nutrients, aroma, texture, and taste to your dog’s diet. The Backcountry Raw Infused Great Plains Red Recipe with Beef, Lamb and Rabbit has 38 percent crude protein and 17 percent crude fat with 374 kcal/cup. The first five ingredients are: deboned beef, lamb meal, salmon meal, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. This is a maintenance dog food so it’s not appropriate for puppies or pregnant dams. Other kibble formulas include a Big Game recipe, a Game Bird recipe, a Pacific Catch recipe, a Chicken recipe, a Beef recipe, and formulas for large breeds and puppies, along with mixers and canned foods. If you like a good quality kibble with a taste of raw for your dog, Merrick’s Backcountry Raw Infused formulas would be a good choice. Merrick was purchased by Purina a couple of years ago and some people feared that there would be a decline in the quality of the brand but, as far as we can tell, Merrick continues to make first rate dog foods and even expand their product lines in new and exciting directions.
Instinct Raw Boost Grain Free Recipe with Real Duck
Instinct is made by Nature’s Variety. Nature’s Variety makes a number of kibbles, canned foods, and raw diets. Instinct Raw Boost is a high animal protein, grain free kibble that is boosted with bites of freeze-dried raw meat. Along with Raw Boost kibble, you can also buy freeze-dried raw mixers, freeze-dried treats and snacks, and frozen raw mixers to add to your dog’s meals. As a regular diet, Instinct Raw Boost Grain Free Recipe with Real Duck is one of several kibbles in this product line. Others include beef, chicken, venison, and lamb for all dogs; chicken and duck for small breeds; chicken for Toy breeds; chicken for puppies; chicken for large breed puppies; and chicken for seniors – all with the freeze-dried raw meat added to the kibble. There is also a chicken healthy weight formula. Instinct Raw Boost uses cage-free chicken or duck, pasture-raised beef, and other good quality ingredients. The freeze-dried raw meats, fish, and poultry are minimally-processed. The foods have higher omega fatty acids and more antioxidants than the original Instinct formula. And Instinct uses no grain, potato, corn, wheat, soy, by-product meal, artificial colors or preservatives. The first five ingredients in the duck formula are: duck, turkey meal, chicken meal, peas, and chicken eggs. It has 37.5 percent crude protein and 20 percent crude fat with 506 kcal/cup. This is an all life stage formula. We are happy to recommend the Instinct Raw Boost kibbles for anyone who wants a high protein dog food.
Solid Gold High Protein Grain Free With Cold Water Salmon & Krill Meal
Solid Gold was one of the first natural dog foods, developing their first diets in the 1970s. They have made good dog foods for years. Their High Protein recipes were introduced in 2016 and are designed to focus on more meat to support a dog’s more active lifestyle. Healthy fats supply essential energy. Protein builds healthy muscles. And superfoods like pumpkin, blueberries, and spearmint contribute to overall good health. There are currently four grain and gluten-free kibble recipes for dogs: High Protein, grain and gluten free With Chicken; High Protein, grain and gluten free With Duck; High Protein, grain and gluten free With Cold Water Salmon and Krill Meal; and High Protein, grain and gluten free Red Meat Recipe With Buffalo. All of these foods have 38 percent crude protein and 18 percent crude fat. The cold water salmon and krill formula has 345 kcal/cup. This is a maintenance dog food so it’s not appropriate for puppies or pregnant dogs. The first five ingredients in this food are: salmon, ocean fish meal, peas, pea protein, and chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols). This food has no meat by-product meal, corn, wheat, soy, sugar, artificial preservatives or flavors added. The krill meal in the food is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Solid Gold also has several other high protein kibbles such as Barking at the Moon with Beef, Lil’ Boss with Turkey, and Sun Dancer with Chicken.
Wellness CORE RawRev Original Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal & Chicken Meal Recipe With Freeze-Dried Turkey
Wellness CORE is just one of the brands made by WellPet. Their other successful Wellness brands include Complete Health, Simple, and Trufood. They also make Holistic Select, Eagle Pack, Old Mother Hubbard, Sojos, and Whimzees. So, this is a petfood juggernaut. Wellness CORE focuses on grain free, protein formulas. Along with kibbles they make canned/wet foods, toppers, freeze-dried foods, and kibble + raw. Wellness CORE RawRev is a grain free line of kibbles with freeze-dried raw bites included. This line was just introduced in 2018. You can see a short video for the food here. RawRev (and their CORE 100 percent freeze-dried treats) is Wellness’s first attempt to make food using raw. RawRev is currently available in three flavors for dogs: Turkey, Lamb and Turkey Small Breed recipes. The RawRev Turkey formula is 100 percent grain free with high protein for a lean body mass. It has added glucosamine and chondroitin for joint support. The freeze-dried raw bites are 100 percent meat – no fillers. This is an easy and convenient way to add raw to your dog’s diet without any mess. The first five ingredients of this food are: deboned turkey, turkey meal, chicken meal, peas, and potatoes. It has 36 percent crude protein and 16 percent crude fat with 423 kcal/cup. This is a maintenance dog food so it’s not suitable for puppies or pregnant dogs. Even though RawRev was only introduced in March 2018, these foods have quickly become very popular with people who like high protein dog foods and raw inclusions.
Crave with Salmon & Ocean Fish Adult High-Protein Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
Crave is another new brand that caters to dog lovers who want their dogs to have a high protein, grain free diet. Crave is made by Mars Petcare, the global maker of some 42 pet food/pet product brands. Real meat is the first ingredient in the Crave foods. They are grain free with no soy, corn, or wheat. No chicken by-product meal, artificial flavors, or artificial preservatives. Crave with Salmon & Ocean Fish Adult High-Protein Grain-Free Dry Dog Food has 34 percent crude protein and 17 percent crude fat with 442 kcal/cup. This is a maintenance dog food so it’s not suitable for puppies or pregnant dogs. The first five ingredients in this food are: salmon, chicken meal, chickpeas, split peas, and menhaden fish meal. Other formulas include the Crave with Protein from Chicken, and the Crave with Protein from Lamb & Venison recipes. Mars debuted the Crave formulas in the summer of 2018 but they have already been met with great enthusiasm by many dog lovers and their dogs.
Before we get any comments, we know that Blue Wilderness has lots of high protein dog food formulas. You and your dog may have good success with their foods. However, lots of consumers lost confidence in Blue in the past. We have surveyed dog owners and breeders online and found that many people are still unwilling to buy their foods at this time. We’re not ready to recommend them yet.
There are also some foods that have higher protein percentages because they add eggs to their formulas. Eggs are a great animal protein but they can be an allergen for some dogs so, for the most part, we have not included these foods on this list. Instead, we focused on foods that use more meat protein.
We encourage you to take this information and check out these brands, especially if you haven’t tried some of these foods before. And, remember, you can always check our reviews on Pawster.com for more suggestions!