This article is contributed by guest writer Emila Smith (Freelance Writer).
Understanding the Importance of Protein in Dog Food
Protein plays an important role in our daily diet and is an equally important part of a diet for man’s best friend. You are what you eat, or so goes the adage, and this is true for all living species. Even if we are aware of this, questions still come to mind about what kind of protein is best for our canine buddies and exactly how much protein dog food should contain.
What Exactly Is Protein?
After each meal, the digestive tract will break down proteins into amino acids. Amino acids contained in protein are essential compounds or the so-called building blocks of protein. They help to develop and produce fur, nails, skin, tendons, muscles, cartilage, and ligaments. They also are crucial to hormone production.
Why Does My Pet Need Dietary Amino Acids?
Your furry BFF needs 22 amino acids in his or her diet to guarantee essential body functions. A dog’s body can produce 12 amino acids independently, but the remaining 10 must necessarily come from the diet.
Animal or Plant Protein: Which Is Better?
Most commercial dog foods will source protein from animals, plants, or a combination of both. Animal-sourced proteins, especially those that are high-quality will contain all the vital amino acids necessary for canine health. Plant-sourced proteins may contain some essential amino acids but not all.
Animal sources of protein found in pet food will usually come from beef, chicken, fish, and lamb. While plant-sourced protein is used in commercial dog foods, dogs are not herbivores so they cannot survive on a vegetarian diet. They are classified officially as omnivores, signifying that they eat both animal and plant foods, but they are in reality more of carnivores, in that animal-based food sources contain the essential nutrients they require.
Remember that dogs, as members of the Canidae family, are related to coyotes, foxes, jackals, and wolves. This family traditionally hunts prey for survival. Dogs, like their ancestors and relatives, have large carnassial teeth for this purpose, and with simplified digestive tracts, they are not capable of digesting large quantities of plant foods.
Nonetheless, the canine genome has evolved over the millennia and dogs are not as comparable to wolves as we might think. Thanks to evolution dogs are able to digest some plant-based starches as well as some grains, herbs, vegetables, and fruits together with poultry, fish, and meats.
Also, keep in mind that improper cooking and preparation of food can damage the essential amino acids used in commercial pet foods. Hence, looking for high-quality food from a reputable brand is better.
Dietary Protein Benefits
Protein contributes to a series of bodily functions, physical development, health, and general quality of life. They are fundamental for muscle, connective tissue, skin, and even hair, and equally important for growth and development as well as organ and tissue maintenance throughout life.
Enzymes associated with protein aid in digestion, muscle movements and contractions, and blood clotting. When dogs do not ingest a sufficient number of amino acids, health issues arise that may negatively affect the skin, fur coat, and ideal body weight. If a lack of essential amino acids continues, vital organs will eventually be affected.
What Kind of Protein Does My Dog Need?
Most commercial dog foods advertise extensively about their product’s protein content, but with all the market choices available, selecting the best food for your pooch can be challenging. Also, your dog’s breed, personal preferences, and any health issues will need to be considered. Does your pup prefer certain proteins to others and does your dog have any food allergies or intolerances?
Each individual dietary protein will have specific amino acids, so ideally, you’ll want more than one source of protein to ensure your dog gets all the necessary nutrients. Varied animal proteins are a great option unless your pooch suffers from specific food allergies.
How Much Protein Should Dog Food Contain?
When evaluating commercial dog food, you should find a “guaranteed analysis” label on the side of the back of the food packaging that provides you with the percentages of how much protein is contained in a given food. Dog foods should contain at least 18% crude protein for an adult canine, while 22.5% is necessary for growing pups.
Another thing to look for is if the protein source is animal. When reading an ingredient list, the first ingredients are the most important, so look for animal-sourced protein among the first two ingredients listed. High-quality herbs in your dog’s diet can assist with digesting protein.
Dogs will only absorb the amount of protein for muscle and tissue repair. Excess protein will be broken down for energy or fat storage. A pooch’s kidneys will remove protein breakdown by-products through urination. Very yellow urine can point to excess protein in your pup’s system. Also, weight increase can also point to excessive protein intake.
The Bottom Line
While standards for minimal protein intake need to be respected to guarantee canine family members that nutritional needs are met, it will not necessarily be the quantity of protein in a diet but the digestibility and availability of essential amino acids in the food. Your dog’s fecal matter will provide you with a hint. Protein that goes unused ferments and is expelled in elimination, making waste pretty stinky.
When shopping, read ingredient labels for nutritional content. Look not only for protein sources but for vegetables, grains, fats, vitamins, and minerals.