High protein dog food is a popular diet choice for many dogs, so how can you know if it’s right for your pup? Check out the benefits of types of high-protein dog food so that you can help your dog thrive. Choosing a high-quality dog food is important, but sometimes the type of diet matter too. Feeding a high protein diet to your dog has many benefits, but not every type of diet is made for every dog. It’s best to know what it is you want to get out of your dog’s diet before you start making changes.
What is a High Protein Dog Food?
Protein is (or at least should be) the foundation of your dog’s diet, but protein levels in the food can vary greatly depending on the formula. When you see a dog food labelled as high protein, what does that mean?
There is no set definition of what the protein content of high-protein dog food is, but the average is above 30%. That protein can come from both plants and animal ingredients, though a high animal protein content in a food is generally best to ensure optimal protein and fat levels.
The other factor in high protein dog foods is that more protein means fewer carbs. When looking at the guaranteed analysis of your dog’s food, you won’t see a carb count.
You can roughly estimate the carb content of the food by adding up the percentages of protein, fat, fibre, and moisture. What’s left is predominantly carbohydrates. So, in addition to being high protein, these diets are often low carb.
Benefits of High Protein Dog Food
There are many different types of dog food available, and if you are wondering if a high protein dog diet is best for your dog, then it’s important you know the benefits and drawbacks of choosing a high protein dog food.
One of the most sought-after benefits of high protein dog foods is that they help support weight management by helping your dog lose fat. Pudgy dogs can be tough to slim down, but a simple diet change can be a great first step to help your dog drop a little weight and become more active.
Learn more about how to manage your dog's weight in Dog Food for Weight Loss.
Protein is a key component of muscle development and maintenance. Offering your dog a higher protein diet combined with a consistent active routine is ideal for building muscle during weight loss and supporting the growth and development of puppies.
As dogs get older, muscle naturally starts to deplete, especially in dogs that become less active. High protein food can help to maintain muscle mass for longer and slow the signs of ageing.
Dog’s love meat, so why deny them? Dogs that are picky about their food, especially kibble diets, tend to be more enthusiastic about eating higher protein diets, particularly those high in animal proteins.
This can encourage better and more consistent eating habits that contribute to healthy weight and activity. Better mealtime routines can also reduce anxiety and prevent destructive and begging habits in between meal times.
All Life Stages
Many high protein diets are suitable for all life stages. High protein foods better mimic the natural diet of wild dogs and can provide the nutrient variety to support growing puppies, adult maintenance, and slowing senior pets.
High protein dog foods are more nutrient and calorie-dense than lower protein foods. This means that feeding guidelines will be smaller. This helps support weight management by helping pets get used to smaller portions while still getting the energy and nutrients required to thrive.
Higher protein means lower carbs. Carbohydrates are a quick source of energy but are used up quickly. Once the carbohydrates are digested, your dog will begin to feel hungry again. A high protein diet will help your pet feel fuller for longer, despite the smaller portions.
This can help to prevent begging habits, overeating, and gorging. Low carb diets can also support better digestion, as excess sugars can feed bad gut bacteria that disrupt normal digestion.
Underweight dogs can also benefit from a high protein diet. By providing long-term energy and helping to build muscle, a skinny dog can bulk up and stay active much easier. These calorically dense diets can be fed at slightly higher feeding guidelines.
Choosing the best high-protein dog food for weight gain depends on your dog’s other dietary needs, but a high-quality and high-protein food will support the muscle development your dog needs to fatten up.
How Much Protein is Too Much Protein?
We love to talk about the benefits of high-protein dog food, but is there such thing as too much protein? High protein diets work well for most dogs, but not every dog needs high protein, and some should even avoid it.
Dogs with compromised kidney function, for example, need a moderately low protein diet. This is because as protein is digested, it creates toxic by-products, like nitrogen, that must be filtered through the kidneys and excreted in your dog's urine.
Though opting for a lower protein diet limits the toxic by-products and the stress on the kidneys, there are downsides to low protein dog foods, like muscle loss. Low protein foods should only be fed if they are recommended by your vet.
Even dogs with healthy kidneys may not do as well on a very high protein diet. If your dog is experiencing digestive issues or any urinary tract problems, then you should consider switching to a more moderate protein diet.
Many grain-friendly diets sit around the 26-28% protein level, so you can still limit carbs and choose high meat content without feeding high protein.
Best High Protein Dog Foods
High protein and high quality aren’t always the same, so choosing the best high protein dog food involves more than just looking at the guaranteed analysis. You’ll want to look at where the protein is coming from and ensure that the rest of the ingredients are natural and healthy.
Animal protein is considered a complete protein, meaning that it provides a full spectrum of the ten essential amino acids for dogs. Each animal protein will offer these amino acids in different quantities, but they will all be represented in the meat.
This makes meat the ideal main protein source of your dog’s diet. While vegetarian options are available for dogs, there are very high protein meat-free dog foods. Most of the high protein options you’ll find for your dog will be meat-based, but plant proteins can be used with animal proteins to boost protein levels in the diet.
Best High Protein Dog Kibble
High protein kibble is a super popular option. The carbohydrate-heavy nature of dog kibble has contributed to the large population of obese dogs. Switching to a high-protein kibble is a highly recommended way to start a weight loss routine for your dog.
Here are a few of our favourite high protein dog kibble brands:
This awesome Canadian brand uses regionally sourced ingredients to biologically appropriate dog food. To preserve nutrients and taste, these meat-rich and high-protein formulas are cooked at low temperatures, much lower than the industry standard.
Orijen kibble formulas range in protein from 38-42%, so this brand is on the high end of the protein scale. They also boast 70-80% of that protein comes from animal sources, so your pooch will get all the benefits of a high protein, low carb kibble dog food.
Go! Solutions Carnivore
Go! Solutions is another one of our Canadian partners. They source ingredients all over North America and New Zealand to ensure only the best quality nutrients. The word solution is right in the name, so go! is a great brand for solving diet-related issues in dogs.
The Carnivore line is made with the needs of carnivores in mind. With protein contents ranging from 32-36%, go! Solutions Carnivore offers a range of protein and life-stage options to provide high proteins dog food to suit your dog’s unique needs.
One of our favourite Canadian neighbours is Horizon. They source locally and have a high standard for sustainability and accountability. They are also one of the brands that pride themselves on providing high quality on a budget.
The Legacy line contains up to 81% animal protein and total protein of up to 36%, making this meaty line both high protein and low in carbs. Choose from three life stage formulas to suit your dog’s dietary needs at any age.
Stella & Chewy’s Raw Coated Kibble
If you want the benefits of high protein raw dog food with the convenience of kibble, then Stella & Chewy’s is a great choice. By combining freeze-dried raw with a nutrient-dense, oven-baked kibble, Stella & Chewy’s kibble is highly nutritious and digestible.
Their Raw Coated and Raw Blend kibbles are dusted in freeze-dried raw food to offer the flavour and nutrition of raw. Additionally, the oven-baked kibble is high in protein, up to 36%, and loaded with multiple high-quality meat sources.
High Protein Canned Dog Food
Canned food is naturally more nutrient-dense than kibble, but you won’t see the drastic protein quantities on the label like you will in dry diets. The average protein in canned dog food is around 8%.
This is due to the moisture content. Wet dog food has up to 90% moisture, so if you remove moisture from the equation, you will get a more accurate value of protein in the food. This is called the dry matter basis.
Once the moisture is removed, a can with an 8% protein content is actually closer to 35%, so technically, all canned food with an “average” protein level is considered high protein.
If you choose to feed wet dog food, then look at the quality of the protein in the food. Here are some high-quality wet dog foods that can be fed as a whole diet or to supplement our other diets:
Acana Premium Chunks
Though new to the wet food game, Acana Premium Chunks are loaded with 85% animal products, like muscle meat, bone broth, and organ meat to deliver nutrients that are highly digestible. These formulas are perfect for feeding alone or as a meal topper to another diet.
Natural, simple, and nutritious, Canada Fresh Dog Food is extra meaty and a great, well-rounded diet for dogs. Canada Fresh also has limited ingredients which make this line ideal for dogs with food allergies and digestive issues who need to eliminate certain ingredients from their diet.
The Honest Kitchen Tetra Packs
These delectable stews and pates are gently cooked to maintain flavour, scent, and nutrition. Using carefully selected human-grade ingredients, The Honest Kitchen makes wet dog food that is good enough for you to eat, so your dog will surely be a fan.
High Protein Raw Dog Food
One of the benefits of raw dog food is that is high protein and low carb by nature. Even raw diets that contain fruits, vegetables, or even grains still will offer more protein and fewer carbs than an average kibble diet.
Depending on the style of the raw diet, you can opt for even higher protein content by choosing a whole prey diet that limits or excludes carbs. Look for a raw diet with a very high animal inclusion to guarantee that your dog will get plenty of protein and other vital nutrients to support weight and activity.
Here are a few awesome raw brands that are high in protein:
Stella & Chewy's Freeze-Dried Raw
All the benefits of raw without jamming up your freezer. Stella & Chewy's Freeze-Dried Dinners contain 95% meat bone and organ, providing your pooch with plenty of easily digestible protein and calories.
By crafting diets that are species and biologically appropriate, Iron Will raw dog food is a great option for raw feeders looking for high protein and low carb. They offer both complete and balanced low-carb meals and customizable raw that you can supplement to suit your unique pooch.
What is Performance Dog Food?
A different type of dog food that often gets mixed up with high protein dog food is high-performance dog food. Performance dog food is tailored to highly active sporting or working dogs. High-performance dog food is typically high in protein, but it’s also high in fat.
This provides a long-term energy source to accommodate a more active lifestyle. This can support weight and muscle maintenance in dogs who use a lot of calories each day. Fat is also a good source of energy for your dog’s brain.
Benefits of Performance Dog Food
Performance dog food is ideal for dogs that need above-average calories to maintain their activity and muscle mass. Knowing when a dog needs a performance food depends on their activity level and lifestyle.
Most people that describe their dogs as high energy don't actually need high-performance dog food. This unique diet type is best suited for working and sporting dogs who would struggle to consume enough calories to maintain their energy levels throughout the day.
Here are a few benefits of performance dog foods:
Growth and Development
In addition to working breeds, performance diets are also great for the growth and development of active puppies. Puppies burn calories quickly and can use the additional calories from a performance food for general growth and muscle development.
Additionally, fat is a good source of energy for the brain, and young puppies require plenty of energy to develop their cognitive functions.
The high-fat content of performance dog diets provides quick energy, while the protein provides long-term energy. This allows dogs to stay consistently active for long periods of time without needing to constantly recharge and eat throughout the day.
Dogs who need high-performance dog food would end up requiring very large portions and several meals per day of regular dog food to get the calories they could get in smaller portions of high-performance diets. By feeding such calorie-packed food, you can save money on your monthly food bill by feeding smaller meals while still providing extra calories and nutrients.
The high fat and protein content of these diets make them extremely palatable. While they shouldn't be used for an average picky pooch, they are good for working dogs that need a little more encouragement to eat more to sustain their lifestyle.
Best Performance Dog Food
If you have a working breed, then performance dog food may be a better option for building and maintaining muscle mass for your active pooch. Performance dog food is the most calorie-dense option and provides energy from high protein and high-fat content.
This style of diet will superload a highly active dog with the calories and nutrients they need to maintain their natural energy levels and normal routines. Working dogs that aren’t fed a performance diet can end up being underweight because their metabolism will burn through calories faster than they can take more in.
When it comes to performance diets, you can find performance dog kibble diets, or you can feed a whole prey raw diet.
Performance Dog Kibble
Many pet owners like the convenience and price of kibble diets. Though there aren’t a ton of performance dog kibbles, there are a few high-quality, high-fat dog foods that might be a good fit for your workaholic pooch. The average fat content of kibble is around 16-18%, so if you are looking for high-performance dog food, look for 20% or more.
Acana Sport & Agility
If you need high-performance dog food for your high-performance dog, then check out Acana Sport & Agility. Both high protein and high fat, it’s a popular and high-quality kibble diet for working and sporting breeds.
This grain-free option is all-natural and extra meaty. With 22% fat and nutrients from fresh ingredients like chicken, flounder, and whole eggs, Acana Sport & Agility is highly digestible and palatable.
First Mate High Performance
This high-performance dog food is great for both highly active breeds and growing puppies. The high protein helps to build and maintain muscle, while the 20% fat content provides extra energy for fast metabolisms and growing bodies.
As part of this brand's grain-friendly line, First Mate High-Performance dog food offers low-glycemic carbs like oatmeal and brown rice to support digestion and plenty of fish and fish oils to improve skin and coat.
Performance Dog Raw Food
Though performance kibbles are few and far between, many high-quality raw dog foods work well as performance diets because they are naturally high in protein and moderately high in fat.
The type of diet does matter. Look for diets where 80% or more of the protein comes from animal ingredients. This will ensure a protein and fat-rich feast that will support your dog’s muscle maintenance and energy requirements.
Check out some of the top raw dog food brands to find a performance diet for your dog:
This raw brand hails from our neighbours in Saskatchewan. Using locally sourced ingredients, Carnivora offers whole prey raw diets in a large variety of proteins allowing you to customize your dog’s diet to suit their dietary needs.
Big Country Raw
Using fresh and high-quality ingredients sourced from local Canadian farmers and ranchers, Big Country Raw offers an extensive line of complete raw meals, customizable diets, and natural supplements to support the health of canines.
Does Your Dog Need High Protein Dog Food?
High protein dog food is just one of many styles of dog food, but the benefits of high protein can work for just about any dog. Sure, it’s great for weight loss, but high protein is perfectly suitable for maintenance and puppies too.
It’s important to keep in mind that these diets are higher in calories, so even though they are healthy, they can be fed improperly and lead to weight issues. Dogs that aren’t portion-controlled may overeat, gain weight, and experience digestive issues from eating such a nutrient-dense diet.
Diet alone can help but isn't always enough on its own. No matter what diet type you choose, it needs to be balanced with good eating habits, and regular physical and mental activity.
Whether your goal is to help your pooch shed a few pounds or if you are just looking for the best diet to help them thrive, consider high-protein dog food.
Is your dog is ready to make the switch to a high protein diet? Share your story in the comments below!