What is Considered Low Protein in Dog Food?

Adult dog food should consist of 18-29% protein. Anything less than 18% is considered too low. Anything greater than 29% is considered too high. Typical dog food brands consist of 21% to 29%, which is considered a healthy range. Keep in mind that puppies and lactating dogs will require more protein. 

Every dog owner knows that a good amount of protein is essential for a healthy dog. Despite this, there are many myths surrounding a dogs’ diet, and separating fact from fiction isn’t always easy.

Although we know dogs need protein for survival, how much is too much? And how much is not enough?

A typical adult dog needs a minimum of 18-29% protein in his diet. Any amount below that can lead to a protein deficiency, and anything above 30% can lead to a protein excess. Both situations can lead to many health problems.

This article will explain the importance of protein and how much is needed in your dog’s diet. Other sections will list common symptoms of protein deficiency, Protein-Losing Enteropathy, and too much protein in a dog’s diet.

How Much Protein Does Your Dog Need?

Protein is an essential nutrient for dogs and humans alike. Protein is made up of amino acids, which build and repair muscles and bones and make hormones and enzymes.

There is much confusion over how much protein dogs need and what sources of protein are the best. Below will explain why protein is essential for dogs and how much protein is required to keep your dog healthy.

Despite popular belief, dogs are omnivores, not carnivores. Though they can survive on plants, they are much happier and thrive on meat and protein. Giving your dog the right amount of protein in their diet can prevent many health problems.

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How Much Protein Should Be In My Dog’s Diet?

The Association of American Feed Control requires that dog food consists of at least 18% crude protein. Puppies and lactating mothers will need slightly more protein in their diet (about 22% and 28%, respectively).

Puppies need the extra protein because their bodies are growing and changing rapidly. They need those amino acids to help them build a strong adult body.

Lactating mothers need the extra protein to nourish their puppies with essential nutrients. This is why it is often advised that lactating mothers eat puppy food, as it usually contains more protein than adult dog food.

Typical dog food brands consist of 21% to 29%, which is considered a healthy range. Any dog food with more than 30% protein is considered too high, and less than 18% is too low. Both a protein deficiency and protein excess in dogs can lead to health problems.

Signs Your Dog Is Not Getting Enough Protein

If you feed your dog a leading brand of kibble, they are likely getting enough protein. However, there are some cases where dogs are malnourished or fed low-quality, low-protein dog food. The following symptoms are all signs of protein deficiencies in dogs.

Mood Changes

Like humans, dogs’ moods are heavily influenced by the number of healthy bacteria in the gut. Any imbalance in the gut can lead to mood changes. Both deficiencies in protein and excess in protein have shown significant mood changes in dogs. A dog deficient in protein will be a bit moody and may even show signs of depression.

If your dog is not getting enough protein, he may lose his zest for life and not be motivated to do anything. Lethargy is another common problem for protein deficient dogs. They don’t have the strength or willpower to do much without sufficient protein.

Reduced Growth Rate (For Puppies)

This sign is vital to watch for in puppies. Puppies need a higher amount of protein than adult dogs (at least 22%). A lack of protein will stunt a puppy’s growth. If his growth is stunted in his youth, he may never grow into a normal-sized adult.

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Poor Coat Or Brittle Hair

Proteins are essential for a shiny, healthy coat. A dog’s coat is made up almost entirely of protein. If your dog is not consuming enough protein, his coat can become brittle, dry, and weak. Even worse, his hair may begin to fall out or lose its pigmentation.

Protein-Losing Enteropathy

In rare occurrences, your dog may have a protein deficiency not because he isn’t getting enough protein in his diet, but because his body is not absorbing the protein he consumes. This condition is called Protein-Losing Enteropathy (PLE). Symptoms of PLE include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Pot-bellied appearance
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blood-tinged diarrhea

In addition to these symptoms, dogs can also exhibit the signs of protein deficiency mentioned above. If you notice these symptoms and know that your dog is fed a healthy amount of protein, then you should take your dog to the vet to check for PLE.

Signs Your Dog Is Getting Too Much Protein

If your adult dog consumes more than 30% protein in his diet, he can develop multiple health issues. The most common problems dogs with high protein diets face are kidney issues, mental health disorders, and obesity.

Kidney Issues

Dogs cannot utilize a large amount of protein all at once, nor can they store that protein for later. Therefore, any extra protein gets filtered out of their systems through the kidneys. Kidneys can become damaged or develop problems when filtering all that protein out of a dog’s system.

Furthermore, an increase in protein increases urea, which causes the kidneys to work much harder. Damage to or failure of the kidneys can lead to hyperkalemia and acidosis.

Mental Health Disorders

Any significant imbalance in an essential vitamin or nutrient is going to cause physical problems and mental health problems. Protein excess is no exception.

High amounts of protein have shown increases in aggression, anxiety, restlessness, and depression in dogs.

Too much protein can also exacerbate PTSD. This is the complete opposite of what most owners think, as most believe that more protein makes a happy dog.

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If you want to keep your dog happy, you should feed your dog a moderate amount of protein, not more.


Obesity is a common issue in dogs who eat too much protein. Protein is a calorie-dense food. If your dog is eating a lot of meat or high-protein kibble but is not exercising much, then he can quickly gain weight from all that protein.

Many owners assume that dogs are carnivores and that they need to eat high amounts of protein. Unfortunately, all this protein only adds weight to their dog, making his life hard and putting his body in pain.

Obesity leads to other conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and even cancer. It’s essential to give your dog a balanced diet along with regular exercise.

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