NutriSource Blogs

Protein for canines: It's what your dog needs and craves

February 25, 2021

We all know protein is an important part of the daily meal, whether you’re talking about humans or our animal companions. Which is why to many pet parents, a dog food label that touts high protein sounds pretty promising. But not all protein sources are alike. When it comes to a high-protein diet, quality is just as important as quantity.

When you examine the inner workings of protein on the body once your dog wolfs down his favorite meaty meal, you’ll find it’s a great example of “you are what you eat.” Protein builds the canine body from nose to tail, including hair, skin, tissue, muscle and bone.

Your dog needs protein to assume his adorable shape. But protein also sustains life inside that body. The enzymes that make catalysts inside the cells are made of protein. So is hemoglobin, which provides oxygen to cells.

The following will break down the components of protein, and how it helps your dog build a healthy body.

Amino acids: The basic building block of protein

Proteins are made of different building blocks called amino acids. Meats from different animal species provide different amino acid profiles. Which is why feeding your dog a variety of protein sources by rotating their diets is recommended for optimal health.

When the body digests proteins, they’re broken down and distributed to the cells throughout the body. They build new proteins in the body, but they’re also used for energy, to build hormones, to transport nutrients around the body, and help with immune function.

Canines need 10 specific amino acids that come from diet alone. Because these are not stored in the body, they need to be constantly replenished. They are:

  • Arginine
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Each essential amino acid plays a different role in balancing your dog’s health. Histidine, for example, helps the body make histamines. These are present in the body’s cells and help the body fight infection and increase blood flow to the affected areas. Lysine helps the body absorb calcium and produce collagen, which builds ligaments, tendons and cartilage, along with skin, hair and nails.

What is the best protein for dogs?

Your dog needs protein with a robust amino acid profile to build and maintain a healthy body. But that protein should be highly digestible, which means bioavailable. Otherwise, that high-protein diet will be a waste of money.

If the protein in your dog’s food isn’t fully bioavailable to your pet, you’ll notice things are, well, messier then you’d like them to be. A classic symptom of that is larger, foul-smelling stools and here’s why:

  • First, the less bioavailable protein (along with its amino acids) gets left in the small intestine, along with the amino acids your dog won’t absorb, according to Pet Food Industry.
  • Then, the undigested matter moves on to the large intestine, where it ferments.
  • Finally, you experience the results, which are gassiness and messes in the backyard.

Bottom line, even with the correct amounts of protein along with a full slate of essential amino acids, digestibility of the protein is key to good canine health and a long happy life. This is why it’s important to look for foods with proven probiotics to help the digestion of proteins and absorption of nutrition.

According to Tuft’s University, the quality of animal protein sources used in pet foods can vary considerably. So if odors and messy stools are a way of life for your dog, changing to a higher quality, more digestible protein source can be a game changer.

Fish and poultry are highly digestible proteins as are lamb and beef. They can come in muscle meat, but organs and meat meal also provide a rich source of bioavailable protein to your furry friend.

How much protein do dogs need?

The easiest way to figure out how much protein your healthy adult dog needs is by looking at the bag of dog food. The label will tell you the protein content by percentage per gram or kilogram.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets minimum standards on how much protein (along with micronutrients and macronutrients) should be in bag of dry dog food.

For adult dogs, protein content in dog food should be a minimum of 18% per serving, and higher for puppies and nursing dogs at 22%, which makes sense because there’s a lot of growth taking place in a short amount of time.

By the way, you’ll find that cat food has a higher protein content than dog food. That’s because felines are obligate (or true) carnivores, meaning they must eat meat protein to be healthy.

Whereas dogs are considered facultative carnivores because they prefer meat but can survive on a plant-based diet if necessary.

Next-level protein for the canine diet

Why does your dog crave meaty goodness? Because meat provides an excellent source of bioavailable protein in the canine diet. NutriSource’s new Element series joins the evolutionary concepts with cutting-edge nutritional knowledge to help your dog live a long, healthy life.

  • Element’s recipes contain at least 83% animal protein, sourced from our carefully vetted suppliers to ensure the quality of the ingredients.
  • You’ll find animal proteins in the first five ingredients of each formula, providing your pet with a varied array of essential amino acids.
  • Our proprietary new Good 4 Life Plus system has added digestive benefits to support the proper digestion of high meat diets and gut health. Gut health and bioavailability work hand in hand to help your dog access the full benefits from his meal.

Learn more about NutriSource’s Element Series, and watch for it in 2021 in your community’s independent pet supply store.