Why Your Dog Needs Protein

Why Your Dog Needs Protein

Learn how animal-based proteins help your pooch's live a happier, healthier life.


By: Timothy Brill

Dogs need protein. This essential nutrient helps numerous functions in your dog's body. Protein is best known for supplying amino acids that build hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Protein also plays a key role in producing hormones and enzymes that help to regulate daily, basic functions.

Protein in dog foods can be supplied by animal sources, plant sources, or a combination of the two. Common animal-based protein sources used in pet food include chicken, lamb, fishmeal and beef. Common plant-based protein sources used in your pet's food include corn-gluten meal and soybean meal.

Understanding Your Dog’s Needs
Even though some dogs are fed plant-based diets, your dog is an omnivore, meaning it eats both animal- and plant-based foods.

The body structure of your domestic dog is similar to that of its carnivorous ancestors and relatives: wolves, coyotes, foxes and jackals. These animals are all meat-eating machines. Their teeth and digestive systems are designed to chow down on animal flesh. Consider the following:

  • Your dog possesses the enlarged carnassial teeth that carnivores are named after. These teeth are efficient at digging into and holding prey, skills that were essential for survival in the wild.
  • Your pet's gastrointestinal tract is simple and does not have the capacity to digest large amounts of plant products.

In addition, high-quality animal proteins contain the essential amino acids your dog needs, whereas some plant-based proteins may be deficient in certain essential amino acids. So although your dog is classified as an omnivore, it is best fed as a carnivore.

Research Findings
Recent studies have examined how the type of protein in a diet affects the body composition of adult and senior dogs.

In this study, dogs were fed diets with varying amounts of protein from chicken and corn gluten meal. Their body composition (muscle versus fat tissue) and levels of key blood and muscle proteins were measured.

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Compared with dogs that were fed a diet with 100 per cent chicken protein, dogs that consumed foods with decreasing levels of chicken and increasing levels of corn gluten meal had:

  • Decreased lean tissue
  • Increased body fat
  • Decreased levels of blood proteins routinely used as markers of superior nutritional status

The result was independent of the overall dietary protein level — 12 or 28 per cent — that was also examined in each of the four test groups.

As your dog ages, its body composition and muscle-specific proteins decline. Therefore, another study looked at the differences that became evident when older pooches consumed a 32 per cent protein chicken-based diet, a 32 per cent protein chicken and corn gluten meal diet, or a 16 per cent protein chicken-based diet.

Senior dogs that were fed the 32 per cent chicken protein, chicken-based diet had better body composition and a muscle-specific protein pattern that was identical to what was measured in healthy young adult dogs. However, those results were not seen in either of the other two diets.

Protein and Your Dog
Feeding your dog a diet with primarily animal-based protein sources helps to do the following:

  • Maintain your dog's muscle mass
  • Reverse some age-related changes in skeletal muscles in senior dogs
  • Enhance the long-term health and well-being of adult and senior dogs

The bottom line is to feed your dog quality, meaty foods. At the same time, you can smile with confidence, knowing that you've fed your loyal friend what it craves and what its body needs.



Timothy is a freelance writer and animal advocate.

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