Best High Protein Dog Food | Ultimate High Performance Nutrition

Do you think a high protein diet might be right for your dog?

This article will help you learn more about these formulas, as well which higher protein recipes also make use of high quality protein sources, responsibly sourced ingredients, and domestic manufacturing.

There is some controversy around the nutritional soundness of higher protein diets for dogs. This article will look at some of the reasons for this controversy, including some common myths surrounding protein in the canine diet.


Minimum Standards - AAFCO

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the official body that determines the recommended nutrition for pets in the United States.

It is important to recognize that although there is large scale veterinary approval of these guidelines, there is also some dissention about them. The values are often tweaked as new research emerges. You can find the most recent recommended minimums from 2017 here.

The current minimum standard for digestible protein by dry weight for dogs is 22.5%. All of the higher protein kibble options that we will review surpass the 30% mark.

In addition to differences between puppies, lactating females, adults and senior, nutritional needs can vary between each individual dog.

Before you decide to transition to a high protein formula, be sure to talk with your vet to make sure it is the right decision for your individual pet.


What Dogs Benefit from High Protein Diets?

In general, conventional nutritional wisdom suggests that puppies, lactating females, and highly active performance canines need the highest levels of protein in their diet.

If you have a couch potato on your hands, unless your vet has told you otherwise, high protein formulas probably are not the best choice for your companion. Check here for other breed, age, and size tailored formulas that might be a better fit for your pooch.

It is also important to recognize that protein is calorie dense, and if you make a switch, be sure to make some adjustments to portion control to ensure that you are not making your dog obese in the process.


Myth: Dogs and Wolves Have the Same Digestive System

One of the most persistent cultural myths surrounding dogs and diet is the myth that dogs are pretty much wolves, and therefore, they should eat the same diet as wolves, i.e. an extremely high protein, meat-based diet.

Ironically, similar myths surround human diets, with advocates for some low carb diets, such as the Paleo diet, arguing that the food of pre-agricultural humans is actually ideal for humans of today.

Both arguments miss a critical fact about digestive systems: Domesticated canines and humans have co-evolved, and both have adapted to diets higher in carbohydrates than is suggested by the mythology that hunter-gathering societies ate mostly meat. They didn’t, and besides, there is 12,000 - 23,000 years of evolution in agricultural based societies for both species.

In fact, modern genetic research has demonstrated that a key difference between domesticated dogs and their wolf ancestors includes significant changes in their ability to digest starches. Perhaps all the hubbub about grain-free diets for dogs is more of a marketing strategy, and less about science.

On the other hand, highly refined grains and sugars are absolutely new to human food systems, particularly in the quantities that we now find them. Stripped of fiber and most of the nutrients found in whole grains, refined grains are popular with food manufacturers because they are cheap and shelf stable.

There is plenty of evidence to support that there is a major difference in terms of whole grains and refined grains and diet related disease such as obesity, type II diabetes and heart disease in people. Although not as well studied in terms of our pet’s diets, some preliminary research does suggest that whole grains can benefit their diets as well.

Although the argument that dogs=wolves is bunk, that doesn’t mean that they do not benefit from lots of high quality protein. It just means that the kneejerk reaction that they should not also have high quality carbohydrates in their diet is simply unfounded.


Myth: Higher Protein Diets Will Cause Renal Failure in Dogs

In 1928, building on similar research done on rabbits, Newburgh and Curtis released a study showing renal problems in rats after being fed diets abnormally high (for rats) in protein. For nearly 80 years, this study was cited in veterinary medicine as a justification for the restriction of protein in the diets of domesticated dogs.

Turns out, rats and rabbits are NOT dogs.

However, the persistent myth that too much protein causes renal failure in canines, or that canines with renal problems should automatically be put on low-protein diets, persists, even among some vets that have been indoctrinated into this belief which was considered dietary fact for decades.

The idea that protein is hard on the liver and kidneys in dogs, and therefore should be strictly limited, has been scientifically debunked. Case closed.


Myth: Senior Dogs Should Have Restricted Protein Diets

Likely fallout from the myth that too much protein causes renal failure in canines, the idea that senior dogs need less protein has been the driving force in many commercial dog food’s senior dog formulas. Many of these formulas have less protein and more fiber.

While the nutritional science continues to be developed, there is evidence to suggest that senior dogs may actually need MORE protein for optimal nutrition.

While it is important to keep daily calorie intake appropriate to the reduced exercise that many senior dogs experience, reducing protein intake for senior dogs may be counter to their actual nutritional needs.

Of course, the nutritional needs of each individual pooch will vary, so work with your vet to make sure your pet is getting the right balance, regardless of age.


Myth: Grains Are the Most Common Food Allergen for Dogs

With the fears of gluten reaching hysterical levels among people, we have seen similar hand wringing among dog owners in recent years, with commercial dog food manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon with grain free dog food being offered by most of the major manufacturers.

While some canines do have food intolerance or allergies to certain grains, it may surprise you to find out that allergies to proteins are more common.

The following is the list of foods that can trigger allergies in dogs, in the order of occurrence:

  • Beef
  • Dairy
  • Wheat
  • Egg
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Soy
  • Pork
  • Rabbit
  • Fish

If you suspect your dog has food allergies, switching to a grain free diet might be the right solution, but your vet may also recommend switching to a novel protein diet to start an elimination trial to identify the allergen, more likely than not, a certain protein.


Life Stages, Breed Size, AAFCO

Before you start counting protein levels, make sure you follow these rules to make sure you are getting nutritionally balanced food for your pooch.


AAFCO

The Association of American Feed Control Officials is the regulatory body that advocates for minimum nutritional standards in commercial feed.

At the very least, the feed you choose for your pooch should have their seal of approval to make sure they are getting the minimum balance of not only protein, but also vital nutrients.

It is important to know, however, that AAFCO has no certification process – they don’t test dog food, they only set the standards for minimal nutrition. It is up to participating manufacturers to comply with their labeling guidelines.


Breed Size

There is a huge difference between the nutritional needs of a 3-pound Chihuahua and a 150-pound Great Dane. It is very important if you have toy or giant breeds that you get a formula optimized for their size.


Life Stage

Puppies are growing so rapidly that they have unique nutritional needs. Likewise, aging seniors need extra support for aging joints and bones. Be sure to get an age appropriate formula for your dog.


What Does “High Quality Protein” Dog Food Mean?

Finally, before we get started on the product reviews, we want to be sure our readers know what is meant by high quality protein.

All protein is not the same.

Here are tips to help you read the label on your dog food to make sure you are getting the best quality for your beloved pet.

  • Real Meat – Look for real meat or fish listed as the first ingredient in any dog food that you buy for your furry friend. This might include chicken, deboned chicken, beef, lamb, salmon or novel proteins such as kangaroo or venison.
  • Eggs – Considered an excellent source of protein, unless your canine companion is allergic to this common ingredient, it is a high-quality source of protein in feed.
  • Meals – There is some controversy about the use of animal specific meals such as chicken or lamb meal in dog food. They are often highly processed at high temperatures and the ingredients are less tightly regulated than whole meats, such as “Deboned chicken.” However, with proper processing and sourcing, meals can be better than whole meats in terms of protein density and digestibility. However, always avoid generic meals such as “meat meal” which is an indicator of poor quality. 
  • Domestic Sourcing – The highest quality manufacturers are getting more and more transparent about sourcing quality ingredients. If you can afford the best for your canine, look for companies that are sourcing and manufacturing in the United States where regulations are enforced and quality standards must be met. In addition, sources of protein from lamb or kangaroo may be responsibly sourced from places like Australia or New Zealand, rabbit from France, etc.
  • By-Products – As a protein source, meat by-products of any kind are the most loosely regulated animal proteins commonly used in pet food. They can include all kinds of nutritionally empty leftovers from the processing of human food. You don’t even want to know what is in them, just avoid by-products.

Best High Protein Dog Food

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PRODUCT

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RATING

Nature's Variety Instinct -- Ultimate Protein

Nature's Variety Instinct -- Ultimate Protein

  • Whole bits of minimally processed dried chicken
  • Omega and antioxidant rich supplements
  • Cage-free chicken as the number one ingredient
Solid Gold – Barking at the Moon

Solid Gold – Barking at the Moon

  • Beef as the number one ingredient
  • Diverse, high-quality protein from eggs, peas, beef and fish
  • Probiotics from Acidophilus and Lactobacillus
Orijen Freeze-Dried Tundra Formula

Orijen Freeze-Dried Tundra Formula

  • Cold processing for optimal nutrition from each ingredient
  • Responsible sourcing and top-notch quality ingredients
  • Goat, wild boar, venison, arctic char, and duck are the top 5 ingredients
Taste of the Wild – High Prairie Adult Formula

Taste of the Wild – High Prairie Adult Formula

  • Probiotics and antioxidants
  • Pasture raised buffalo as the number one ingredient
  • Strong quality assurance program
Nature’s Variety – Instinct Original Formula

Nature’s Variety – Instinct Original Formula

  • Cage free chicken as the number one ingredient
  • High levels of natural probiotics, antioxidants and Omega fatty acids
  • Low temperature freeze drying to preserve delicate nutrients
Honest Kitchen Grain Free Veggie, Nut & Seed Base Mix Recipe

Honest Kitchen Grain Free Veggie, Nut & Seed Base Mix Recipe

  • Dehydrated fruits, nuts and veggies for whole food nutrition
  • Human grade ingredients prepared to FDA standards
  • Complete and balanced when supplemented with the protein of your choice (raw or cooked)

Best 3 High Protein Dog Foods

#1: Nature's Variety Instinct -- Ultimate Protein

Nature's Variety Instinct -- Ultimate Protein

Nutritional Analysis (Based on grain-free Chicken Formula):

  • Crude Protein (min): 47%
  • Crude Fat (min): 17%
  • Crude Fiber (max): 3.0%

If you need an extremely high protein diet for an athletic and active dog, then Nature’s Variety Instinct, Ultimate Protein formula has one of the highest protein levels on the market. ​

It isn’t just packed with any old protein either. The company uses top notch ingredients for their kibble.

The Raw® line uses a novel high-pressure processing technique that enables them to dry and preserve food without the high heat that destroys the vital nutrients in many foods. In addition, there are no artificial preservatives such as nitrate used in their food lines.

Another indicator of quality is Instinct’s commitment to responsible ingredient sourcing and manufacturing their kibble in the USA. They are transparent about where they get their meats including lamb from New Zealand and farm raised rabbit from France. In addition, they use GMO free fruits and veggies for their Raw® formulas.

Definitely on the pricey side, this is an extremely high-end kibble. Keep a close eye on portion control with this product since it is also calorie dense. It probably isn’t the right choice for the couch potato pup. 

Other varieties in this line include:

Contains!
  • Cage-free chicken as the number one ingredient
  • Whole bits of minimally processed dried chicken
  • Live and natural probiotics to support digestion
  • Omega and antioxidant rich supplements
  • Small batch domestic manufacturing in Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Responsible ingredient sourcing
Does NOT Contain!
  • Animal meals or by-products
  • Corn, wheat, soy, or potatoes
  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives

#2: Solid Gold – Barking at the Moon

Solid Gold – Barking at the Moon

Nutritional Analysis (Based on Beef, Egg and Peas Formula):

  • Crude Protein (min): 41.0%
  • Crude Fat (min): 20.0%
  • Crude Fiber (max): 4.0%

Although by no means a household name, Solid Gold has been around for a while. Their flagship product, Hund-N-Flocken, was launched in 1974, and basically started the natural food dog movement when it comes to commercial dog food.

In addition to being high in protein, this dog food is also grain-free. Packed with superfoods, this is a kibble designed with longevity and optimum health in mind. ​

Included in their formulas are over 20 whole foods including pumpkin for fiber, cranberry for antioxidants, carrots for beta carotene, and spearmint for improved digestion.

They have a responsible ingredient sourcing policy and avoid all ingredients from China. In 2014, they won the Natural Choice Award for dog food by Whole Foods Magazine.

Solid Gold comes in at a pretty high price tag, but you can rest assured that the quality is there to justify the price.

Coming in at a slightly lower protein ratio, 38%, other high protein varieties by Solid Gold include:

If you are looking for high protein in a wet dog food, check out their canned options:

Contains!
  • Beef as the number one ingredient
  • Diverse, high-quality protein from eggs, peas, beef and fish
  • Whole food nutrition from ingredients such as carrots, spinach, broccoli, parsley, and apples
  • Probiotics from Acidophilus and Lactobacillus
  • Manufactured only in the USA
Does NOT Contain!
  • Grains or gluten
  • Meat by-products
  • Corn, wheat, soy, or sugar
  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives

#3: Orijen Freeze-Dried Tundra Formula

Orijen Freeze-Dried Tundra Formula

Nutritional Analysis (Based on freeze dried tundra formula):

  • Crude Protein (min): 37%
  • Crude Fat (min): 34%
  • Crude Fiber (max): 5%

Orijen is very strict about quality control. Unlike some other commercial feed manufacturers, they only use their kitchens for their own products, and never allow third parties to manufacture their foods.

They source their ingredients as regionally as possible and get to know their suppliers.

Orijen uses a proprietary freeze dry technique that gets all of the moisture out of their ingredients without using high temperatures which can deteriorate the nutrients found in even the best ingredients.

The Tundra formula is Orijen’s high protein line. It includes proteins from a diverse range of sources including wild boar, venison, goat, duck, mutton and arctic char.

85% of the calories in this food come from the meats, while 15% comes from low glycemic carbs from natural ingredients. The only supplement that does not come from a whole food is zinc. 

Although it is extremely pricey per pound, keep in mind that you will be reconstituting this food with a little bit of warm water.

This means that by weight, this is more bang for the buck than it might seem at first glance if you are comparing it to other kibble by the pound. Still, it’s not cheap.

One of the best features of the Orijen line is that they have higher protein formulas for puppies, seniors and different breed sizes so that you can really dial in to that perfect balance for your individual dog.

Other varieties in this line include (all come in at 38% crude protein):

Contains!
  • Goat, wild boar, venison, arctic char, and duck are the top 5 ingredients
  • Whole food nutrition from lentils, peas, pumpkin, kale, zucchini, spinach and more
  • Made in the USA
  • Whole Prey® ratios which include appropriate balance of organ, cartilage, and muscles
  • Cold processing for optimal nutrition from each ingredient
  • Responsible sourcing and top-notch quality ingredients
Does NOT Contain!
  • High glycemic carbs such as potatoes
  • Grains or fillers
  • Artificial flavors, colors or preservatives
  • Meat by-products

Best Higher Protein Dog Food for Picky Eaters

Taste of the Wild – High Prairie Adult Formula

Taste of the Wild – High Prairie Adult Formula

Nutritional Analysis (Based on High Prairie Formula):

  • Crude Protein (min): 32%
  • Crude Fat (min): 18%
  • Crude Fiber (max): 4.0%

Known in the industry for responsible sourcing, small batch processing, and a wide variety of limited ingredient and novel protein formulas, Taste of the Wild is a fast-growing brand in holistic dog nutrition.

In addition to domestic manufacturing with an ingredient list focused on whole food nutrition, Taste of the Wild is reasonably priced, putting them in reach of the average consumer looking to buy the best for their canine companion.

Superfoods such as blueberries and cranberries have joined the multiple protein sources that make up this protein dense canine kibble. It is also packed with probiotics to aid in building a strong digestive system, and antioxidants to boost immunity. Relatively high levels of Omega fatty acids also make this formula stand out from the rest.

Taste of the Wild is a good choice for picky eaters for two reasons. First, a wide selection of novel proteins not normally used in dog food give their formulas a break from the boring. Second, they offer three canned food selections to compliment a high protein diet and encourage the finicky to feast.

Other varieties of dry kibble in this line include:

In addition, Taste of the Wild offers several high protein canned dog food options:

Contains!
  • Pasture raised buffalo as the number one ingredient
  • Whole food nutrition from sweet potatoes, peas, blueberries, tomatoes and more
  • Probiotics and antioxidants
  • Responsible ingredient sourcing
  • Strong quality assurance program
  • Manufactured only one of 5 facilities in the USA
  • Family owned and operated
Does NOT Contain!
  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Grains or fillers
  • Corn, soy or wheat

High Protein Dog Food on a Budget

Nature’s Variety – Instinct Original Formula

Nature’s Variety – Instinct Original Formula

Nutritional Analysis (For Instinct Original Chicken Formula):

  • Crude Protein (min): 37%
  • Crude Fat (min): 20%
  • Crude Fiber (max): 3%

You can get good dog food without breaking the bank. In fact, here at Wiley Pup, we have provided an entire review of the best budget dog food which you can find here. In terms of the top high protein dog food on a budget, the Nature’s Variety Instinct line is our top pick.

We already covered Nature’s Variety, their Ultimate Protein line made our number one choice as the top rated high protein dog food in this review.

Coming in at 37% protein, which is probably more reasonable for most moderately active dogs, the Instinct formula still has all of the benefits of this brand – responsible and ethical ingredient sourcing, domestic manufacturing, low temperature processing, and a purposeful list of ingredients.

Unlike the Ultimate Protein line, this formula does include turkey and chicken meal, but it does not use any animal by-products which is considered a low quality ingredient when it comes to canine kibble.

Although you can certainly find cheaper dog food on the market, this line offers some of the best value out there if top notch ingredients and excellent nutrition is a priority for you.

Another advantage of this line is that they offer a wide range of protein options, which is nice if you want to add some variety to your pooch’s diet.

Other varieties in this line include:

Contains!
  • Cage free chicken as the number one ingredient
  • High levels of natural probiotics, antioxidants and Omega fatty acids
  • Low temperature freeze drying to preserve delicate nutrients
  • Small batch domestic manufacturing in Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Responsible ingredient sourcing
Does NOT Contain!
  • Corn, wheat, soy, or potatoes
  • Grains of any kind
  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • Animal by-products

Best Human Grade, Add Your Own Protein, Dog Food

Honest Kitchen Grain Free Veggie, Nut & Seed Base Mix Recipe

Honest Kitchen Grain Free Veggie, Nut & Seed Base Mix Recipe

Nutritional Analysis (Note: Does NOT include protein that you add at each meal):

  • Crude Protein (min): 10.5%
  • Crude Fat (min): 8%
  • Crude Fiber (max): 8%

Another option for a high protein dog food is to go with a base mix designed to be supplemented with proteins you cook in your own kitchen such as chicken breast, salmon, or beef. If control over your buddy’s food is important to you, this is an excellent choice.

While it will be a larger investment of your time than supplying a complete and balanced feed out of a bag, the Honest Kitchen base mix system is made with 100% human grade ingredients and offers you the control to adjust the protein levels by adding more or less additional meat.

Not only are the ingredients for this formula sourced from responsible suppliers, the manufacturing process meets FDA human food standards in facilities that are regularly inspected by the FDA.

The whole food ingredients are preserved through a process of dehydration which preserves more nutrients than the high-heat processing techniques typical of many dog food manufacturers.

This is not a bargain choice, particularly since you will need to prepare additional foods to supplement this base mix. However, it will give pet owners the piece of mind that they are not compromising when it comes to quality.

If you have been considering a raw food diet for your pooch, this is a way to make sure they will be getting all of the vital nutrients they need, simplifying the transition.

This base mix is designed for any life stage or breed size EXCEPT puppies and lactating females.

Other varieties in this line include:

Contains!
  • Dehydrated fruits, nuts and veggies for whole food nutrition
  • Human grade ingredients prepared to FDA standards
  • Manufactured in the USA
  • Responsible ingredient sourcing
  • Complete and balanced when supplemented with the protein of your choice (raw or cooked)
Does NOT Contain!
  • Animal by-products
  • Artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
  • GMO ingredients
  • Grains, corn, soy or wheat

Conclusion: Is High Protein Dog Food Right for Your Dog?

A higher protein dog food may not be right for your dog. However, high performance and extremely active dogs may benefit from more protein than the minimum guidelines followed by the majority of kibble formulas on the market.

Be sure to work with your vet before making the switch. In addition, since it can be a strain on your canine’s digestive system, make the change gradually by switching out about 20% of the calories each day until your pooch is eating the new food.

Finally, remember to read the portion recommendations and keep an eye on your pup’s weight. Protein rich formulas tend to be more calorie dense, and the right rations may be considerably less than what worked for your old kibble. 

Have something to say about high protein diets for dogs? Feel free to leave a comment below!


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