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Protein – How much does my pup need?

Get to know more about proteins – one of the most important building blocks in your dog's health.

By Rudy Leschke —



Proteins are one of the most important building blocks, acting as the structural components of muscle, hairskin, nails, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. They also play a critical role in controlling various functions and systems, like making up hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen through the blood, and insulin, which regulates blood sugar.    

Your dog's diet needs to supply a regular influx of protein to maintain normal metabolic processes and provide for tissue growth and maintenance, and quality matters. The better the quality of protein consumed, the less quantity is needed to meet essential nutritional needs.  

Raw turkey illustration

Protein Guidelines:

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends the following minimum protein quantities for dry dog food:  

  • Adult Maintenance - 18% 
  • Growth & Reproduction - 22.5%   

There is no recommended maximum, nor are there any limits on the maximum levels of amino acids (components of protein) in the diet.    

There is some evidence that feeding protein levels higher than these minimum levels may be beneficial to dogs. The additional protein may provide a reserve that contributes to your pet's ability to withstand stress. When your pup's needs are exceeded, excess protein can be used as an energy source or metabolized to fat for energy storage.     

Because protein requirements are influenced by amino acid balance and the digestibility of the proteins used, typical dry dog foods will have levels ranging from 22% to over 30%. A level of 24% is recommended for adult dogs, and increases should be made to adjust for lower energy densities or lower protein quality.  

Illustration of red meat

Protein Levels for Puppies:  

For young puppies, the National Research Council (NRC) suggests a protein level of 250 grams per kg of food, which translates to 25% for diets that have an energy density of 4,000 kcal/kg.

Protein Levels for Seniors:  

The decrease in lean body mass that occurs with aging results in a loss of protein reserves, so older dogs need higher levels of dietary protein for body maintenance and to minimize losses of lean body tissue. In these cases, a protein level of 25% or higher, depending on protein quality, is recommended.

Personalize Your Pup's Perfect Food:  

Crafting the right nutrition for your best friend may be complicated, but feeding them shouldn't be. Click here to take our brief quiz and answer a few questions about your dog's age, size, breed, sensitivities, wellness goals, and protein preferences, and our experts will personalize your pup's health-first nutrition, complete with custom feeding instructions.

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