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Is Your Canine Getting Enough High-Protein Dog Food?

Remember the high-protein diet craze that surged in the ‘90s? Lured by promises of weight-loss, people—seemingly overnight—bypassed the bagels and pasta in favor of steak with a side of bacon. Due to health concerns in humans, the predilection for high-protein food has eased over the years in favor of a more balanced diet, but the idea of a high-protein diet is still popular for our canine friends and for good reason.

We researched the latest studies and interviewed vets to provide a guide to feeding your dog a high-protein diet.

high protein dog food

Why Do Canines Need High-Protein Dog Food?

No matter whether your dog does most of his running in his sleep, is a working sled dog—or, like most canines, fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum—your fuzzy friend requires protein to survive.

Here’s Why:

Dogs need 22 amino acids, 12 of which their bodies can produce on their own. Leaving 10 essential amino acids that your dog needs to get from food. These essential amino acids include arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Guess what they all have in common? Yes, you can find these amino acids in protein.

Let’s get to the real question of why? What is it that makes these amino acids so essential?

There are three main functions:

  1. To build:

    proteins help your dog grow and help build cells, antibodies, hormones, tissues, and organs.

  2. To maintain:

    maintaining muscle mass, reproductive, and the immune system is an important protein function.

  3. To repair:

    proteins also help your dog repair tissue damage and heal better.

Those are the main benefits, but that’s not an exhaustive list. Here are other ways a high-protein diet can help your dog:

  • Weight Control:

    Just as high-protein diets became popular for their weight-loss benefits, so too can it help your dog if he/she is a little on the pudgy side. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that dogs fed a high-protein (47.5%), low-carbohydrate diet had a greater loss of body fat and higher conservation of lean body mass than those fed a lower-protein diet (23%). “A lot of times, I find with overweight dogs, it’s the drier, lower-protein diet that’s to blame,” says Tiffany Margolin, D.V.M. in Summerland, California, who recommends high-protein meals for her dog clients.

  • Allergy Relief:

    If your dog suffers from skin conditions or allergies, a high-protein diet can help soothe those concerns, because it’s often the fillers used in foods that stimulate inflammation.

  • Eases Aging Process:

    High-protein dog food diets can also be particularly beneficial for older canines who are starting to experience muscle loss. “I notice a lot of good response to a high-protein diet for muscle loss,” says Dr. Margolin. As for the controversy regarding high-protein diets harming kidneys in older dogs, “it’s all about the quality,” she adds.

    With a high-quality protein diet, there is not as much waste produced that the kidneys need to eliminate, so your pet will actually retain the protein. Protein has been the center of confusion when it comes to feeding older dogs. While low-protein diets used to be recommended for seniors—with the thought being that high amounts of protein can overtax the kidneys—now the opposite is known to be true. According to a review of evidence published in Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, “Protein restriction for healthy older dogs is not only unnecessary, it can be detrimental.” Reviewers discovered that sufficient amounts of protein help prevent loss of lean body mass and even increases mortality rates, and the protein needs of older dogs’ actually increase by about 50 percent. High-quality, easily digestible protein is key.

Before you just scan the labels and think “the more the merrier” in terms of protein, remember that there is a method to the high-protein dog food madness.

What Should You Look for on the Label of High-Protein Dog Food?

Remember, a label may say “high-protein” but there’s a deeper method to the madness—and you’ll need to pay attention to the fine print. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), there are four classifications that labels must follow if they are to claim a certain percentage of protein. They are:

The 100% Rule:

It’s just as it sounds. For example, to make the claim of “all-chicken treats,” the food must be just that, with trace amounts of water, coloring, or preservatives.

The 95% Rule:

A dog food can name it in its product—Buffy’s Chicken Meals, for example—but only if the ingredient named constitutes 95% of the product by weight, excluding water.

The 25% Rule:

When you see labels like “Mattie’s Lamb Entree” or “Poultry Platter for Puppies” for example, where words like “entree” “dinner” or “platter” are present, that means the named ingredients must make up at least 25% of the product by weight, not including added water, and at least 10% of the total product by weight.

The “With Rule:

Anytime you see “with” on a label—“Country Cowboy Meal with Chicken and Beef”—means each named ingredient, in this case, chicken and beef, constitute 3% of the total.

The “Flavor” Rule:

Whenever you see, for example, “lamb-flavored dog food,” that means one of the listed ingredients is providing the flavor.

What about Raw Versus Canned Versus Dry High-Protein Dog Food?

Before you pick up a protein-packed kibble bag and call it good, remember there are other considerations to factor in, including whether canned, dry, or raw diets are best. Here are the main differences:

Dry Diets:

Typically high in (often low-quality) carbohydrates, these diets don’t provide much-needed hydration, and the protein is typically not meat-based.

Canned Diets:

While canned diets do offer that extra hydration, the quality of protein is typically lower—not to mention all those preservatives and additives. “It’s amazing how much sugar is disguised on labels,” says Judy Morgan, D.V.M, author of From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing. “It’s called dextrose, sucrose, corn syrup, you name it. You have to really scan the label to see what’s actually in there.”

Raw, Meat-Based Diets:

Dogs have evolved from being primarily meat-eaters, so the current-day problems we see in the grain-based, high-carbohydrate kibble era didn’t exist. High-quality proteins include beef, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, fish, and poultry. It’s important to remember that the type of protein you’re feeding your dog is more important than the quantity. While low-quality proteins are starches, legumes, meat by-products, animal fat, meat meals, and only using vegetables as the protein source. Raw, meat-based diets offer high-protein, low-fat, and low-carbohydrates with vegetables that are high on the glycemic index to provide fiber, and high-quality meat in an easily digestible form so your dog can absorb all the 22 necessary amino acids it needs. Since raw food is natural, you’re also assured of no harmful additives and preservatives that sneak into canned and dry food.

How Do You Feed Your Dog a High-Protein Diet?

Think quick: What do a human, a dog, and a gravel ant have in common? They’re all omnivores. This means that we—and the gravel ants of the world—need food from both plant and animal sources. Just as humans learned that balance is best after the high-protein craze died down, so it goes for canines. That’s why you need a species-appropriate, ancestral diet that is designed for the way these creatures have naturally eaten ever since dogs started roaming the earth—a mixture, in other words, of plant and animal foods.

Keep in mind, the amount of protein your dog will need will vary, depending on your dog’s activity level, age, weight, and possible medical conditions like kidney or liver disease. Also, “the more the merrier” doesn’t apply when it comes to protein. Potential dangers of too much protein can include kidney and liver issues, particularly with lower quality protein that takes a toll on organs. That’s why it’s important to ensure your dog’s protein comes from real meat like lamb, chicken, beef, venison, or turkey.

Look for foods specially formulated for a dog’s daily protein needs, and consult with your vet for specific recommendations on your dog’s particular required amount. Regardless of the amount, though, there are three essential factors to consider when easing your dog into a high-protein diet.

  • Test It Out:

    It’s a good idea to have your dog’s blood levels checked first, to see where he/she is with protein, as that will dictate the amount needed.

  • Go Easy:

    As with any dietary change, you’ll want to introduce it gradually. Start by mixing in your dog’s normal food with the high-protein meal, and taper the amount of old food every week, suggests Dr. Margolin.

  • Be Picky.
  • Remember that more isn’t better. Just because a dog food label lists a high protein percentage that doesn’t mean the type of protein is high quality. You want to make sure you’re getting real meat—such as poultry and veal—as opposed to meat meals. Look for those that contain no corn, wheat, or peas as fillers, which can be harder to digest and can aggravate allergies.

Dogs need the right balance of high-protein ingredients in their diet to thrive. At Darwin’s Pet Products, our number one goal is to help keep your pets healthy and active for as long as possible. To help accomplish this goal, we provide a library of articles in the hope of providing consumers with useful information to help their pets. And, primarily, we produce affordable, high-quality raw dog and cat meals which we ship directly to consumers so they are as fresh and convenient as possible. Our meals are high in quality protein, gluten-free, wheat-free, and are created to provide complete and balanced nutrition. We encourage you to learn more about our meals for dogs.

If you think you might want a trial of Darwin’s  (at an introductory price), we would love to send you our meals and hear how much your dog loves them.

Let’s Connect! – Darwin’s Pet Food Advisors are here for you and your dog. Learn more about the high-quality standards of our pet foods and how raw can benefit your dog.