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essential nutrition advice for your pet.

The Dangers of High Protein Dog Foods

By Ashley Gallagher, DVM


Choosing what to feed your dog can be an overwhelming decision. Pet food stores are packed with row after row of different brands of food all containing clever marketing slogans to convince you they are the best for your dog. Many of these dog foods boast about containing extremely high levels of protein that claim to satisfy your dog’s instinctual need for meat as well as make them healthier and live longer.


Are Dogs Carnivores?


Marketing tactics by some pet food companies have fueled a common misconception among pet owners that dogs are obligate carnivores and require a diet that consists mostly of meat. This is not true. Dogs, like people, are omnivores and do best with a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Excessive protein consumption is unnecessary for dogs at best and for some dogs with medical conditions can actually be harmful.


Proteins are the building blocks of the body and an absolute necessity for daily function. However, when a dog consumes too much protein in a meal it cannot all be utilized at one time, nor can it be stored for later. The body will then excrete the excess protein through the kidneys and out of the body via urine. Thus the quality of the protein actually becomes more important that than actual amount as a high quality protein is more bioavailable and can be better absorbed by the body. 


Another issue is that the meat in these diets acting as the protein source contains other nutrients that you do not want in excessive amounts. For example, when a diet is mostly meat it becomes very difficult to maintain a proper calcium-phosphorus ratio. When this ratio is out of balance disruptions in bone growth or kidney damage can occur. Well formulated dog foods have an appropriate balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to prevent this from happening.


Is Excessive Protein in Dog Food Bad for My Pet?


Protein is a calorie dense nutrient and many of the high protein diets are extremely high in calories and can quickly lead to weight gain. With over 50% of dogs in the U.S. considered overweight or obese, dog owners need to be aware of where those extra calories are hiding. If a dog has kidney or liver issues consuming too much protein can increase the workload on these organs and upset the balance of nutrients leading to exacerbation of disease.


Rather than look for a dog food that contains excessive levels of protein you should find one that is specifically formulated for your dog’s lifestyle, life stage, and size. A working sled dog, for example, will have significantly different nutrient and caloric requirements than the average pet dog that ventures outside for a few walks a day and spends the rest of the time lounging. These two dogs should not be fed the same diet.


Puppies, meanwhile, require more protein than adult dogs because their bodies are busy growing. Among breeds of puppies there are different requirements for nutrients as well. For instance large breed puppies like Labrador retrievers need a much different diet than a Yorkie for optimal growth. Feeding large breed puppies something that is too high in protein may make them put on weight too quickly causing abnormal joint development and making them more prone to issues like arthritis in the future.


The safest diets are those that have been developed by pet food companies that invest in scientific research, consult with veterinary nutritionists, and perform feeding trials to develop their diets. This will provide a pet food that is properly balanced without any excess nutrients that are unnecessary and in some cases harmful for your dog. 


See Also:



Image: Edward Fielding / via Shutterstock


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Comments  9

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  • This seems like an opinio
    12/02/2014 02:55am

    This article seems a lot like an opinion piece to me. Not only is there a lack of reference to scientific studies, not all vets are not the most qualified to speak to dog nutrition. This is not to throw all vets under the bus, because I do know of many vets that are well versed in dog nutrition, but many vets go through very little nutrition courses in university.

    There is a lot of evidence that dogs are, in fact, carnivores. Sure they may not be obligate in the same sense as cats, but their short digestive tract, the enzymes in their saliva, and their jaw and teeth structure would suggest that they are carnivores.

    There are also studies (orijen's whitepapers on their website reference scientific studies) that don't contradict that high protein diets *can* be problematic for dogs, but it is more of a matter of quality rather than quantity.

    I think it is hasty and irresponsible to suggest that high protein diets are inherently bad. Sure, some may be, but lets not forget about some of the vet foods that are loaded with fillers (I won't get into the fact that some foods are marketing heavily to vets in schools), or worse grocery brands.

    While I don't disagree with everything in this article, I think is not completely honest, nor is it supported by scientific evidence.

  • 01/20/2015 03:36pm

    I totally agree. I was giving my dog expensive "prescription" food from the vet and he started itching. The vet chose to give him something for the itching. I looked at the ingredients in the food I was giving him and was amazed to discover that the only thing that even vaguely looked like real food (chicken) didn't appear until the SEVENTH ingredient, with cellulose being at 16 percent. I've switched him to Beyond, and his scratching has gone away. I think vets continue to push this crap dog food because they don't want to take the time to investigate what's really in the food. I may not stick with Beyond, I'm still investigating other foods, but I know I'll never go back to the expensive brand that only made my dog miserable!

  • 07/25/2015 04:28pm

    That is great that you looked at the ingredients on the RX diet the vet recommended to you. I couldn't agree more about how underhanded the RX diets are about pushing such a poor quality food on vets to sell for profit. I highly recommend checking out www.dogfoodadvisor.com about how pet food ingredients are rated and I also recommend that ANY Purina brand food be avoided at all cost. Their foods may look good but the sourcing of their ingredients are still questionable and they won't share this "proprietary" (just an excuse) info with consumers.

  • 01/22/2015 09:46pm

    No... Dogs are most definitely omnivores. They have the teeth structure to prove it, too. Wolves aren't even really "obligate" carnivores either, they have been known to forage during times of low prey populations, and they naturally supplement their diets with berries and such..

  • This needs citations
    01/20/2015 08:54am

    Dr. Gallagher: If you are going to make as controversial statements as these about protein and carnivores, then please provide citations to research articles that are the bases for your statements. I see you went to the University of Florida vet school, where they have a big display of Hill's Science Diet foods in the middle of their main hallway. Maybe you just have not had a proper education in companion animal nutrition.

  • 07/25/2015 04:38pm

    Well said rodrussell! I can't believe that an educated vet would stoop so low as to claim that dogs are omnivores.

    Dr. Gallagher: It's just wrong to mislead readers this way. Dogs are Carnivores and this will never change. In fact, most people don't need 8 years of college to have the confidence to state a commonly known fact. Canine jaw structure and teeth prove this without any doubt. My dog clearly wants my bacon and eggs when I have breakfast, not my toast or fruit. Also, too much protein isn't the problem for a growing puppy, regardless of breed type. It is feeding an inappropriate amount of calories that is the problem. Orijen by Champion Pet Foods in Canada has done extensive research into these nutritional facts and they are producing one of the top large breed puppy and adult formulas that I know of. I don't see the Veterinary Nutritionist title by your name so maybe talking about how you "treat" illnesses would be a better topic to stick with.

  • Misinformation?
    01/20/2015 11:11am

    I agree with the two earlier comments. The information in the article is contrary to my companion animal nutritional training too.
    I was taught: low carbs for dogs; no carbs for cats; cats are obligate carnivores and dogs are also carnivores but not obligate; dogs get their energy from protein and fats, not carbs.

  • Change is hard
    01/20/2015 06:06pm

    I could only smile as I read both the article and the reactions by some of the readers. First, let me provide you with some documentation regarding protein , antioxidants and canine longevity http://www.newjumpswing.com/canine_longevity_diet.html
    Now, I have had dogs who lived to be 15 and currently 12 (and counting) who were/are total vegetarians all of their lives. I purposely did not tell their vet so that when he examined them along with their blood work, he would be unbiased in his assessment. They were and are in very good health. One had her first dental cleaning by a vet at 10 years of age and on the scale of 1-4 , came out a #1. ASPCA and other organizations will warn you of feeding a dog an exclusive meat diet as well as bones(give a dog a bone? no not really).Just as their are people who don't know HOW to be healthy vegetarians, they also don't know how to include more vegetable matter into their dogs diet. Senior beagles fed high antioxidant(vegetarian) diet) improved in learning as well as over all well being. Dogs are not the first or even second cousin of the wolf and I am very glad that someone has taken the meat centered dog food industry to task in making that assertion.High protein is only harmful to humans and dogs if they have problems digesting proteins or actual kidney disease. And just like humans, as dogs age, they may have problems digesting things that they didn't have when they were younger.

  • 01/22/2015 09:53pm

    Which proves that the people stating dogs are carnivores' point is invalid. I don't know how to do a vegetarian dog diet, so I decided to not screw him up. He has a balanced diet of quality food made from vegetables (real ones) fruits (also real) and meats (nothing fake there either) ... Next month he celebrates his 17th birthday.

    I would have him on a vegetarian diet, but I already messed myself up trying to give myself that diet... 4 years later, and I still have anemia. I think my dog is just fine on his food.

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