Pros and Cons of High Protein Dog Food

by Ann Compton
Choosing your dog's food is an important decision.

Choosing your dog's food is an important decision.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Veterinarians have differing opinions on the value of high protein dog food. Their choices usually depend on the individual dog's needs. Some dogs benefit from a high protein food, while for others, it may be too much of a good thing.

How High is High?

Before you begin reading dog food labels, be aware of what is considered high protein. A food with a protein level of more than 30 percent is considered high. Dog foods in the mid-20 range contain moderate protein levels, and those below 20 percent are low-protein. Levels of protein below 20 percent generally are found in prescription veterinary foods used to treat certain health issues.

The Role of Protein

All dogs need protein. It provides the building blocks for muscle, bone and body mass, nerve function, the creation of cells and is key in healing wounds. A dog with insufficient protein in his diet will lose weight and have a poor coat. But how much your dog needs depends on his breed, age, health and activity level. Before deciding on the level of protein your dog needs, consult with your vet to review the dog's individual needs.

Good Protein vs. Bad

The percentage of protein listed on the dog food bag does not tell the whole story. The quality of the protein is more important than how much of it is in your dog's food. Evaluate a dog food by the list of ingredients. The first ingredient should be a named meat; for example, chicken, beef, lamb or fish. Meat sources provide the best quality protein. Dog food labels list ingredients by their weight in the food, so the order is key in judging the proteins in the food. Wheat, corn, soy and by-products have little value for your dog.

Who Needs More?

Many dogs benefit from a higher protein diet. Puppies need higher protein food to help them grow and develop. Pregnant and nursing mother dogs also have higher protein requirements. These dogs should get between 25 and 30 percent protein in their food. Performance dogs who compete in agility, herding, fly ball or other high-energy dog sports need more protein as well. Working dogs and those who enjoy an active lifestyle also benefit from higher protein diets.

Less is Better

Low-protein diets usually are recommended for dogs with kidney or liver issues and health conditions such as diabetes that strain the kidneys. Some senior dogs benefit from a lower protein, more easily digestible diet. Ask your vet to recommend the best source of nutrition for your dog in these cases.

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About the Author

With more than 25 years in journalism, Ann Compton has written for national newspapers, magazines and websites. She has covered the equestrian events in five Olympics as well as the Westminster Dog Show and specializes in animal topics. She breeds, trains and shows Shetland Sheepdogs.

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