Protein & Hyperactivity in Dogs

Image by, courtesy of Pedro Simões

Many dog owners have heard that there is an association between hyperactivity and high-protein diets. This misconception has lingered in the dog world for too many years despite a lack of evidence to support it.

Origin of the High-Protein Diet Myth

The high-protein diet myth originated with early studies on the effects of a high-protein diet on rats, rather than dogs. Unlike dogs, rats are not meat eaters, so the behavioral outcome of a high-protein diet for rats is significantly different from the outcome for dogs.

Definition of Hyperactivity

While you may believe that your dog is hyperactive, he most likely is not, in the technical sense of the term. Dogs with true hyperactivity--a rare medical condition--are unnaturally frantic, pace incessantly and pant excessively. As in children with ADHD, their symptoms respond to stimulant medications.

Causes of Hyperactivity

True hyperactivity results from a genetic predisposition. Dogs who appear hyperactive but do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis may simply be high-energy, overly reactive or descended from high-drive, working line dogs.

Help for the Hyper Dog

If your dog is diagnosed with hyperactivity, she will benefit from certain stimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, which help to control abnormal, frantic behavior. Dogs who are simply high-energy will benefit from daily exercise, obedience, structured households and sufficient time to decompress in a quiet crate environment.


In 1996, the American Veterinary Medical Association studied the behavior of dogs who consumed varied amounts of protein. The results revealed that decreasing protein consumption does not alter behavior, except in dogs with territorial aggression caused by fear.