You’ve come home from the gym, tired from another grueling, no-holds-barred workout, to find that your dog is one step/paw ahead of you in the recovery process.
It raises its head slowly from the opened container of protein powder as if to say, “Do you even lift? This is mine now, ‘bruh’”.
Stunned at its sudden transformation into a brainless meathead, you can’t help but wonder to yourself,
“Is protein powder bad for dogs?”
ONLY IF YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT IT BECOMING TOO SWOLE.
In all seriousness, protein powder is not toxic or generally harmful to dogs- as long as it is pure and unflavored.
Since it is a dairy product, some dogs may experience stomach issues such as diarrhea if they eat too much unflavored powder. However, this is usually the extent of the problems caused and will resolve by itself in a day or two.
It can become hazardous if the protein powder contains secondary additives, such as cocoa powder or artificial sweeteners like xylitol. Both can have a toxic effect on canines if a sufficient amount is ingested.
Xylitol can be particularly dangerous and can result in low blood glucose levels and liver damage.
If the protein powder that your dog has eaten contains xylitol and it is experiencing symptoms such as staggering, vomiting, incoordination, or lethargy– take it to the vet immediately for treatment.
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While there are many different kinds of protein supplements, such as pea, soy, egg white, and even beef protein powders, the most popular and common protein powder is made from something called whey.
Whey is a dairy protein that is produced as a byproduct of the cheese-making process. It contains significant amounts of essential amino acids, which help to carry out various functions in our bodies.
It is frequently taken as a dietary supplement by athletes, bodybuilders, and those who have a nutritional deficiency or imbalance. It is highly versatile and can be added to juices or smoothies, and is very efficiently absorbed in the digestive system due to its bioavailability.
Whey protein can help to build muscle, boost the immune system, increase energy levels, and facilitate faster wound healing. It is generally a supplement that provides numerous benefits, yet carries minimal health risk, for humans and canines alike.
However, many people don’t like the taste of unflavored whey, and as a result there are literally hundreds of different flavors on the market that consumers can choose from. While this leads to increased choices for humans, it does mean that many powders may be unsuitable for pets.
People who are lactose intolerant may also run into problems if they consume whey. Since it is extracted from milk, it does contain lactose- something that many humans and most dogs don’t do very well with.
Good news: The protein itself isn’t going to cause many problems at all for a dog. It can even be beneficial as the powder may help your dog to meet its daily protein requirements!
Given that whey protein powder is derived from milk, dogs may experience some symptoms of GI distress if a lot is eaten due to lactose intolerance. These symptoms can include signs of nausea (excessive licking, drooling, swallowing), vomiting, and diarrhea.
Protein powders also contain branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s), which either occur naturally or are specially included to aid muscle recovery. BCAA’s will not cause any issues with toxicity, but due to their nature it is possible for an upset stomach to result if a lot is eaten.
Bad news: It’s what may be combined with the protein that could cause health issues if a lot of the powder is eaten.
For example, some flavored protein powders use sucralose as a sweetener, while others may use xylitol. For dog owners, any mention of xylitol is sure to set off the alarm bells in their head, as it is very toxic to canines and can cause severe adverse effects.
Xylitol may be present in protein powders and shakes as it is used as a healthier, calorie-free alternative to sugar. However, when ingested by dogs it causes a significant decrease in blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) and can result in liver damage.
Xylitol-induced hypoglycemia will occur when a dog has more than 0.1 grams per 2.2 pounds (1kg) of body weight.
Dosages of 0.5 grams/2.2 pounds of body weight will cause liver failure.
Symptoms of xylitol poisoning can begin to show anywhere between 10 minutes to 24 hours after consumption, and can include:
- Decreased activity
- Loss of balance
Xylitol is one of the major hazards when it comes to protein powders and dogs, but there are also lesser dangers lurking as well.
As you’ll read below, cocoa- which is included in many chocolate-flavored protein powders- may also be a problematic ingredient.
If your dog ate chocolate protein powder, that adds a whole new (potentially problematic) wrinkle to the equation.
Chocolate protein powder may (or may not) contain cocoa powder, which can have a toxic effect on dogs even in small amounts. Just how toxic it will be depends mainly on two factors:
- How pure the cocoa is; and
- How much cocoa is contained in the protein powder.
Chocolate and cocoa are poisonous to dogs because they don’t have the ability to metabolize the natural theobromine and caffeine compounds in them properly like humans can.
Different types of chocolate will have different levels of theobromine and caffeine. Generally speaking, the darker and purer the chocolate is, the higher the natural level of compounds- and the more toxic it will be to canines.
For example, it only takes 0.1 ounces per pound of body weight of pure, unsweetened baking chocolate to make a dog ill. Conversely, a dog would need to eat 2.75 ounces/lb. of body weight of white chocolate until any mild symptoms of toxicity would be displayed.
Unless you use a high-end, bespoke protein powder straight from the valleys of Switzerland, or personally add pure cocoa into your post-workout shake, most everyday, off-the-shelf protein products probably don’t use the purest cocoa in their formulations.
There also likely isn’t a large amount of cocoa powder in the protein powder either, since it is mostly used for color and flavoring. So, unless your dog is a toy breed and ate a whole tub or two, it most likely won’t feel any adverse effects from the chocolate side of things.
Still, it’s good to know what the signs of chocolate poisoning are so you are aware what to look for. Symptoms can include:
- Excessive panting
- Frequent urination
- Increased heart rate
In very serious cases, excessive chocolate consumption can lead to cardiac dysfunction, seizures, and death. Therefore, if you do suspect that your dog is suffering from chocolate toxicity, take it to the vet ASAP for symptomatic treatment.
The first thing that you should always do when your dog manages to get its paws on something it’s not supposed to is to correctly identify exactly what the product is, and how much of it was eaten.
In this case, it should be easy to locate the large tubs or packets that protein powders are usually stored in (unless, of course, in the unlikely event that your dog ate that too!).
All of the ingredients should be clearly listed on the back, making it easy to tell if there is anything hazardous inside. Make a note of the product name, ingredients, and the approximate amount that is missing/was eaten by your hungry pup.
As long as the protein powder is unflavored, or doesn’t contain ingredients like cocoa or xylitol, then your dog should be in the clear.
If the dog is experiencing any symptoms of stomach distress such as vomiting or diarrhea, the best course of action is to put it on a fast for the rest of the day in order to give its digestive system a chance to rest.
If the nausea and stomach discomfort seems especially bad, you can safely give your dog Pepcid-AC at a dosage of 0.25mg per pound of body weight every 12 hours. This will help the stomach to settle and allow your dog to feel better.
The following day, slowly transition back to solid food by feeding it a bland diet of 25% lean boiled chicken and 75% plain white rice. This combination is easy to digest and will ensure that the dog’s stomach does not become overburdened once more.
If your dog ate flavored protein powder, immediately check first for signs of toxic ingredients such as xylitol and cocoa. If any of these elements are found, take your dog to the vet immediately for proactive treatment.
This may include inducement of vomit, or administration of activated charcoal to bind the toxic particles.
If you cannot check the ingredients list for whatever reason, or are simply unsure, it may be worth it to give the Pet Poison Helpline a ring to check if the specific product that was consumed contains any ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
While it is a paid service, they have a giant database of products that they can search quickly in an emergency.
This will help you to find out rapidly whether your dog is in any potential trouble, and whether it needs immediate medical attention. When potential toxicity is suspected, every second counts- so don’t wait to see if symptoms develop!
Yes, it’s true.
There are protein powders out there made specifically for dogs.
Before you start getting any (admittedly-hilarious) images in your head of Arnold ‘Schwarzdogger’ pumping heavy sticks at the local dog park, it is a legitimate option to supplement dogs with protein powders in certain situations.
For example, it can be especially beneficial for dogs that engage in heavy exercise or physical work every single day. In these situations, protein powder supplementation can help to make sure these hard-working canines are able to recover properly.
Seeing as it has the ability to repair muscle and boost the immune system, it may be a good option for your dog too. Combined with sufficient exercise, protein supplements can go a long way in helping your dog to bulk up and become healthier long-term.
As always, consult a vet first before starting your dog on any nutritional supplements. In many cases, the amount of protein that your dog is currently getting is already more than enough, and no further supplementation will be necessary.
However, if you are keen to give canine protein powders a go, Bully Protein by PetExcellent is a decent option with no artificial flavors or sweeteners. Safe for all breeds, it contains 77% protein content and is very easy to use- simply pour a scoop of it over your dog’s existing meals!
Is protein powder bad for dogs?
No, not generally. Dogs will be fine in most cases after eating protein powder.
Protein powder is quite a safe supplement for both dog and humankind, provided that it does not get into any artificially flavored powders. These can contain ingredients such as xylitol and cocoa, both of which can be poisonous to dogs even in small concentrations.
Of the two, xylitol is the most dangerous as far as protein powder is concerned. There likely won’t be enough cocoa powder even in chocolate-flavored supplements to harm a dog, unless it is very small or eats many tubs worth.
Xylitol, on the other hand, can cause problems for dogs when as little as 0.1g/2.2 lbs. is eaten. It can result in hypoglycemia, liver damage, and ultimately death, so it is something that should definitely not be taken lightly.
If your dog has eaten protein powder that contains xylitol, it would be best to take it to the vet as soon as you can for a checkup and treatment. Otherwise, your pup will be quite alright- and don’t be surprised if it starts running a bit faster tomorrow at the park!
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.