Choosing the correct dog food from the dozens of varieties on the store shelves can be a daunting experience. You might find yourself asking question after question as you attempt to make a selection. "Which formula is most nutritious?" "Would my dog prefer crunchy bites or soft chewy morsels?" "Which brand is the most inexpensive?" The fact of the matter is that none of these questions are relevant. The key factor in choosing the correct food for your dog is protein content.
It is interesting to note that there are over 2,000 sources of protein in human diets, yet in the realm of pet food there are only a limited amount of sources. This is partially because of cost effectiveness and partially because not all foods that humans consume are safe or healthy for our four-legged companions. The shocking truth is that there is often more nutritional information not included on a bag of dog food than actually listed. That is why it is up to pet owners to educate themselves on dog food selection and the role that protein plays in keeping your pet healthy.
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Protein: One of the Most Important Ingredients in Dog Food
Protein is one of the most important parts of dog food as well as one of the least understood by the average dog owner. Proteins are essential to dogs because amino acids which make up protein serve as building blocks for organs, tissues, hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. While appearance may be of importance to the owner the dog is not concerned with it. Unfortunately many people equate quality of a pet food by the appearance of the product instead of the nutritional quantity.
There is a common misconception that the amount of protein the food contains is directly equated to how healthy the food is. However, the important factor is how much of the food's protein can be used by the animal consuming it. Other factors to consider concerning a specific dog's protein requirements are the age of the dog. Both puppies and geriatric dogs require lower amounts of protein and higher carbohydrate percentages in their food. Another factor is the dog's activity level or stress level (due to environment or working conditions). This can alter its protein requirements. Furthermore, other ingredients within the food can affect the amount of each amino acid required. For example a food that is highly acidic (due to a preservative) can increase the requirement of the amino acid.
Every protein source contains different levels of amino acids and each protein is different in its ability to be broken down into amino acids, so not all proteins are created equal. Some are better for pets than others. The ability of a protein to be used by the body and its amount of usable amino acids is summarized as protein quality. To complicate things more amino acids are divided into two categories: essential and non-essential amino acids. To summarize, essential amino acids means that the dog is incapable of producing it themselves and they need it to be supplied. Non-essential means that the dog is capable of producing those acids in quantities that are sufficient to sustain life. Therefore, when researching dog foods rich in essential amino acids are a necessity while non-essential acids are extras.
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Not All Proteins Are Equally Digestible
Another complication to understanding the protein in dog food paradigm is that not all proteins are equally digestible. Eggs, meat, and meat meal are some examples of well-digested protein. Meat by-products on the other hand are not easily digestible which means that dogs are unable to receive the full benefit of the protein. Many dog food suppliers try to counter-balance this by mixing ingredients to maximize digestibility otherwise known as complementation.
Is it possible to feed your dog too much protein? The answer to this is yes and no. In theory if a healthy animal eats too much protein some of the excess gets excreted in the urine and the rest is absorbed used as calories or is converted to fat and does not cause any harm. However, if the dog has a kidney problem (for example) excessively high protein diets are definitely not recommended.
Choosing the appropriate diet for our canine companions is challenging due to the endless varieties of marketed dog foods, the quality of the products, and the balance of protein and digestibility found in those foods. It cannot be stressed enough that not all dogs have the same nutritional needs. For example, a working farm dog certainly has different protein needs than a pampered purely indoor teacup poodle. If excess protein is fed to a less active dog the excess will convert into fat. On the other hand, if a low protein diet or a diet high in indigestible protein is fed to an active working dog, the dog's health and performance will suffer leading to long-term health issues if left uncorrected. The bottom line is this: choose your dog's diet knowing that not all proteins are created equal, not all high protein diets are suitable for all dogs, and that complementing nutrients in your pet's food are all important factors in the overall health of your canine companion.
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