A selection of high-quality meats that are safe and healthy options for dogs
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The Benefits of a High-Protein Diet for Dogs

Protein is the bedrock of nutrition for both humans and dogs. For dogs, the correct amount of protein can help their bodies function optimally. However, excess protein can lead to digestive system disturbances, obesity, and nutritional imbalances that can affect their bones.

Below, we’ll examine the importance of protein, factors that impact a dog’s nutritional needs, and how much protein is enough (or too much) for your pup.

The Importance of Protein in a Dog’s Diet

Choosing the right amount of protein is integral to ensuring proper physical and mental health. Protein is the building block of muscles, but it also helps to build strong bones, aids in nerve function, and plays a part in healing wounds. Serving up the right amount of protein in each meal is key to your pup’s overall health.

Protein is more than just a number on an ingredient list. There’s more than one type of protein, and the source can make a huge impact on your dog’s health. Meat is the primary source of protein for dogs, but healthy proteins can also be found in plant sources like beans.

Protein is also found in popular by-products like wheat and soy, but these should never be the main source of the nutrient. Pet food labels should have a meat or plant source listed as the primary ingredient when choosing the proper high-protein diet for your pup.

Factors That Affect a Dog’s Nutritional Needs

When it comes to nutrition, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with dogs, as not all dogs will have the same dietary needs. Things to consider when crafting your pup’s diet include their age, health, and activity level.


As noted, some dogs require more protein than others. Protein intake is essential for growing and maintaining healthy muscles, bones, and joints. 

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends at least 22% protein for growth and 18% for maintenance. However, dogs have different protein needs in each life stage, so we’ll look into the specifics further down.


Health factors also affect how much protein your dog needs. For example, the American Kennel Club recommends a minimum of 29% protein throughout pregnancy and nursing. Also, if a dog is recovering from surgery, they may need a boost in protein. 

Check with your vet if your dog has a health condition that may require more protein content in their diet. 

Activity Level

Finally, consider your dog’s activity level, as this will help you determine the right dog food for a healthy weight. Active dogs will need more protein than couch potatoes. For example, if your dog is a herding or sledding dog, they may benefit from a high-protein diet. 

This is because they’ll be using up more energy and require more protein to build and maintain muscle. However, keep in mind that too much protein and not enough exercise can lead to weight gain.

How Much Protein Does My Dog Need?

Dogs’ needs change as they age. As a pet parent, you can expect to see certain changes that will impact your pup’s diet as they reach each of these life stages.


As noted above, puppies need at least 22% protein in their diet to support their rapid growth. They also require more calories in general. It’s important, though, to ensure that the diet you’re feeding your puppy is balanced. 

A nutritionally balanced food will include clean, high-quality proteins, healthy fats, digestible carbohydrates, and a balance of vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids. 

Adult Dogs

Once your puppy is fully grown, they won’t require as much protein, so you can typically reduce their protein to 18% of their daily calories. Adult dogs also don’t need as many calories, and they don’t need to eat as frequently. Most dogs require two meals and anywhere from 200 to almost 2,000 calories per day, depending on their weight and breed

Senior Dogs

Dogs in their later years may require more protein than a typical adult dog. This is especially true if they are losing lean body mass or experiencing weight loss in general. Some veterinarians recommend 28% to 32% protein in senior dogs’ diets if they need to lose weight or gain muscle mass.

How Much Protein Is Too Much?

Every dog is different, meaning their individual protein needs will vary. Many dogs will benefit from a high protein diet, while others could actually benefit from less, and a veterinarian should determine which is best for your furry friend. Healthy puppies typically need higher rates of protein than adult dogs to help them grow, as do pregnant and nursing mothers.

High-energy dogs, especially those that compete in agility sports, also require higher than normal levels of protein. But be careful when choosing foods, because excess protein could lead to problems.

A dog’s body can only process so much, and any excess will invariably cause an imbalance that might lead to poor bone growth or kidney failure. Dogs who are already suffering from liver or kidney diseases could see a rapid decline in health on a high-protein diet.

Since protein is typically found in meals with excellent sources of meat, it may also come with extra calories. In that case, look for food that is specifically low-calorie but still offers healthy sources of protein. If overfed, a dog on a high-protein diet can easily become overweight. It’s important to monitor the amount of food your pup is taking in each day.

As always, the larger the dog breed, the more nutrients it will likely require. A Saint Bernard will require far more protein than a Yorkie, for instance.

Types of Protein in Dog Food

Now, let’s get into the types of protein typically found in dog foods. There’s no single type that’s best, so here are each of the healthy proteins for dogs that you can consider.

Animal Protein

The most common type of protein seen in dog food is animal protein. This includes chicken, lamb, turkey, fish, beef, pork, and eggs. Some animal proteins are easier for dogs to digest than others. For example, chicken and turkey may be easier on the stomach than beef or eggs.

Additionally, some animal proteins are leaner than others, so consider a meat’s fat content when choosing a food, especially if your dog is older. It’s also important to consider quality and sourcing when it comes to animal proteins. For example, chicken meal is not going to have the same nutritional benefits as whole chicken.

Plant Protein

The most common types of plant-based proteins in dog food include corn protein, wheat gluten, pea protein, potato protein, rice protein, lentils, and even grains like quinoa and rice. If your pup has food allergies or an aversion to animal proteins, plant protein is a good option to try. You can also feed plant protein in combination with animal protein to support a more balanced diet.

Soy Protein

The last type of protein that’s commonly seen in commercial dog foods is soy protein, which comes from soybeans. There is some anecdotal evidence that it can support weight management, metabolic diseases, cancer, and hormone-related conditions like prostatic hypertrophy and urinary incontinence.

However, there is also evidence that it can have negative effects on dogs in high doses. If you’re concerned about the amount of soy protein levels in your dog’s kibble, check with your vet or nutritionist to ensure it’s safe for your pup long term.

The Benefits of High Protein Diets

A high-protein diet can lead to many health benefits for your dog when properly administered and recommended by a vet. Some of these benefits include a healthier and shinier coat, improved skin health, lean muscle growth, and a stronger immune system.

Many senior dogs can also benefit from high-protein dog foods. Amino acids in protein help to promote muscle recovery, which is vital in dogs as they age. If your dog likes their food and it’s nutritionally balanced, but it could use a bit more protein, a dog food topper might do the trick nicely.

However, be sure to check in with your veterinarian before making drastic changes — depending on their overall health, a higher protein count could lead to an increased risk of organ failure.

When switching up your pet’s diet, it’s always important to consult with a professional to ensure there are no underlying health risks. Protein is a great way to increase your dog’s strength and overall health when fed in proper amounts, so consider asking your veterinarian about it during your next visit.

Help Your Dog Get the Nutrition They Need With The Honest Kitchen

It’s clear that protein is an essential part of a dog’s diet, but as we’ve covered, not all protein sources will be right for your dog. To ensure your dog’s food provides clean, healthy sources of protein, check out The Honest Kitchen.

With wet food, dry dog food, and dehydrated dog food for puppies, adults, and senior dogs, The Honest Kitchen can help support the well-being of even the pickiest of eaters. Don’t just take our word for it — check out these True Stories from real Honest Kitchen customers!

Check out the full collection of human grade dog food at The Honest Kitchen.

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