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Everything You Need to Know About Protein in Dog Food

Everything You Need to Know About Protein in Dog Food

Protein is an essential component of a dog's diet, playing a crucial role in their overall health and well-being. As pet owners, we often hear about the importance of protein in our furry companions' diets, but there is a plethora of information, and sometimes misinformation, circulating about the subject. In this exploration of "The Truth About Protein in Dog Food," we will delve into the significance of protein, its sources, and how to make informed decisions when selecting the right dog food to ensure your canine friend receives the nutrition they need for a long and healthy life.

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What is protein?

Protein is one of the three primary macronutrients, alongside carbohydrates and fats, that are essential for sustaining life in all organisms, including dogs. At its core, a protein molecule is a complex chain of smaller units called amino acids. These amino acids serve as the building blocks of life, participating in a wide array of critical functions within a dog's body.

Proteins play a pivotal role in canine physiology. They are responsible for the formation and repair of tissues, such as muscles, skin, and organs, helping dogs grow and maintain their body structures. Enzymes, which are specialized proteins, facilitate various biochemical reactions, ensuring that vital processes like digestion, metabolism, and cellular function occur efficiently. Proteins also contribute to a dog's immune system, as antibodies are proteins that help combat infections and illnesses.

Furthermore, proteins are an essential source of energy for dogs, although they primarily serve as a secondary energy source, with carbohydrates and fats being the primary providers. When the body's carbohydrate and fat reserves are depleted, proteins can be broken down into amino acids and converted into energy. However, it's important to note that relying on protein as the main energy source can lead to health issues in dogs.

Structure of amino acids, peptides, and proteins. Peptides are short chains of more amino acids, proteins are long molecules made up of more polypeptides. Vector scientific illustration of the structure of amino acids, peptides, and proteins. Peptides are short chains of more amino acids, proteins are long molecules made up of more polypeptides. The scheme is isolated on a white background. protein stock illustrations

Amino acids

Amino acids are the fundamental structural units of proteins, and they play a pivotal role in the biochemistry of both humans and animals, including dogs. These molecules are often referred to as the "building blocks of life" because they are essential for the formation and functioning of various biological structures and processes.

There are 20 different amino acids commonly found in biological systems, and they can be classified into two categories: essential and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be synthesized by the dog's body and must be obtained through their diet. Here's a list of essential and non-essential amino acids for dogs:

Essential Amino Acids for Dogs:

  • Arginine: Essential for the removal of ammonia from the body and the synthesis of nitric oxide.
  • Histidine: Required for the formation of histamine and carnosine, which have various physiological roles.
  • Isoleucine: Plays a crucial role in energy regulation and protein synthesis.
  • Leucine: Important for protein synthesis and muscle growth.
  • Lysine: Necessary for protein synthesis and overall growth.
  • Methionine: Provides sulfur for various biochemical processes and is a precursor for other compounds.
  • Phenylalanine: Serves as a precursor for the synthesis of tyrosine and various neurotransmitters.
  • Threonine: Important for the synthesis of proteins, mucin, and collagen.
  • Tryptophan: A precursor for serotonin and melatonin, which regulate mood and sleep.
  • Valine: Essential for muscle metabolism and tissue repair.

Non-Essential Amino Acids for Dogs:

  • Alanine: Involved in glucose production and energy metabolism.
  • Asparagine: Plays a role in the synthesis of glycoproteins and nucleotides.
  • Aspartic Acid: Important for the urea cycle and the production of other amino acids.
  • Cysteine: Aids in the formation of disulfide bonds in proteins and antioxidant production.
  • Glutamine: Essential for immune system function and intestinal health.
  • Glutamic Acid: Acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and plays a role in energy production.
  • Glycine: Involved in the synthesis of nucleic acids, bile acids, and collagen.
  • Proline: Important for the structure of collagen and elastin.
  • Serine: Required for the synthesis of amino acids, nucleotides, and phospholipids.

Providing a balanced diet that includes all of the essential amino acids is essential for meeting a dog's nutritional needs. While dogs can synthesize some non-essential amino acids, dietary sources of these amino acids can still be beneficial, especially during periods of growth, stress, illness, or increased physical activity. High-quality commercial dog foods are formulated to ensure dogs receive the appropriate balance of essential amino acids for their health and well-being.

Amino acids are characterized by their unique chemical structure, consisting of a central carbon atom (known as the alpha carbon) bonded to four different chemical groups: a hydrogen atom, an amino group (NH2), a carboxyl group (COOH), and a side chain (often referred to as an "R" group) that varies in structure among the different amino acids. It is the composition and arrangement of these side chains that distinguish one amino acid from another.

The sequence of amino acids within a protein chain is determined by the genetic code in an organism's DNA. This sequence dictates the protein's three-dimensional structure and, consequently, its function. Amino acids can form peptide bonds with one another, linking together to create long chains, which ultimately fold and interact to create functional proteins. These proteins, in turn, perform a wide range of critical tasks in the body, including enzyme catalysis, structural support, transportation of molecules, and signaling.

Amino acid flat line icon. Vector outline illustration of structural formula. Black thin linear pictogram for molecule Amino acid flat line icon. Vector outline illustration of structural formula. Black thin linear pictogram for molecule. amino acids stock illustrations

What do dogs use protein for?

Amino acids are the elemental components of proteins, comprising a diverse group of molecules with distinct properties and functions. They are indispensable for various physiological processes in dogs, and their availability in the diet is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being.

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Muscle development and maintenance

Protein is vital for muscle development and maintenance in dogs, just as it is in humans and many other animals. Muscle tissue is primarily composed of proteins, and it relies on a consistent supply of dietary protein to grow, repair, and maintain its structure and function. Here's how protein supports muscle development and maintenance in dogs:

  • Muscle Growth: During periods of growth, such as in puppies or young dogs, protein is crucial for the development of new muscle tissue. Adequate protein intake helps puppies build strong and healthy muscles as they mature.
  • Muscle Repair: Dogs may experience muscle damage or wear and tear due to physical activity, exercise, or even injury. Protein is essential for repairing and rebuilding muscle fibers, ensuring that they remain functional.
  • Muscle Maintenance: In adult dogs, protein is necessary to maintain the existing muscle mass. Aging dogs, in particular, benefit from sufficient protein intake to prevent muscle loss and maintain their strength and mobility.
  • Support for Active Dogs: Dogs that lead an active lifestyle, such as working dogs, athletes, or those engaged in agility or sports, have higher protein requirements. Protein helps these dogs recover from strenuous activities and maintain their muscle strength.
Composition with high protein food. High protein food for body builders as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, buckwheat, oatmeal, nuts, bean, pumpkin seed and sunflower seed. Top view. protein stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Immune system support

Protein is essential for immune system support in dogs because many components of the immune system, such as antibodies and immune cells, are made up of proteins. Here are several reasons why protein is crucial for a dog's immune system:

  • Antibody Production: Antibodies, also known as immunoglobulins, are specialized proteins produced by the immune system to help recognize and neutralize harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Adequate protein intake is essential for the synthesis of antibodies, which play a key role in immune defense.
  • Immune Cell Function: Immune cells, including white blood cells such as lymphocytes and macrophages, are responsible for identifying and destroying foreign invaders. These cells rely on proteins for their structure and function. Protein deficiency can weaken the immune cells' ability to respond effectively to infections.
  • Enzymes and Cytokines: Many enzymes and cytokines involved in immune responses are proteins. Enzymes facilitate various biochemical reactions required for immune system functioning, and cytokines regulate communication between immune cells. Without sufficient protein, the production and activity of these critical molecules can be compromised.
  • Tissue Repair: When the immune system is activated to combat infections, it can lead to tissue damage. Protein is necessary for the repair and regeneration of damaged tissues, helping the body recover from the effects of infections and inflammation.
  • Overall Health: A well-nourished dog with a balanced intake of protein is more likely to have a healthy immune system. Protein supports overall health, including the maintenance of vital organs and tissues, which indirectly contributes to a robust immune response.
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Energy source

Dogs need protein as an energy source, although it's important to clarify that while protein can provide energy, it is not the primary or preferred source of energy for dogs. Carbohydrates and fats are the primary sources of energy in a dog's diet. However, protein can serve as an energy source when necessary. Here's why protein can provide energy for dogs:

  • Energy Production: When carbohydrates and fats are not available in sufficient quantities or cannot be metabolized efficiently, the body can use protein as an energy source. During times of increased energy demand, such as intense physical activity or when a dog's diet lacks adequate carbohydrates and fats, the body can break down dietary and stored proteins into amino acids. These amino acids can then be converted into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis, which provides energy for the body.
  • Maintaining Blood Sugar Levels: Protein can help stabilize blood sugar levels in dogs. While carbohydrates are the primary source of glucose (sugar) in the body, protein can help prevent rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels, providing a more steady and sustained source of energy.
  • Situations of High Energy Expenditure: Working dogs, athletes, or dogs engaged in activities that require significant physical effort may have higher protein requirements to support their energy needs. In such cases, protein can contribute to maintaining the dog's energy balance.

It's worth noting that while protein can be converted into energy, relying too heavily on protein for energy can have drawbacks. Excess protein in the diet can place a strain on the liver and kidneys as they work to metabolize and eliminate the byproducts of protein breakdown. Additionally, the primary energy sources for dogs, such as carbohydrates and fats, are more efficiently metabolized for energy without the potential negative effects associated with excessive protein consumption.

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Protein requirements for different types of dogs

Protein requirements for dogs can vary based on several factors, including their age, activity level, size, and overall health. Different types and sizes of dogs may have varying protein needs. Here's a general guideline for protein requirements for various types and sizes of dogs:

Puppies protein requirements

Puppies have higher protein requirements compared to adult dogs because they are growing rapidly. Protein is essential for muscle and tissue development. Commercial puppy foods typically contain around 22-32% protein on a dry matter basis, but consult with your veterinarian for specific recommendations based on your puppy's breed and size.

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Adult dogs protein needs

Adult dogs have more stable protein requirements once they have reached their full size. The protein content in their diet can vary based on activity level and health. For most healthy adult dogs, a diet containing around 18-25% protein on a dry matter basis is generally suitable. Active dogs or working dogs may require slightly more protein, while less active dogs may require less.

Senior dogs protein needs

Senior dogs often require slightly less protein than adult dogs, as their activity levels tend to decrease with age. However, they still need high-quality protein to support muscle maintenance and overall health. A protein content of around 18-25% on a dry matter basis is usually appropriate for senior dogs. Senior-specific dog foods are available to meet their unique nutritional needs.

Large versus small dog protein needs

Large breed puppies have specific protein requirements to support their growth without promoting excessive rapid growth, which can be detrimental to their skeletal development. Look for puppy foods specially formulated for large breed puppies, with a protein content of around 22-25% on a dry matter basis. For large breed adult dogs, a protein content of around 18-22% is typically recommended to help maintain their musculoskeletal health.

Small breed dogs may have higher metabolic rates and may require slightly more protein than larger dogs of the same age. Commercial dog foods designed for small breed dogs often contain protein levels in the range of 22-32% on a dry matter basis.

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Working dogs and athletes

Working dogs, such as herding dogs, sled dogs, and agility dogs, as well as canine athletes, may have increased protein needs due to their high activity levels. These dogs may benefit from diets containing around 25-30% protein on a dry matter basis or more, depending on the intensity and duration of their activities.

Protein for dogs with specific health issues (e.g., kidney disease)

Dogs with specific health issues, such as kidney disease, pancreatitis, and certain allergies, may require special consideration when it comes to their protein intake. Here are some guidelines for dogs with these health issues:

Kidney Disease (Renal Disease):

Dogs with kidney disease often benefit from a diet with restricted protein content. This is because the kidneys may have difficulty processing and excreting excess nitrogen waste products from protein metabolism.

*Veterinary-prescribed renal diets are available with reduced protein levels and high-quality protein sources to support dogs with kidney issues. These diets are designed to minimize the workload on the kidneys while still providing essential amino acids and maintaining overall nutrition.


Dogs with pancreatitis should be on a low-fat diet to reduce the risk of triggering inflammation in the pancreas. While protein is not the primary concern in pancreatitis, it's essential to choose high-quality protein sources with lower fat content.

*Veterinary-prescribed low-fat diets are available and may include moderate protein levels to maintain overall health while addressing the pancreatitis issue.

Allergies and Food Sensitivities:

Dogs with food allergies or sensitivities may require a specialized diet with novel protein sources that they have not been exposed to before. Fun fact: the most common food allergen is actually chicken!

Limited-ingredient diets or hypoallergenic diets are formulated to provide protein while minimizing the risk of allergic reactions. Hypoallergenic diets contain limited ingredients, are usually grain free and utilize alternative protein sources like duck, fish, bison, hydrolyzed protein or venison. When exposed to these ingredients, an allergic dog’s immune system will not recognize the diet as a threat and is less likely to attack it.

*Your veterinarian can help determine the specific allergens your dog should avoid and recommend an appropriate diet.

Liver Disease:

Dogs with liver disease may require dietary adjustments to reduce the workload on the liver.

Protein levels may need to be moderate but still of high quality. Amino acids are crucial for liver function and repair.

*Veterinary guidance is essential for designing a diet that supports liver health while meeting nutritional needs.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):

Dogs with IBD may benefit from a diet with easily digestible proteins. Novel protein sources or hydrolyzed protein diets can be recommended to reduce the risk of flare-ups. Fiber content and other dietary factors may also need to be considered based on individual cases.

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Sources of protein found in dog food

The sources of protein in dog food play a pivotal role in maintaining our canine companions' overall health and well-being. Just as humans rely on a variety of protein sources for their dietary needs, dogs also benefit from a diverse range of proteins to support their muscle development, immune system function, and other essential physiological processes. Whether from animal or plant origins, these protein sources form the foundation of every dog's diet, and understanding them is key to ensuring our furry friends receive the nutrition they need for a long and vibrant life. 

Animal-based proteins

Animal-based proteins are a cornerstone of many high-quality dog foods, and for good reason. These proteins are derived from various animal sources, including meats, poultry, fish, and sometimes dairy products. They are not only rich in essential amino acids but also highly digestible for dogs, making them an excellent choice for promoting muscle development and overall health. 

Meat, such as chicken, beef, and lamb, is a primary source of animal-based protein in dog food. Poultry, like turkey and duck, provides lean protein options, while fish, such as salmon and whitefish, offers omega-3 fatty acids that support skin, coat, and joint health. 

Additionally, some dog foods incorporate animal by-products, such as organ meats, which are nutrient-dense and can contribute valuable vitamins and minerals to a dog's diet. Animal-based proteins not only satisfy a dog's carnivorous instincts but also provide essential nutrients that help dogs thrive.

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Plant-based proteins

Plant-based proteins have gained popularity as an alternative protein source in some commercial dog foods, catering to dogs with specific dietary needs or those living in households with a preference for vegetarian or vegan options. These proteins are primarily sourced from plants like soy, peas, lentils, and grains such as rice or oats. 

While they may not be as naturally complete in terms of amino acid profiles as animal-based proteins, plant-based proteins can still provide essential nutrients for dogs. They offer a lower fat content and can be easier on the digestive system, making them suitable for dogs with sensitivities or allergies to animal proteins. 

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Insect-based proteins

Insect-based proteins are emerging as an innovative and sustainable option in the world of dog food. These proteins are derived from insects like crickets, mealworms, and black soldier flies. Insect-based dog foods are gaining popularity due to their eco-friendly nature and impressive nutritional profile. Insects are rich in essential amino acids, making their protein content highly digestible and suitable for promoting muscle growth and overall canine health. 

Additionally, insect-based diets offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional meat sources, as they require significantly less land, water, and resources for production. They also have a lower environmental impact, emitting fewer greenhouse gases compared to livestock farming. As such, insect-based proteins align with the growing concern for sustainable and ethical pet food choices. 

While insect-based dog foods are still relatively new to the market, they represent a promising option for environmentally conscious pet owners and may become more prevalent as our understanding of their benefits continues to grow.

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Protein quality and bioavailability

Protein quality and bioavailability in dog food are critical factors in ensuring that your canine companion receives the necessary nutrients for optimal health. These factors determine how efficiently a dog's body can use the protein in its diet.

Protein Quality

Protein quality refers to the amino acid profile and digestibility of the protein source. High-quality proteins contain a balanced mix of essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. These amino acids cannot be synthesized by a dog's body and must be obtained through their diet. Animal-based proteins, such as those from meat, poultry, and fish, are typically considered high-quality because they provide a complete amino acid profile that closely matches a dog's nutritional needs. Some plant-based proteins can also be of high quality when they are properly balanced and supplemented with essential amino acids.


Bioavailability measures how well a dog's body can absorb and utilize the protein in its diet. Highly bioavailable protein sources are efficiently digested and absorbed, ensuring that a dog can access the essential amino acids and nutrients they provide. Animal-based proteins are generally more bioavailable than most plant-based proteins. This is because they are more easily digested due to their amino acid profiles, which are better suited to a dog's digestive system.

Protein Sources

The source of protein in dog food matters. High-quality animal proteins are often the preferred choice because they provide complete amino acid profiles and are highly digestible. However, some dogs may have dietary restrictions or allergies that require alternative protein sources. In such cases, plant-based proteins like soy, peas, and lentils can be used if properly balanced and supplemented with essential nutrients.

Processing Methods:

The processing methods used in dog food production can impact protein quality and bioavailability. Overprocessing or overheating can denature proteins, reducing their quality. It's essential to choose dog foods that use gentle cooking methods to preserve the integrity of the protein sources.

Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is key to ensuring that a dog receives the right amount of high-quality protein and other essential nutrients. Different dogs have varying protein requirements based on factors like age, activity level, and health. Consulting with a veterinarian or professional animal nutritionist can help determine the appropriate protein sources and levels for your specific dog's needs.

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Proteins to avoid feed your dog

While protein is essential for a dog's diet, there are certain protein sources and specific types of protein-rich foods that should be avoided or used sparingly due to potential health risks or allergenic properties. Here are some proteins to be cautious about when feeding your dog:

Meat and bone meal

The quality and source of meat and bone meal can vary widely. It may contain parts of animals that are considered unfit for human consumption, including by-products, waste, or even diseased animals. The source and processing methods are critical factors in determining the safety and quality of the meal.

The digestibility of nutrients in meat and bone meal can vary, and it may not be as easily absorbed by a dog's digestive system compared to high-quality protein sources like lean meat. Furthermore, ​​the nutritional content of meat and bone meal can be inconsistent, making it challenging to ensure that dogs receive consistent and adequate nutrition. This variability can lead to nutrient deficiencies or excesses.

Excessive Liver

While liver is a nutritious organ meat, excessive consumption can lead to vitamin A toxicity, which can be harmful to dogs. Limit liver treats or supplements to appropriate levels.

Soy Protein

Some dogs may be allergic or sensitive to soy, and excessive soy protein in their diet can lead to digestive upset and allergies. It's advisable to choose alternative protein sources if your dog has soy sensitivities.

Processed Meats

Highly processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausages, and deli meats, often contain excessive amounts of salt, preservatives, and additives that can be harmful to dogs. These foods should be avoided or offered sparingly.

High-Fat Meats

While some fat in a dog's diet is necessary, excessively fatty meats like pork or fatty cuts of beef can lead to pancreatitis, a painful and potentially life-threatening condition.

Raw protein

Feeding dogs a completely raw diet, including raw meat, carries several health risks, including the potential for bacterial contamination, nutrient imbalances, and an increased risk of choking or injury from bones.

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Can dogs have too much protein?

Yes, dogs can have too much protein in their diet. While protein is essential, excessive protein intake can strain the kidneys and liver, potentially leading to health issues. It's crucial to balance protein with a dog's specific needs based on factors like age, activity level, and health. 

Commercial dog food that is excessively high in protein can have negative consequences for several reasons. Dogs can only absorb a threshold amount of protein in their food. Therefore commercial diets that are over supplemented in protein are essentially contributing to expensive poops. This is because dogs are not able to digest and absorb all of the protein in their food and it is ultimately excreted. Furthermore, high-protein commercial dog foods are often more expensive than moderate-protein options, which can be financially burdensome for pet owners. Look for dog food that is ideally between 20-35% crude protein.

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Protein Content in Dog Food Labels

Protein content is a crucial aspect of dog food labels that informs pet owners about the nutritional composition of the product. It is typically expressed as a percentage and represents the amount of protein in the food relative to its total weight. The protein content listed on dog food labels can vary significantly between different products, ranging from around 18% to 32% or more. 

The protein source and quality also play a vital role in determining a dog food's nutritional value. High-quality dog foods often feature animal-based proteins, such as chicken, beef, or fish, which provide essential amino acids and are highly digestible. Protein content is a key consideration when selecting dog food, as it should align with your dog's age, activity level, and specific dietary needs.

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Understanding the guaranteed analysis

Understanding the protein content listed in the guaranteed analysis on a pet food label is crucial for assessing the nutritional value of the food you're considering for your pet. The guaranteed analysis provides a breakdown of various nutrient levels in the dog food, including protein. Here's how to interpret it:

  • Percentage Value: The protein content is expressed as a percentage in the guaranteed analysis. For example, if the label states "Crude Protein (min) 26%," it means that the food contains at least 26% protein by weight. This percentage represents the minimum amount of protein present in the food.
  • "Crude" Protein: The term "crude" indicates that the protein content is measured in a specific way, typically by analyzing the nitrogen content and then converting it to protein using a conversion factor. It does not provide information about the quality or digestibility of the protein.
  • "Minimum" Value: The term "minimum" in the guaranteed analysis indicates the lowest level of protein that the food is expected to contain. In most cases, the actual protein content may be higher than the minimum value.
  • Comparison Across Brands: You can use the protein percentage to compare different dog food brands and formulations. Keep in mind that dogs have varying protein requirements based on factors like age, activity level, and health, so it's essential to choose a food that aligns with your specific dog's needs.
  • Protein Sources: While the guaranteed analysis provides the overall protein content, it doesn't specify the sources of protein in the food. High-quality dog foods often list specific protein sources, such as "chicken meal" or "salmon," which can help you assess the protein's quality and digestibility.
  • Balance with Other Nutrients: Protein is just one of several nutrients your dog needs. Consider the balance of protein with other essential nutrients, such as fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, to ensure the food provides a well-rounded diet for your pet.

Differentiating dry matter versus as fed values on a guaranteed analysis

Identifying the difference between "as fed" and "dry matter" on a pet food label is essential for understanding the nutritional composition of the food. These two terms provide different perspectives on nutrient content, helping pet owners make informed decisions about their pets' diets:

  • As Fed (As Is): "As fed" represents the nutrient content of the pet food in its natural state, including the moisture content. It is how the food is typically packaged and sold. This measurement considers both the dry matter (nutrients) and the moisture content (water) present in the food. The moisture content can vary significantly between wet and dry pet foods. The "as fed" values are useful for understanding the nutritional content of the food as it is consumed by the pet without any additional preparation. For instance, canned dog food is usually sold "as fed" because it contains a significant amount of moisture.
  • Dry Matter: "Dry matter" refers to the nutrient content of the pet food with all moisture removed, typically expressed on a percentage basis. This calculation allows for a direct comparison of nutrient levels between pet foods with varying moisture content. To calculate the dry matter content, you subtract the percentage of moisture from 100%. For example, if a pet food label lists crude protein as 10% and moisture as 70%, the dry matter protein content would be calculated as (100% - 70% moisture) = 30% protein on a dry matter basis.

Comparing pet foods on a dry matter basis can help pet owners assess the nutrient content more accurately, especially when comparing wet and dry pet foods. Understanding the difference between "as fed" and "dry matter" is crucial for comparing and selecting the right pet food for your pet's specific needs. When comparing nutrient values, particularly between different types of pet food (wet vs. dry), it's advisable to use dry matter values for a more accurate assessment.

Reading ingredient lists to identify protein source

Reading the ingredient list on pet food labels is crucial for identifying the protein source and understanding the overall quality of the food you're considering for your pet. Here's how to best read and interpret ingredient lists to find the protein source:

  • Start with the First Ingredient: Ingredients on pet food labels are listed in descending order by weight, with the heaviest ingredient listed first. Look for a high-quality source of protein as the primary ingredient. This could be a specific meat, poultry, or fish source (e.g., "chicken," "beef," "salmon").
  • Pay Attention to Meat Meals: Meat meals, such as "chicken meal" or "lamb meal," are concentrated sources of protein and often appear early in the ingredient list. These are highly processed and contain minimal moisture, making them a valuable protein source.
  • Look for Named Proteins: Quality pet foods often specify the protein source with a named ingredient, such as "deboned chicken" or "salmon meal." These named sources are preferred over generic terms like "meat" or "poultry by-products."
  • Beware of By-Products: Ingredients like "poultry by-products" or "meat by-products" can be of lower quality and may include parts like organs, beaks, and feet. They should not be the primary protein source in the food.
  • Check for Whole Grains: While grains are not protein sources, they can contribute to overall protein content in pet food. Whole grains like brown rice or oatmeal may be included, but they should not overshadow the primary protein source.
  • Avoid Fillers: Look out for low-quality fillers like corn, wheat, and soy, which can be used to dilute the protein content. These ingredients offer limited nutritional value for pets.
  • Consider Limited Ingredients: If your pet has allergies or sensitivities, consider foods with limited ingredient lists. These typically feature a single protein source and minimal additional ingredients.
  • Check for Added Supplements: Quality pet foods often include added vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to ensure complete and balanced nutrition. This is a sign of a well-formulated diet.
  • Look for Transparency: Some brands provide more information about their sourcing and production processes on the label or website. Transparency can help you make an informed decision.
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Take home message

In conclusion, protein in pet food is undeniably one of the most vital components when it comes to our pets' nutrition and well-being. Whether your four-legged friend is a playful pup, a sprightly senior, or somewhere in between, the quality and source of protein play a pivotal role in maintaining their overall health and vitality. 

As responsible pet owners, our choice of protein sources in their food should align with their age, activity level, dietary needs, and any specific health concerns they may have. Whether it's animal-based proteins like chicken, beef, or fish, plant-based alternatives, or even innovative insect-based options, understanding protein in pet food empowers us to make informed decisions for our beloved companions. 

By carefully reading ingredient lists, considering nutritional labels, and consulting with veterinarians or pet nutrition experts, we can ensure that our pets receive the protein-rich diets they need to thrive and lead happy, healthy lives by our side.

3 bowls of dog food on the kitchen floor; kibble, fresh and raw foods
3 bowls of dog food on the kitchen floor; kibble, fresh and raw foods

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de Brito, Cleusa Bernardete Marcon, Ananda Portella Félix, Rogério Moreto de Jesus, Marcelo Ivan de França, Simone Gisele de Oliveira, Everton Luis Krabbe, and Alex Maiorka. "Digestibility and palatability of dog foods containing different moisture levels, and the inclusion of a mould inhibitor." Animal feed science and technology 159, no. 3-4 (2010): 150-155.

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