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The Importance of Protein For Dogs

Nicole Cosgrove

If you feed your dog formulated kibble, you may not think about their macronutrient needs very often. It probably comes as no surprise that, just like humans, dogs require a balance of macronutrients—including carbohydrates, fat, and protein—to stay healthy. Have you ever wondered how these components benefit your dog’s body? If so, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we will discuss the importance of getting enough protein for your pup, as well as how much protein your dog actually needs and strategies for selecting high-quality dog food.

divider-dog paw

Why Do Dogs Need Protein?

Simply put, your dog’s body would not function without protein. Protein performs several key bodily functions, such as creating enzymes, hormones, and antibodies, building muscles, and maintaining a strong immune system. Protein is made up of little building blocks called amino acids. Your dog needs 22 total amino acids, and while your dog’s body is capable of producing 12 of those amino acids, the remaining 10 need to come from your dog’s diet. When a dog is not getting enough protein, his coat might be dry, brittle, or even patchy. You may find that he loses weight very easily or that wounds take a long time to heal.

Dog behind table with bowl full of dry food
Image Credit: alexei_tm, Shutterstock

How Much Protein Do Dogs Need?

The question of how much protein your dog needs depends on how much he weighs and how active he is. Generally speaking, your dog needs about one gram of protein per pound of body weight. Note that you should base this calculation on your dog’s ideal body weight if your dog is overweight.

If your dog is a working dog or if he simply gets a lot of exercise, he needs more protein in his diet than a dog that gets light to moderate amount of exercise. The same is true for pregnant or lactating dogs and ill or sick dogs. Puppies also need more protein than adult dogs; about 29 percent (by weight) of their diet should be protein.

If you are unsure how much protein your dog needs basing on his age, exercise level, and other factors, make sure to ask your veterinarian for advice.

Can Dogs Have Too Much Protein?

One common myth about dogs and protein is that giving your dog too much protein can cause kidney failure. This myth comes from the fact that high protein diets can be harmful to dogs that already have kidney disease. Scientists disagree about whether or not low-protein diets are helpful for dogs with kidney failure, but for healthy dogs, there is no reason to limit protein.

Where feeding your dog a very high-protein diet may become an issue is in the possibility for weight gain. Protein is calorie-dense, so feeding your dog high-protein dog food can cause your dog to put on weight more easily. Avoid dog foods that are marketed as high-protein; in most cases, your dog does not need more protein than what your standard formulated dog food can provide.

bulldog eating food
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

How Can I Choose High-Quality Dog Food?

When choosing the best food for your dog, make sure to read the label. While your dog needs protein, he will also benefit from other types of foods, including vegetables, fruits, and grains. The highest-quality dog foods will include all three of these elements in addition to meat. Make sure that you recognize most of the ingredients in the food you choose and that it doesn’t contain too many fillers such as soy or corn. Aim for a dog food whose first two or three ingredients are meat-based.



Protein is an essential nutrient for your dog. The exact amount of protein that your dog needs depends on his size, age, and activity level. Unless your dog has kidney problems, you shouldn’t be too concerned about feeding him too much protein as long as you choose high-quality, balanced dog food. When in doubt, talk to your vet about finding the right food for your dog.

Featured Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, 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.