Petkeen is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commision. Learn More

6 Best Protein Sources for Dogs: Everything You Need to Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

July 2, 2021

You know that dogs are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants. You might see high-protein dog food recipes advertised in marketing—or maybe you just want your dog to have a protein boost. Many are trying their hands at homemade and raw diet recipes, too.

So, no matter your reason for delving into protein-rich ingredients, what are your options? Let’s find out all about protein for your pooch.

divider-dog paw

Why Do Dogs Need Protein?

Dogs require animal protein to survive and thrive. It is the single most important nutritional component in their diet. Animal proteins, or complete proteins, carry amino acids that develop your dog’s skin, muscles, and joints so their bodies can be fit and fully functional.

Your dog also benefits from plant proteins, which are considered incomplete proteins. Starchy vegetables like peas, chickpeas, and lentils have high amounts of natural protein, frequently found in commercial dog food recipes.

Homemade vs Commercial Diets

Commercial diets have been rigorously tested to make sure each recipe fits the necessary nutritional profiles for canines. Homemade recipes require extreme focus and measuring to get the same effect.

Commercial Diets

Chihuahua dog eat feed
Image Credit: tanyastock, Shutterstock

Commercial diets are created by a group of dietary professionals and manufacturers. Each recipe varies slightly depending on brand and target nutrition. Protein content in a commercial recipe should be at least 18% protein for maintenance.

However, some adult dog food recipes for high-energy pooches can go higher than 40%. It’s crucial to deliver appropriate protein levels to your dog based on life stage, age, weight, and activity level.

Homemade Recipes

senior-dog-eating-chicken_Sophie-Louise-Davis_shutterstock
Credit: Sophie Louise Davis, Shutterstock

There is so much control with homemade diets. You know exactly what your dog is putting in its mouth without having to worry about ingredients that you can’t pronounce. And regardless of what a bag says, you know just how much protein they have in their dish, too.

One very crucial aspect of homemade diets is that you must check with your veterinarian. If you miss even one key component, you can throw off balance in the recipe, meaning your dog isn’t getting the correct nutrients.

Incorrect measurements can lead to malnutrition or overnutrition.

divider-food2

6 Best Protein Sources for Dogs

If you’re looking for protein supplements to add to your dog’s diet, you want to know what all your options are. If you’re taking your hand at recipe creation, knowing the most beneficial sources help produce a well-balanced diet with the approval of your vet.

Here are some excellent protein sources and what they do for your pooch’s health.

1. Eggs

Golden retriever and egg
Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

According to the American Kennel Club, eggs are a terrific protein source that is safe and healthy for your dogs. Eggs don’t have the required nutritional content to be an everyday meal, but they make a great topper or standalone snack your pooch will love.

Your pooch can enjoy eggs from several birds, including:
  • Chicken eggs
  • Ducks eggs
  • Quail eggs

Eggs are packed full of valuable nutrients that improve several aspects of canine health, including 6 grams of protein per egg. Some vitamins and minerals include:

  • Omega fatty acids—these fatty acids improve skin, coat, and nails.
  • Riboflavin—this vitamin converts carbs into fuel, increasing energy.
  • Folate—this vitamin increases red blood cell production.
  • Iron—iron is needed for hemoglobin, myoglobin, and hormone production.
  • Selenium—this mineral is essential for thyroid function and DNA reproduction.
  • Vitamins B12—this vitamin protects nerves and cells.
  • Vitamin A—this vitamin aids in immunity and vision health.

We should note that while eggs can be very beneficial to many canines, some might develop sensitivities to it. Also, you should never offer raw eggs to your dog, as they can still carry salmonella that can make your dog sick.


2. Fish

Beagle dog try to scrounge a fish
Image Credit: soloviova liudmyla, Shutterstock

Fish is a wholesome protein to add to your dog’s diet anytime. Fish is high in protein, but very low fat, so it’s a perfect protein booster for dogs who need a moderate-calorie diet.

Some yummy fish that work well as protein boosters include:
  • Flounder
  • Whitefish
  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Canned tuna

Fish is packed with powerful nutrients that improve overall health—not just for the sake of protein. Some important nutrients in fish include:

  • Calcium—helps maintain and develop strong bones.
  • Phosphorus—helps the body develop strong bones and protein.
  • Omega-3 fatty acid—aids in healthy coat, skin, and joints.
  • Iron—regulates hemoglobin and myoglobin production in the body.
  • Zinc—aids in immune system function and metabolism.
  • Iodine—required for optimal thyroid function.

Some dogs might have an allergy to fish, so if they have any adverse reactions—stop serving it all together. Your vet can check to verify a fish allergy.


3. Poultry

dog eating roasted chicken
Image Credit: Tatjana Baibakova, Shutterstock

You can also steam or cook several poultry selections for your dog. Poultry offers a lean, white meat option that is packed with high quantities of protein.

Types of poultry include:
  • Duck
  • Chicken
  • Turkey

Poultry like chicken and turkey are excellent meat sources for your dogs. It has less fat content than beef and other red meat, so it’s a great option for dogs who require weight management. Some goodies in poultry include:

  • Unsaturated lipids—improve cholesterol levels and stabilize heart rhythm.
  • Pantothenic acid—helps your dog’s body break down fats.
  • Copper—maintains nerves, blood vessels, and energy.
  • Iron—balances hemoglobin and myoglobin production.
  • Thiamine—aids in the nervous system and metabolism function.

Some dogs might be very sensitive to chicken, turkey, or duck protein, so make sure to watch for any allergic responses.


4. Venison

venison_Shutterstock_DronG
Image Credit: DronG, Shutterstock

If you’re a hunter stocked with fresh game, you might be able to offer your dog some fresh venison. It is a hormone-free, excellent selection for at-home meals and snacks. You can even dehydrate it to make tasty jerky snacks.

Types of venison include:
  • Deer
  • Elk

Venison is a lean, healthy red meat that can nourish your dog’s system. It might be hard to come by if you don’t hunt yourself, but it is a healthy alternative to some fatty red meats.

  • Calcium—strengthens and develops bones.
  • Iron—responsible for hemoglobin and myoglobin production.
  • Phosphorous—strengthens bones and muscles.
  • Potassium—aids in nerve and muscle function.
  • Niacin—helps with digestive functions and overall skin health.

It is considered a novel protein, meaning your dog likely hasn’t had an introduction yet. This factor makes it a terrific option for dogs who have allergies to common protein sources.


5. Red Meat

fresh-raw-meat-for-dog_Zontica_shutterstock
Image Credit: Zontica, Shutterstock

Red meat doesn’t have the same negative impacts on canines like it does on humans. Most red meats are valuable and nutritious for your pooch. However, it’s best not to use these menu options as a main protein source because of the high fat.

Some good red meats to add to your dog's diet include:
  • Lamb or mutton
  • Beef
  • Bison

Red meat is packed with solid protein, creating a firm foundation for muscle growth and joint support. Some excellent nutritional aspects of red meat include:

  • Vitamin B12—helps DNA production.
  • Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids—maintains healthy organ function.
  • Selenium—nourishes areas related to thyroid function.
  • Iron—this mineral creates hemoglobin and myoglobin.
  • Zinc—aids in metabolism and immunity.

Red meat can have incredible health benefits, especially when you get into the more exotic options. Novel proteins like bison are excellent, as they usually have a much lower risk of sparking allergies.


6. Plant-Based Proteins

dog food_New-Africa, Shutterstock
Image Credit: New-Africa, Shutterstock

In addition to meat-based protein selections, you can consistently offer plant-based proteins instead. Dogs need organic plant matter to thrive, just the same as animal matter.

Some plant-based protein types you can feed your dog include:
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas

Plant-based proteins can have so many nutritional benefits for dogs. They show up in many popular commercial recipe dog foods everywhere because of their health-boosting power.

  • Potassium—this mineral aids in muscle and nerve function.
  • Folate—creates healthy blood cells.
  • Vitamin A—helps with normal vision and production.
  • Vitamin C—antioxidant support to boost immunity.
  • Magnesium—regulates blood sugar levels.

Some plant-based proteins can trigger food allergies and sensitivities in some dogs. Check with your vet beforehand.

divider-paw

Animal Products to Avoid

While dogs will probably enjoy just about any protein type, there are some that you have to be mindful of.

Bones

Dogs may love bones, but they aren’t the best chew toys for dogs. Bones can cause bowel obstructions and other internal damage.

Byproducts

Animal byproducts include feet, liver, lungs, and other body parts that aren’t a whole meat source. Many domesticated dogs have developed sensitivities to these parts of an animal, causing allergic reactions.

Raw Meat

Raw meat isn’t necessarily unhealthy for your dog, but it can have unwanted health outcomes. Raw meat can carry bacteria like salmonella and listeria.

Turkey bones
Image Credit: sheris9, Shutterstock

Vegan or Vegetarian Dogs: What Does It Mean for Health?

If you’re an environmentally conscious person who consumes or uses no animal products yourself, you might want to give your dog a vegan diet, too. But is this really a positive thing to do for their overall health? It’s a huge decision to make for owners in your shoes.

Studies claim that although recipes can be created that are vegetarian or vegan, this is certainly not the most appropriate diet for your dog. You have to be incredibly careful when you offer diets void of animal protein.

Even though you might have hang-ups or reservations about buying animal products, allowing your dog to have their natural diet is likely best. However, if your moral conscience cannot allow that, you should speak with your vet about the best vegetarian or vegan foods for canines.

divider-dog

Final Thoughts

Protein is a highly beneficial and necessary ingredient that makes up a majority of your dog’s diet. It is the base of commercial and homemade dog foods alike.

Now, you know just what kinds of protein sources you can serve your pooch. Every animal or plant-based protein has nutrient value to offer. If you are making your homemade recipes, run your recipe by your vet to ensure optimal nutrition.


Featured Credit: Hyper-Set, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.