Overview of Dog Food Protein

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Dogs are carnivores by nature, which means that they are meant to eat a diet high in protein. However, when it comes to pet food, all protein sources are not created equal. This means that you can’t simply look at the total protein in a food and instead, must examine both the total protein and the source of protein in your pet’s food. Here are some quick rules of thumb to help you evaluate the protein that you are feeding your pet.
dog food protein

  1. Animal or fish protein first. Foods that are high in the right kinds of protein will have recipes that prioritize meats and fish as the first ingredients. Thus, look for a meat or fish source as the first item in the list.
  2. Real, named meat or fish. Foods that aren’t specific as to the type of protein that is included in the recipe are simply not good enough for your dog. Choose named sources like turkey, or venison instead of vague sources like poultry or meat. Avoid byproducts as well since they are unspecified parts of the animal and might contain low digestible ingredients or come from a rendering process.
  3. Less processed proteins are better. When in doubt, choose whole foods instead of processed ones. This means that actual meats and fish are better (and more natural) than meals. Although meals (e.g. chicken meal) are a concentrated source of protein and are used in many recipes, they are processed and shouldn’t form the foundation of your pet’s food. Choose pork and lamb instead of pork meal or lamb meal.
  4. Lookout for non-meat protein sources. Many pet food manufacturers will use cheaper, plant based proteins to increase the protein in a pet food recipe. Even though a real named meat might be the first ingredient, watch for grains, many of which contain protein, that are high on the ingredient list. For example, avoid foods with soy, wheat, or corn. Other tricks that are used to increase the protein amount is to include ingredients like pea protein or potato protein. These are inferior protein sources for a pet.
  5. Calculate the protein percentage. Now that you have used the first four rules to whittle down your choices, you can start to compare foods on a ‘dry matter basis’, in order to determine the protein, fat, and carbohydrate breakdown of a pet food. We explained this calculation in a prior post which you can read here. In the meantime, you can use the SlimDoggy app or the food database, which do the math for you. Look for foods that are lower in carbs, and thus higher in protein or fat. In the wild, dogs and cats would likely eat less than 15% carbohydrates, and 50% or more protein and the remainder in fats. While this might not be practical in today’s world, an easy benchmark is that the protein and fat components account for around 2/3 of the total macro nutrient profile.


Use these simple rules of thumb if you don’t want to calculate the dry matter basis directly:

  • For dry foods, add the protein and fat percentages from the guaranteed analysis on the label. These two should sum to a minimum of 45%
  • For wet foods, the sum of the protein and fat values should be a minimum of 14 %


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  1. another informational post, thank you
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Thunder Nuzzles Glory From AfarMy Profile

  2. Awesome info! Thanks!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Recognizing Dog Behavior: Lets Talk Dog Language!My Profile

  3. You explained this PAWfectly Slim – thanks for this source of valuable information.
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…PUPBOX – ACCORDING TO JAXMy Profile

  4. Good points. We do look for that protein to be listed specifically and in the beginning.
    Emma recently posted…Accessories And Toys For Multi Pet Families #MultiPetManiaMy Profile

  5. Hi Y’all!

    Great post. My Human makes sure the number 1 item in my food is a named meat and not “bi-products” and that I get no corn or other grain.

    Y’all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Hunka Hunka HankMy Profile

  6. Missy & Buzz have recently been transitioned to a homemade diet, and the beauty of it is that we are in control of the quantity AND the quality of the protein they’re eating! I love it!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Fight K9 Cancer with these Superfood Treats!My Profile

  7. Good information.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Mirror ImageMy Profile

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