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Home > Dogs > What Is Crude Protein in Dog Food? Vet Approved Facts & Advice

What Is Crude Protein in Dog Food? Vet Approved Facts & Advice

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Nutritional labels can be confusing, and that goes for those on bags of dog food too. If you’ve looked at the nutritional labeling on dog food before, then you’ve seen the words “crude protein” followed by a percentage. But what exactly is crude protein in dog food? Is it just the amount of protein total in the food, or how much of the recommended daily allowance the protein meets?

Below you’ll find out exactly what “crude protein” means and what you should be looking for in a dog food. You’ll also learn how much protein your pup needs each day, along with how to ensure they are getting a high-quality protein in their meals. Here’s everything you need to know!

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What Is Crude Protein?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the entity responsible for regulating animal feed. They require that all dog food manufacturers include a guaranteed analysis on foods—or a guarantee of the minimum percentages of both crude fat and crude protein found in a food. This percentage comes from a chemical analysis that measures how much nitrogen is present in the food. The amount of nitrogen detected is then used to estimate how much protein is in the dog food. That is what “crude protein” means.

However, because nitrogen can come from not only animal protein but also non-animal proteins (such as grains), this estimate isn’t always accurate. It also doesn’t tell you about the quality of the protein.

So, it’s good to look at, but it isn’t the only thing you need to consider when choosing a dog food.

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Image Credit: Sharaf Maksumov, Shutterstock

How Much Protein Do Dogs Need?

Protein is essential to your pup’s diet. Your dog’s digestive system breaks protein down into amino acids used to create energy and maintain body mass. This includes muscle, hair, cartilage, and even blood to help the dog stay in optimal health. A dog’s body can produce some amino acids, but there are 10 amino acids that dogs cannot produce and must ingest from food sources. So how much does your pet need?

The AAFCO recommends that crude protein in dog foods be at least between 18-22% for a healthy diet. However, protein amounts for dogs are also a topic that is much debated. Some think protein should make up the majority of a dog’s diet, but others believe high-protein diets can be dangerous.

Essentially, it boils down to talking to your vet and deciding whether you want to provide your pup with lots of protein, or the minimal recommendations stated by the AAFCO.

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How Do I Ensure My Dog’s Food Contains High-Quality Protein?

Since the amount of crude protein in dog food doesn’t really tell you whether you’re feeding your pet a high-quality protein, you’re likely wondering how you can take steps to ensure you are. Here’s how to do this.

  • Read the ingredient list and make sure whole meat is listed as the first ingredient. Whether it’s chicken, fish, beef, lamb, or something else, whole meat being the first ingredient on the list means your pet will be getting a quality protein.
  • Look for higher quality ingredients in general. High-quality ingredients such as fruits and veggies improve the digestibility of your dog’s food and mean there aren’t a lot of filler ingredients that could be adding to the amount of crude protein.
  • If you’ve read the ingredients and nutritional label and still aren’t sure about the protein’s quality, reach out to the dog food company and ask questions.
  • Look for a “complete and balanced” statement on the food label. This means that the food contains all the nutrients required by a dog and has a good ratio of amino acids.

Just doing these four things will make it easier to find a high-quality dog food with high-quality protein for your furry pal!

man buying pet food
Image Credit: LADO-Shutterstock



Crude protein is simply a chemical analysis of how much nitrogen is found in a particular dog food and an estimation of how much protein there is based on that. It doesn’t always tell you how much protein is in your pet’s food, though, or anything about the quality of the protein used. To ensure you’re getting a food with a high-quality protein source, read the ingredient list and look for whole ingredients (and reach out to a company if you have questions).

Your dog needs protein to live a healthy, active life, so make sure you’re feeding them the best quality dog food you can!

Featured Image Credit: Phuttharak, Shutterstock

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