As you may have learned by now, protein is a very important part of a healthy, balanced canine diet. Protein has several roles, such as building and repairing muscles and other body tissues. It is needed to form new skin cells, grow hair, build muscle tissue, and more. It also assists in creating body chemicals like hormones and enzymes that are needed for normal function. Protein provides energy and keeps the immune system strong.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, and dogs require 22 amino acids to make necessary proteins. A dog’s body is able to make about half of these needed amino acids, but the rest must come from the food your pet eats every day. Because these amino acids are so important, they are called essential amino acids. Deficiencies of any of the essential amino acids over time can lead to health problems.
Protein is found in meats, eggs, and dairy products, as well as some grains and legumes. The dog’s body can’t store up protein like it can fat and other nutrients, so this nutrient has to be supplied in the daily diet. Depending on the age and activity level of your pet, protein needs will vary. Those animals that work very hard (i.e., hunting dogs, sled dogs, search and rescue dogs, etc.) require more protein.
Pregnant and lactating animals also need a much higher level of protein to meet their bodies’ needs. When animals are sick or injured, they will have a greater need for protein to recover. Larger breeds of dogs will need to be fed a larger amount of protein as adults to keep their muscles and bodies at optimal condition. As animals get older, the need for protein decreases, but is still necessary.
The guaranteed analysis on the dog food bag will tell you the minimum percentage of protein. More protein does not mean your dog is getting a better food. To get a better idea, look for the protein source listed in the first few ingredients on the bag. Quality protein sources include chicken, beef, eggs, lamb, fish, and meat meals. If your pet has particular protein requirements, ask your veterinarian for suggestions on foods.
A quality food will list one or two sources of quality protein in the first few ingredients. Your dog’s appearance and activity level is the best indication as to how well his food is providing him with adequate levels of protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. If he has a healthy appetite; his coat is shiny and healthy; he has bright eyes; and is active and always ready to play, then his food is doing its job.