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21st Apr 2020

Debunking the Dog Protein Myth

4 home truths about dog protein

by Burns Team Writer

High-meat diets for dogs are very popular, but are they necessary or healthy? Burns’ nutrition team give 4 cold hard facts on dog protein. The results may surprise you.

Despite many pet food brands offering trendy grain-free diets with up to 85% protein, this is well above a dog’s actual requirements. Feeding excessive amounts of protein is not only unnecessary, it can actually be detrimental to a dog’s health in the long term.

1. More protein means more waste

Burns Nutritionist, Helen Anslow says, “Processing excess nutrients that are beyond a dog’s daily requirements will put extra pressure on the organs to work harder. This in turn contributes to more metabolic waste products being produced in the body.”

Protein is an important part of a dog’s diet, however as with all nutrients, it isn’t a case of the more fed the better. Dogs cannot store excess protein, so they need to use it in other ways, or else it is excreted.

When a dog eats protein, it is broken down into amino acids in the stomach and absorbed in the small intestine. Some proteins are more difficult to digest than others and those that are not able to be absorbed in the intestine will become waste. One of the things that can make dog poo very smelly is the excess protein that has been lost that has not been absorbed into the body.

If too much protein is absorbed from the diet the liver and kidneys work to filter it out and it is lost in the urine as ammonia. This can put unnecessary strain on the liver and kidneys.

2. Today’s dogs are not wolves

Pet food brands and raw food advocates love to talk about a dog’s primal hunting instincts as a way of justifying a need for high-protein dog food. The idea is that dogs have evolved from wolves and so they should eat a diet resembling what their wolf ancestors ate.

It’s true that dogs did evolve from wolves and survived on meat diets hundreds of years ago. The same is not true of the present day. We are thousands of years into the future and today’s dogs have evolved to process a range of food sources.

Dogs have lived alongside humans for over 10,000 years and in that time have become accustomed to eating our leftovers. This process helped their guts to evolve and cope with a range of different foods including grains.

Scientific research has been carried out looking into the genetic differences between dogs and wolves. A dog’s digestive system is different to that of a wolf as dogs have genes that enable them able to digest carbohydrates whereas wolves did not.

The modern-day dog lives a very different lifestyle to its wolf ancestors. The wolf survived in harsh environments and spent days hunting for prey whereas pet dogs spend much of the day curled up on a nice warm sofa and are usually offered 2 meals a day.

Today’s dog is a domesticated and sophisticated creature that can digest grains, vegetables, and fruit. In fact, they thrive on these ingredients and don’t need to gnaw on endless bones and steaks.

3. Quality over quantity

Another lesser known fact is that the quality of animal protein fed is far more important than the quantity fed. You could feed a diet that is very high in protein but if the dog is not able to digest the protein and use it as a nutrient then they will still not be getting enough protein from their diet.

Dogs require certain types of protein in their diet, including amino acids. If a dog consumes a diet high in protein which doesn’t contain suitable amino acids, there will be a deficit in the diet.

4. European guidelines suggest a minimum of 18% protein

When looking at the diet of our own pet dogs, the nutritional guidelines for dogs in Europe suggest a minimum level of protein of around 18%, however there is no maximum level.

There are no nutritional reasons that support providing excessive amounts of protein in a dog’s diet. After the protein requirements are met there are no additional benefits, and it may cause problems long term.