The Importance of Protein

By Timothy Brill

The Importance of Protein

Dogs need protein. That's because this component of many foods has numerous functions in your dog's -- and your -- body. It 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.

The 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, fish meal, and beef. Common plant-based protein sources used in your pet's food include corn-gluten meal and soybean meal.

Understanding your dog's food needs
Even though some dogs are fed plant-based diets, your dog is not an herbivore. It's an omnivore.  That means your furry friend is a critter that eats both animal- and plant-based foods.

The body structure of your domestic dog is similar to that of its carnivorous ancestors and relatives, which include 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-source proteins contain all 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) was then analyzed. Additionally, levels of key blood and muscle proteins were measured.

Compared with dogs that were fed a diet with 100% 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

This was independent of the overall dietary protein level -- 12 or 28% -- which 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 elder pooches consumed a 32% protein chicken-based diet, a 32% protein chicken and corn gluten meal diet, or a 16% protein chicken-based diet.

Senior dogs that were fed the 32% 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 good-quality, meaty dog foods that will have your dog licking its chops and wagging its tail. 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 Brill is a freelance writer and animal advocate.

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Posted on October 6, 2007

Crise Billwalk says: Vegan dog food can supply dogs with the right amount of protein, and please, let this comment come by.

Posted on October 6, 2007

Crise Billwalk says: Vegan dog food can supply dogs with the right amount of protein, and please, let this comment come by.

Posted on March 15, 2008

Aimy Taylor says: How much protien does my english bulldog puppy need?ive been told she shouldnt have to much protein because it will cause problems with her bones and will nake her grow to fast.At the minute she is on royal canin maxi babydog which has 30%protein is this to much?

Posted on March 17, 2009

Teresa Wilhite says: We just got back from the Vet and we found out thru a blood test that her kidneys are failing. The Vet suggested that we put her on a high protien diet. Although the sodium is high we need high protien. He would not give us a time line. She is 7 and when she was 2 was hit by a car and has a fake knee. How much time do we have.?? She has lost her spunk and we can tell she is not as happy as she use to be. I have been adding cooked chicken breast with white rice to her dry dog food and yet she still throws up. This has been going on for 4 months now. throwing up 2 -3 times a day. Don't know what to do?? Please help me, I don't want to lose my Shadow.

Posted on September 29, 2009

paula says: recently took dog to vet, because he had diarrhea for month, she said he had no protionin his boby, the only why he can get it back is by intervous. but now he is peeing the bed at night, what can do to help him. and now he is poping black. he is 14 years old. and he is a pitbull

Posted on January 3, 2010

Vickie says: How much protein do my 5-7 lb dogs require Breed - terrier mix, some poodle, and other unknowns.

Posted on October 10, 2010

barbara mcmillin says: to Teresa whose dog has kidney issues, get dog food from your vet for dogs with kidney issues, also have you had your dog tested for lymes disease?

Posted on October 25, 2010

Mickey says: I brush my mini poodles teeth and recently had the vet clean them, but his breath is still bad. The vet said he does not have halitious. He's a pickey eater but will eat if chicken is added

Posted on September 2, 2011

Abby says: Dogs are CARNIVORES, not omnivores. In fact, the article even states that dogs' digestive systems are not designed for digesting plants right after they called dogs "omnivores". Dogs' digestive systems are identical to that of wovles. (Dogs are a sub-species of the wolf, they are just domesticated wolves. Wolf = canis lupus, Dog = canius lupus familiaris.) If someone wants a vegan pet, they should get a rabbit or iguana. A pet owner should provide proper care, including proper diet, to their pets; if they are unwilling to do so (such as feeding a dog MEAT), they shouldn't get that type of pet. It's bordering on cruelty/neglect in my opinion to feed a dog a vegetarian/vegan diet.

Posted on September 10, 2011

Arcadio Gonzalez says: I can testify to me. Iames is the Best Food I've been using since 1976 From Angla, New York and to Garland Tx in 1976 They make the right food for the right age The Best is for Large Breeds It's Great! Buz Most If your still there email me

Posted on October 20, 2011

kelly garron says: my 6 year old mixed breed dog has been put on a low protein diet because of liver problems could anyone suggest what the best pet food would be for him

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