Pet Protein Requirements

Protein requirements of dogs and cats is an important and often misunderstood fact. Is my pet getting too much protein or not enough? Which food or diet is best for my pet?

Cats are classified as true carnivores because they must consume meat in order to survive. (Go here) to see some of the differences between feline and canine metabolism. Dogs are just slightly different from cats in their conversion of foods for life maintenance; dogs are classified as omnivores. They can survive on a diet of either plant or animal origin if it is balanced and diverse. But to thrive and not merely survive, dogs should have a source of animal protein – MEAT – in their diets. There is a huge difference between survive and thrive!

Dogs that are not thriving because nature’s rules are not being followed. Overweight dogs, dogs with itchy, flaky skin, dogs with coarse and brittle coats, dogs with poor energy levels and resistance to infection. . . 95% of the time these dogs will be consuming diets low in animal origin tissues and high in grain-based products. Inexpensive, corn-based diets are some of the worst.

FOODS OF ANIMAL ORIGIN                                               

Meat by-products: heart, liver, spleen, intestines (emptied of their contents), blood, kidneys.

  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Fish… salmon, herring
  • Poultry… chicken, turkey, duck
  • Dairy… eggs, milk, cheese 


  • Grains… corn, wheat, rice, barley, soybeans, oatmeal
  • Fiber… The non-digestible cellulose parts of plants such as peanut hulls
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes

Dogs need meat! Dogs thrive on meat-based diets. (Caution: an ALL meat diet is hazardous too). Dogs can and do assimilate grains such as corn, barley, oats, wheat and soybean meal. Remember, though, that grains provide mostly carbohydrates and only limited amino acid (protein) profiles.

Maybe you’ve heard too much protein is unhealthy causing kidney damage. The very early research that pointed a finger at protein as being a cause of kidney failure in dogs wasn’t even done on dogs. It was done on rats fed unnatural diets for a rodent… diets high in protein. Dogs are quite able to tolerate diets with protein levels higher than 30% on a dry weight basis.

Dogs are meat eaters, that’s how nature made them. Rats are not. So some of the early research on rats was assumed to be true for dogs… and the myth of “too much protein in a dog’s diet causes kidney damage” was started.

Current, and even ignored thirty-year-old research by Dr. David S. Kronfeld and others, spells out the evolutionary need for canines to have sources of high quality protein such as is found in animal tissues. Meat (muscle tissue), organ tissues such as liver, kidneys, spleen, and heart are particularly rich in the complex molecules called Amino Acids that end up as protein. There are 22 Amino Acids involved with the dog’s metabolism and of these the dog requires 10 different Amino Acids to be supplied by the diet. The other 12 required Amino Acids can be manufactured internally in the dog’s liver.

Grains tend to be better sources of carbohydrate, a quick source of energy. Animal-derived tissues are more easily digestible and have a more complete array of Amino Acids than do grains. Meats and meat by-products (meat by-products are blood and organ tissues and do not include hide, hair, hooves and teeth) are exceptionally high quality protein sources for dogs. (Meat by-products are excellent sources of nourishment for dogs. By-products do not contain floor sweepings, old flea collars, gasoline or machine parts).

Think about it… do you ever see a stray dog grazing in a corn or bean field to allay its hunger? Nature has created a meat-eating machine in the dog and every day in practice I see the health benefits displayed by the feeding of meat-based diets. Dogs fed poor quality diets look and feel great only if their caretakers also feed table scraps such as chicken, meat, eggs, cottage cheese and other “left-overs.” Meat such as chicken, poultry, beef or fish should be the first ingredient listed in any dog food you judge to be “the best”.
What about older dogs? You should not restrict feeding high quality protein to older dogs just because they are older. There is even some valid research that indicates older dogs may need a higher percentage of protein in their diets than they required during middle age. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us because dogs evolved through the ages as meat eaters. The grain-based diets for dogs did not even exist until seventy years ago when we humans demanded the convenience, simplicity and economy of dog food in a bag.
The bottom line is this, and it is based on fact… protein intake does not cause kidney damage in healthy dogs or cats of any age. So whatever you choose as “the best” diet for your dog, make certain that meat is listed first in the ingredient list. Your older dog or cat should, if its kidney function is normal, receive the benefits of a high quality diet rich in animal-derived protein. For an excellent source of easily understood nutrition principles consider purchasing CANINE AND FELINE NUTRITION, by Case, Carey and Hirakawa. C. V. Mosby publishes it.

Protein and Hyperactivity
Most dog caretakers at one time or another have heard this… “High protein diets can make dogs hyper!” There are no biochemical or nutritional factors that would even make this supposition appear to be credible. Hyperactivity in dogs has numerous potential motivators, including genetic temperament predispositions, but a link between high levels of protein in a dog’s diet and hyperactivity has yet to be proven.

I have found Nature’s Select to be very healty dog food. And they even have free home delivery! Nature Select uses whole meats, whold ground rice and natural preservatives like vitamin C and E and rosemary extract. No by-products, corn, wheat, or chemical preservatives. Contact email: or 760-787-9991 (San Diego area).

There is a food comparison chart on thier website of several other competitor brands. There are formulas for puppies, older dogs, and cats. (Chicken is a natural source of glucosamine, for hips and joints). Rice is especially good for dogs with sensitive stomachs.

Which ever brand you choose, meat (beef, chicken, lamb, fish) should be the first ingredient listed. If you do not purchase a rice blended dog food, you can always add it to your dog’s diet.

Photo credit: EraPhernalia Vintage


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