Protein is one of the most essential building blocks of life and serves as an integral part of a dog’s nutritional requirements. High-protein dog food can be very beneficial to puppies and adult dogs, but hundreds of choices are available.
The American Pet Products Association reports pet parents spent over $38 billion on pet food and treats in 2020 (1). A percentage of those sales is attributed to high-protein dog food in its many forms—canned to kibble, dehydrated to high-energy formula, and many more.
Canine protein requirements vary with activity level, age, life stage, temperament, overall health condition, and protein quality (2). Let’s break it down.
What Is High-Protein Dog Food?
“High-protein dog food is best for dogs who have an increased energy requirement, such as being pregnant, lactating, working dogs, or growing puppies,” says Dr. Crissy Alstott, AskVet’s director of veterinary operations. “A high-protein diet can help provide the essential amino acids their bodies need to support that.”
Dogs who do not need the additional protein will simply excrete the unused portion from their bodies. Protein levels above 30 percent are typically considered to be high, Alstott explains. Most high-protein, good-quality dog food will include a mixture of both animal-based and plant-based proteins in their formulas.
This means things like corn, wheat gluten, and animal by-products may be included in high-protein dog food formulas that are not limited ingredient or grain-free. Despite marketing claims, Alstott says these ingredients aren’t necessarily bad for your dog.
“By-products come from some of the most nutrient-rich organ meats like the liver, spleen and heart,” she explains. “As long as a reputable manufacturer produces the food, these ingredients are an excellent and healthy source of nutrition for our pets.”
High-Protein Dog Food: Benefits and Risks
While protein is an essential nutrient for dogs, it also acts as a source of energy. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and dogs require a certain amount of protein each day.
According to Tufts University Clinical Nutrition Service, protein is broken down into amino acids, which are then used to build new proteins to “burn up” as energy (3).
As noted, a high-protein canine diet is best for growing puppies, pregnant or lactating dogs, working dogs and to help manage a dog’s overall body condition. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
“Veterinarians caution against feeding high-protein diets to senior dogs, or dogs with kidney disease or liver disease,” cautions Alstott. “This is because excess protein is broken down to be used for energy or stored as fat, and the kidneys excrete the by-products.”
Two common diseases where excess protein can actually make the dog feel worse and potentially worsen the disease process are kidney disease and some types of liver disease (3).
Dogs who have underlying kidney disease can run into trouble trying to process the extra protein. For example, there may be circumstances where a high-protein diet is fed to a senior dog. This should only occur under the direction and supervision of your veterinarian. Check with your vet anytime there are dietary changes or you have questions about protein requirements for dogs.
High-Protein Dog Food: What To Look For
Walking down the dog food aisles of a pet supply store or perusing the thousands of pages of dog food selections online can be dizzying. Add to that the variety of high-protein dog foods, including grain-free, wet dog food, dry dog food, dehydrated versions, active dog formulas, and high-protein puppy food, and it can be challenging to figure it all out.
Here’s what to look for in a high-protein dog food:
Look for the nutritional adequacy statement on the label. Ensure your dog’s food is formulated to meet AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) safety certifications. This helps determine if a food meets nutritional requirements, if any feeding trials were performed, and which life stage a food is appropriate for.
Be wary of over-the-top marketing claims: Although some high-protein canine diets are formulated by veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists, Alstott recommends reading past the endorsements. “Pet foods cannot cure cancer, cannot remake your pup into a show dog, and if the claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” she advises.
Quality over quantity. The quality of the dog food protein is just as important, if not more so, than its quantity.
Consult with your dog’s veterinarian and/or veterinary nutritionist before making any sudden changes to your dog’s diet.
7 Best High-Protein Dog Foods
All featured products are chosen at the discretion of the author. However, Great Pet Care may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Best High-Protein Dog Food: Overall Winner
Featuring 32 percent high-quality protein, with deboned salmon as the first ingredient, American Journey Salmon & Sweet Potato grain-free dry dog food is our clear winner. The recipe also contains antioxidants to help support your dog’s immune system and omega fatty acids for healthy skin and coat support.
Manufactured in the state of Kansas, American Journey has never experienced a recall. They source from reputable suppliers in the United States and worldwide. Although this particular high-protein dry dog food recipe is suitable for all life stages, it’s also available in versions specifically formulated for puppies, seniors, small breeds, or large breeds, as well as a healthy weight formula.
- 32 percent protein
- Suitable for all life stages
- Contains wholesome fruits and veggies like sweet potatoes, blueberries, carrots, and dried kelp
- Omegas are sourced from salmon oil and flaxseed to help support healthy eyes and brain
- Contains no fillers such as corn, soy, or wheat, which can help avoid stomach upset in sensitive dogs
- Nearly 5-star rated on Chewy.com
- Full American Journey line features both dry and wet dog food options, including Grain-Free, Limited Ingredient, and Active Life formulas
Things to Consider
- Chicken and turkey meals are the second and third ingredient
- Some dogs may not be fond of the salmon recipe, but this grain-free formula is also available in chicken, beef, or lamb
- Largest sized bag is 24 pounds, which may mean frequent reordering or auto-delivery for larger dogs or multi-dog households
Best High-Protein Dog Food for Highly Active Adult Dogs
Protein is the main focus of this formula that is designed to keep hardworking, active dogs fit and going strong. A total of 91 percent of the protein comes from cage-free chicken and egg ingredients. Boasting a guaranteed analysis of 32 percent protein, Diamond Natural dog foods are formulated with a proprietary technology called K9 Strain® Probiotics to support a dog’s digestive and immune system.
It is made in the USA by a family-owned and run business with advanced food safety protocols to help ease a pet parent’s mind. Nutrient-rich and highly digestible, the Diamond Natural Extreme Athlete Formula Dry Dog Food contains glucosamine and chondroitin for canine joint health.
- 32 percent protein
- Contains no corn, soy, wheat, or peas
- Superfoods like coconut and chia seeds combined with flaxseed for healthy skin and coat
- Cage-free chicken
- Every pound of Diamond Naturals guarantees 80,000,000 colony-forming units (CFUs) of live, active probiotic cultures
- May pet parents praise the lower volume of waste from their dogs
Things to Consider
- Chicken meal is the first ingredient, followed by cage-free chicken and ground white rice
- 9 percent of the protein is plant-based; with the other 91 percent from chicken and egg
- Some pet parents indicate the chicken products don’t agree with their dogs
Best High-Protein Dog Food For Active Dogs and Puppies
For active dogs and puppies, this formula contains 30 percent protein and nearly 5 stars on Chewy and Amazon. Sourced and made in the USA, this nutrient-dense dog food contains no gluten and is ideal for sporting pups and those dogs who have high physical demands.
VICTOR’S high-protein dry dog food comprises 88 percent meat protein containing premium-quality beef, chicken, and pork meal. It is fortified with the proper amount of essential fatty acids, protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals for active dogs and growing puppies.
- Contains an exclusive VPRO Blend with four premium, researched ingredients including selenium yeast for metabolic function, mineral complexes, prebiotics and probiotics
- Perfect from puppyhood into adulthood
- Each bag is produced in VICTOR’S Texas-based facility
- Easily digestible and supports a healthy immune system
- Pet parents rave about their dog’s excitement and good health on this food
- Contains no corn, wheat, soy, or gluten
- Available in 5-pound, 15-pound, 40-pound, and 50-pound bags
Things to Consider
- Beef meal is the first ingredient followed by grain sorghum and chicken fat
- Dogs with protein sensitivities may not do well on this formula with several protein sources
- Pregnant and lactating dogs may require up to four times the recommended levels of intake; check with your dog’s veterinarian first.
Best High-Protein Dog Food with Novel Protein
Like their ancestors, dogs crave meat and this formula contains 34 percent protein with deboned duck as its main ingredient. Formulated by animal nutritionists, Blue’s exclusive LifeSource bits contain cold-formed antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to support a dog’s health needs and immune system.
The real duck is complemented by healthy complex carbs like blueberries and cranberries. Dogs who have an active lifestyle that promotes healthy muscle development are best served with this Blue Buffalo high-protein grain-free dry dog food. Duck maintains lean muscle mass, and carbs like peas and sweet potatoes fuel his active lifestyle.
- Made with natural ingredients
- 100 percent free from chicken, poultry, by-product meals, corn, wheat, soy, artificial flavors and preservatives
- Contains no gluten
- Glucosamine helps support healthy canine joints
- Chicken meal and fish meal help build strong muscles
- Contains antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies like cranberries, blueberries, and carrots
Things to Consider
- Largest size bag is 24 pounds
- Not suitable for dogs with a chicken sensitivity
- Kibble size is about that of a large green pea
Best High-Protein Dog Food with Wholesome Grains
With 34 percent protein and powered by wholesome grains, Wellness CORE Wholesome Grains formulas support lean body mass, muscle tone, and healthy coat and skin. The fiber-rich grains and nutrient-dense superfoods are added bonuses. Dog food protein levels should be shared along with fat, carbs, and the quality of ingredients in the food.
Made in the USA with globally sourced ingredients, it is minimally processed and contains no meat by-products or fillers. The crave-worthy taste means dogs enjoy their meal while getting balanced nutrition and high protein.
- Contains no potatoes, legumes, fillers, or meat by-products
- No artificial flavors or preservatives
- Powered by grains such as oatmeal, barley, and quinoa
- Deboned turkey is the first ingredient
- Optimal taurine levels
- Probiotics and prebiotics for a balanced digestive system
Things to Consider
- Contains chicken meal and turkey meal
- Largest bag size is 24 pounds
- For adult dogs only
Best High-Protein Canned Dog Food
Some dogs just aren’t kibble fans or pet parents wish to supplement with a high-protein wet dog food. The Pedigree High-Protein Chicken and Turkey Flavor in Gravy canned dog food is cut into pieces and served with gravy to please your pup’s palate. This nutritious soft wet food is 100 percent complete and balanced and contains 11 percent protein.
Chicken and turkey are main ingredients, with pet parents raving about the high protein, affordable cost of the dog food. Some say even their picky eaters thrive and enjoy this Pedigree formula. Made in the USA, recommended feeding guidelines are two-thirds a can for every 10 pounds of an adult dog’s body weight.
- Perfect for dogs who prefer a wet dog food
- 11 percent protein
- Made in the United States
- Contains real chicken, turkey, and meat by-products
- Easy-to-open pull-tab can
- Can be used as a topper with kibble for enticement and variety
Things to Consider
- Must be refrigerated after opening
- Not as much protein as kibble varieties
- Some complain the dog didn’t enjoy the flavor, but there are other flavor options
Best High-Protein Dehydrated Dog Food
Simply add warm water and your favorite oil to Dr. Harvey’s Specialty Diet Allergy Fish formula, stir, and wait. A warm, homemade meal packed with 21 percent protein is ready in 12 minutes. This healthy alternative to kibble contains whitefish as its main ingredient and boasts real whole superfoods to support the protein.
Real freeze-dried fish and vegetables are easy to digest, perfect for dogs with allergies or sensitivities. Dr. Harvey’s contains real, optimal protein with whitefish, but also superfoods like green beans, carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, spinach, and chia seeds. A 5-pound bag of this dog food makes 20 pounds of hydrated product.
- 21 percent protein
- Always made and dehydrated in the United States
- Available in two formulas: Fish and turkey
- Highly processed foods can cause a dog’s digestive system to work overtime, but this formula is made of whole foods to go easy on a dog’s GI tract
- Supports allergy relief
- Contains probiotics
- Contains no wheat, soy, corn, dairy, or eggs
Things to Consider
- For dogs with cancer, pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney issues, or other ongoing specific health problems, Dr. Harvey’s does NOT recommend their Allergy formula.
- Grain-free formula
- Some pet parents balk at the higher price point
Don’t miss the next pet food recall!
Stay up to date with pet-related recalls and alerts so you can help keep your dog or cat safe.