The debate over whether dogs are meat-loving carnivores or omnivores with no discerning taste is one that has persisted for years. While the RSPCA and others call (mostly) carnivore, many vets and dog nutrition experts recognise that dogs need a more balanced diet of meat and other ingredients to be their best selves.
Regardless, there is no denying the importance of meat in your dog’s diet. When it comes to food, protein is a must for your pup. It keeps their body functioning, building/repairing muscles, tissues, skin, hair, and more. As it plays such a central role in all these crucial processes, it is constantly being consumed and must be replaced through daily intake.
Below, we've looked at the importance of protein in a dog's diet and how you can make sure that your pup is getting the right amount for their daily needs.
Protein is part of a dog’s natural diet
In a similar vein to Paleo, protein-rich grain free foods are thought to best reflect a dog's traditional prey model diet while also providing the extra vitamins and minerals their bodies have become accustomed to in the years since domestication.
Dogs are meat eaters; their sharp teeth and short digestive tracks are clearly designed with this in mind. However, over thousands of years as man's best friend, dogs have developed some useful adaptions to scavenge our scraps. Evolutionary geneticist Erik Axelsson argues that the ability to digest starch and other foods common in the human diet is what separates dogs from their wolf ancestors, established when humankind settled down and shifted from hunting to agriculture. This means that though dogs may have, at one time, been carnivores and still carry some of these traits, an omnivore diet skewed more towards meat is the most ideal for nutrition.
To feed your dog the way nature intended, meat (protein) is a key part of a balanced, healthy diet.
Protein provides essential amino acids
You’ve probably heard proteins referred to as the "building blocks of life" and this is no less true for our canine companions. When dogs digest the protein in their food, this becomes amino acids, which the body then uses as fuel for all the processes that keep it ticking.
There are 22 amino acids that your dog needs in total; however, there are 10 essential amino acids your dog needs to obtain from their food, as their bodies cannot make these on their own. If a protein has all 10 of these amino acids in large enough amounts, it is can be said to have a high biological level. These include proteins such as chicken, fish, beef, and others.
Basically, the best source of protein for your dog is animal-based products. This should be one of the main things you look at when it comes to appraising a brand of pet food.
Feeding your dog grain-based foods that have incomplete sources of protein or not enough essential amino acids can result in amino acid deficiency and negative effects on your dog's health. If even one of the essential acids is missing, the body cannot properly make the proteins it needs and the whole system is thrown off the rails.
What to look for in your pet's diet
To make sure that your dog is getting the protein they need, check the list of ingredients on any pet food you plan to buy. The source of protein should be the first on the list. The best would be either whole proteins or meat meals, highly concentrated sources of protein made from dehydrated meats that offer your pet more nutrients per serving. While "fresh" is attractive, it is added before the dehydration process so actually ends up being lower in percentage.
Some of the quality proteins you will want to look for include fish, chicken, beef, lamb or goat, egg and other meat or animal-based products. The best products will give a specific protein (e.g. chicken meal) - avoid the vague 'meat' or 'animal' meal. After all, you should know exactly what you are putting in your dog's body to ensure they are getting what they need.
You should also avoid brands where the main source of protein is animal by-products - even named ones - as these are a lower quality source of protein.
Technically, most adult dogs only requires 18% protein per serve to survive. However, the more protein in your dog's diet, the more they will thrive and live their best life.
It is also important to remember that different breeds of dogs will require different amounts of protein, as well as dogs at different life stages. Larger dogs need more protein, as will more active dogs, to maintain muscle and keep going. Puppies need more protein to grow than older dogs, with senior dogs requiring the least amount.
If you are unsure about the ideal amount of protein for your dog in particular, make sure you consult your vet.
Phoenix Pet Foods have at least 32% protein per serve, fuelling dogs from all walks of life. Find out more about how you can get more protein and good stuff into your dog's diet.