It used to be if you poured some water on your dog's food you were serving up a healthy, gourmet dinner. In the past few decades, pet food manufacturing has shifted toward mimicking peoples' food choices, favoring "ancestral foods" and shying away from artificial flavors and preservatives. Understanding how much protein your dog needs and what constitutes quality protein will allow you to compile your own list of highest protein foods.
Protein and Amino Acids
Perhaps protein's most important job is providing your dog with amino acids. Dogs require 22 amino acids; their bodies naturally make 12 of those amino acids, known as nonessential amino acids. The other 10 amino acids, the essential amino acids, must come from the protein in your dog's diet. If your dog isn't getting enough of even one essential amino acid, it will affect the rest of the amino acids' ability to build tissue and replace lost protein and lead to potential health problems. Feeding a nutritious diet includes not only sufficient protein, but protein that has the proper proportions of the essential amino acids.
There are two things to consider when you're looking at protein content in dog food: protein digestibility and the amino acid balance and bioavailability. Protein digestibility refers to how much of the protein is broken down into amino acids for absorption into the body. Amino acid balance and bioavailability is how much of the essential amino acids the protein provides to the tissues and cells for use.
Some proteins are better at delivering digestibility and amino acid balance and bioavailability than others, known as protein quality, or biological value. Common dog food protein sources and their biological values include:
- Egg: biological value of 100
- Fish meal: biological value of 92
- Milk: biological value of 92
- Beef: biological value of 78
- Soybean meal: biological value of 67
- Wheat: biological value of 50
- Corn: biological value of 45
Dogs have different protein requirements, according to breed, life stage, health and lifestyle. A puppy needs more protein than an adult dog because he's growing, building bone and muscle and developing his organs. As well, a lactating dog needs more protein because she's generating milk and feeding puppies. Working dogs, such as herders, agility dogs and sled dogs also have greater demands on their bodies requiring more protein than the average adult dog. Generally, protein requirements for dogs are:
- Puppy: 28 percent
- Adult: 18 percent
- Lactating dog: 28 percent
- Performance dog: 25 percent
- Athletic (racing/sled) dog: 35 percent
Highest Protein Dog Foods
The pet food industry has vastly expanded its choices for dog owners who want to feed their dogs a specific diet, including high quality proteins and high levels of protein. At publication time, the highest protein dog foods include:
- Wysong Epigen -- 60 percent protein
- Instinct Ultimate Protein Chicken and/or Duck -- 47 percent protein
- Evo Turkey and Chicken, Red Meat Formula and/or Salmon and Herring -- 42 percent protein
- Wysong Nurture with Quail -- 41 percent protein
- Solid Gold Barking at the Moon with Beef -- 41 percent
- Wysong Fundamentals -- 40 percent protein
- Wysong Anergen 2 -- 40 percent protein
- Back to Basics Pork, Turkey and/or Open Range -- 38 percent protein
- Instinct Chicken Meal -- 38 percent protein
- Orijen Tundra, Adult Dog, Regional Red and/or Six Fish-- 38 percent protein
Choosing a Food
Food digestibility isn't routinely listed on dog food packaging, though you can contact the manufacturer for the information. Your best bet is to read the food label to learn about food quality. General rules of thumb for choosing a dog food with a high quality protein include:
- Look for named animal proteins such as "lamb," "chicken," "beef" or other named meat as the first ingredient.
- Know that foods that contain only meals or byproduct meals are not using whole animal protein sources, meaning that the rendering process may remove some of the proteins' bioavailability.
- The first three or four ingredients are the main protein sources in the food; understand what those ingredients are.
- Meats should be named by species, instead of reading "meat meal" or "meat."
- Multiple uses of the word "corn" are often an attempt to cover the fact that corn is the main ingredient.
Too Much Protein
Generally, too much protein isn't a problem for a healthy dog because excess protein will be excreted in his urine, converted into fat and used as calories. There is no evidence too much protein will damage a dog's kidneys or contribute to renal disease, however veterinarian Dr. T. J. Dunn Jr. of PetMD.com notes that a dog with a very elevated blood urea nitrogen value -- more than 75 -- may benefit from a diet lower in protein, but high in protein quality.