Protein is a core nutrient known as the muscle repairing and building compound. But, protein, specifically the amino acids released, play several essential roles, including improving the health of a dog’s skin and hair.
So, how much protein do dogs need? Adult dogs need a minimum of 18% crude protein in their diet on a dry matter basis — approximately 1 gram per pound of body weight. Puppies and pregnant or nursing dogs require a minimum of 22% crude protein.
Dry matter basis is the percent of nutrients when all moisture is removed. Kibble with 18% protein and 10% moisture contains 20% protein on a dry matter basis.
When viewing dog food labels, nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, and fat, are listed as a percentage of dry matter. The type of protein and quality can be more challenging to decipher.
From this article, you’ll better understand proteins, what to look for on dog food labels, and the risk of too much protein in a dog’s diet.
The importance of protein for dogs.
As omnivores, our dogs require a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and grains from plants and animals. The type and quality of the protein you feed your dog determine its digestibility and ultimately the amino acid deliverability.
A common misconception is dogs digest animal-derived proteins better than plant-based proteins due to the carnivore genes. Ryan Yamka, PhD, measured several proteins’ absorption rates; Yamka found soy flour and corn gluten meal have digestibility rates comparable to most animal proteins.
During digestion, proteins break down into ten essential amino acids dogs need — arginine, phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine.
How well dogs digest food to absorb essential amino acids is the benchmark for quality protein.
How important are amino acids for dogs? The ten essential amino acids are responsible for several vital jobs, including:
- Muscle growth and repair
- Improved skin and hair quality
- Absorption of minerals
- Regulating blood sugar levels
- Immune functions and response
Protein is especially important for active and working dogs. Their bodies need amino acids to repair hours of daily hard work and provide the energy for more.
Picking dog foods with quality protein
Here’s a helpful trick when choosing a food for its high-quality protein: The first ingredient listed on the label is the top ingredient by weight in the food.
If chicken is the first ingredient, you can take comfort in knowing it’s the most prominent ingredient in your dog’s food.
Proteins like chicken meal — dried and ground clean chicken flesh, skin, and sometimes bone — and meat and bone meal — dried ground animal bones and slaughter-house waste product — are common ingredients in dog foods.
Meals don’t sound like wholesome ingredients but have excellent digestibility with high amino acid absorption rates.
However, if you’re isolating proteins due to allergies or digestion issues, look for whole proteins, like chicken or turkey, instead of meals.
Take a look at the examples above. The first and primary ingredient in Purina One Chicken & Rice (red box) is chicken. Ground whole grain corn is the primary ingredient in Pedigree Adult Chicken, Rice & Vegetable, followed by meat and bone meal (yellow box).
Choose quality over quantity when considering proteins for dogs.
The quality of protein outweighs quantity. Proteins’ goal is to deliver amino acids. Difficult to digest low-quality proteins serve less purpose.
When feeding your dog too much protein, the body can’t properly digest it. Any excess protein is then stored as fat, causing weight gain in dogs.
The kidneys are responsible for removing excess protein as urine, with any remaining protein left to ferment in the stomach. If your dog kills grass with yellow stains or their fecal matter smell is stronger, both are signs of excess protein in their diet.
Thankfully, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food and snack manufacturers today for quality and safety. Meanwhile, the Association of American Feed Control Officials determines the standards for levels of nutrients in complete and balanced pet foods.
These regulations have created a marketplace for safer and more nutritious dog food. If you’re concerned about the levels of protein your dog requires in their food, consider visiting your veterinarian.
Veterinarians can spot signs of nutrient deficiency and prescribe dietary food, like hydrolyzed protein, to help with digestion.
Does your dog have a favorite protein source? Share this story and let us know.