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Protein for Dogs: How Much is Too Much?

Nicole Cosgrove

There are tons of different dog foods on the market. Each has its own breakdown of macronutrients – fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It can be difficult to figure out exactly how much of each nutrient your dog needs. Protein is extremely important for dogs. It contains the amino acids they need for their muscles, brain, and other organs. Without it, dogs can develop all sorts of problems.

However, too much of a good thing isn’t always best. If dogs eat too much protein, they risk not consuming enough of the other nutrients they need. For this reason, they should consume a balanced amount of protein. In this article, we’ll help you figure out how much protein that may be for your pooch.

Because dogs come in so many shapes and sizes, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the amount of protein they need. Instead, you’ll need to consider things like your dog’s activity level and size.

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Why is Protein Important?

Dog Eating Turkey
Image Credit: Susan Schmitz, Shutterstock

Dogs technically don’t need the protein itself. Instead, they need the amino acids that are in the protein. While dogs can make many of the amino acids their dogs need, there are quite a few that they cannot make. Therefore, they have to consume them in their diet. Furthermore, during certain life stages, they can’t always create enough of the “unessential” amino acids, making them momentarily necessary.

There are 22 amino acids that makeup protein. Dogs can make 12 of these from other nutrients. However, 10 of them cannot be produced. Quite a few of the 12 that your dog can make can only be created in limited amounts, which may not be enough for your dog at all times. Pregnant dogs in particular often require more amino acids than they can make themselves.

Protein is essential for many bodily functions. While your dog does need protein to build and maintain muscles, it is also required for the immune system, brain, and many other body parts. Without protein, your dog simply can’t function.

There are different kinds of protein sources as well. The best protein sources are “complete,” which means that they contain all the essential amino acids. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they contain all of the nonessential amino acids.

Different Sources of Protein

Different Source of Protein
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Just because a food has a certain amount of protein in it doesn’t mean that your dog will digest and absorb all of the protein necessary. The biological value of food describes how digestible and absorbable it is. A food with a low BV doesn’t digest easily and isn’t easily used by the dog, so they likely won’t actually get all of the protein in it. On the other hand, a high BV represents food that can easily be digested and used.

Technically, corn is quite high in protein. However, dogs aren’t very good at utilizing these proteins. Generally, meat-based proteins like chicken and beef are far more digestible and usable by your dog. Furthermore, corn also doesn’t have all the amino acids your dog needs, so you will need to pair it with other ingredients to meet your dog’s protein needs.

For this reason, it is important to consider the type of protein as well as the amount. If you just purchase the food with the most protein, your dog might not actually be absorbing more. Whole foods like meat, fish, animal products are typically your best bet. They provide the most useable protein by calorie.

Check out the ingredients in your dog’s food to determine where the protein is coming from. Look for things like “pea protein,” which is just concentrated veggie protein. Even if it isn’t the first ingredient, this is extremely concentrated and contains a lot of lower-quality protein, which can drive up the overall content.

What About Meat Meal and Meat By-Products?

Meat By Products
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Of course, not all meat products are made equal. Many people also question the quality of meat meal and meat by-products, which are often used as protein sources in many different foods.

Meat meal may sound low-quality, but it is actually concentrated meat. To make meat meal, whole meat is cooked down and dehydrated into a powder. This makes it more nutritious than whole meat per ounce, as it doesn’t have as much water content.  Plus, meat must be dehydrated to be used in wet food. If it is listed as meal on an ingredient list, this is likely a more accurate ingredient listing than whole meat would be.

However, it is important that the source of the meal is named. You don’t want to purchase something with “meat meal,” as the meat could literally mean anything. If your dog is allergic to an ingredient, “meat meal” is a certain no-go. Things like “chicken meal” and “beef meal” are perfectly fine.

By-products are a bit more complicated, as they can be a lot of different things. By-products can include nutritious ingredients that just aren’t eaten by humans in the western world – like organs and cartilage. However, by-products can also include things that contain hardly any nutrients at all, like feathers.

While dogs would naturally eat feathers in the wild, they shouldn’t be eating only feathers. When the ingredients are only listed as by-products, it is impossible to know what your dog is eating. For this reason, by-products are usually considered lower-quality.

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How Much Protein Should a Dog Have?

Dog Eating Chicken
Image Credit: Tatjana Baibakova, Shutterstock

Most dogs need a minimum of 18% to 29% protein in their diet. However, more is typically not frowned upon. Puppies need more protein, as they are growing. Too much protein can cause kidney problems, though. In fact, dogs with kidney problems may benefit from a low-protein diet.

With that said, feeding your dog too much protein is hard to do with a commercial diet. You should generally just ensure that your dog is also consuming enough carbohydrates and fats. If they are, then they are likely not consuming too much protein.


Featured Image Credit: demanescale, 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.