Why dogs need protein

The importance of protein in a dogs diet

Protein plays an important role in ensuring a healthy, balanced, nutritional diet for dogs, and it is necessary to allow a dog’s body to function properly. 

Why is it important?

Protein is essential for the body for many reasons, these include :

  • Healthy growth of hair
  • Healthy growth of nails
  • Healthy growth of skin cells
  • Development of muscle tissue
  • Building and repairing muscles
  • Organ health
  • Sufficient volume of blood to heal and prevent injuries
  • Maintain a healthy immune system
  • Aids in creating hormones
  • Aids in creating essential enzymes
  • Aids in creating antibodies
  • Energy source

As with all necessary nutrients, protein requirements can vary depending on the dog’s activity level and life stage.  For example, a working dog or a dog with a high activity level will require higher protein intake to maintain healthy bodily function as they will use more energy.  Large breed dogs will require a higher protein intake to ensure healthy muscle mass and bodily function.  Dogs who are injured will require a higher protein intake to aid in healing and pregnant or lactating dogs will also, to meet their bodies extra needs.

Risks of Protein deficiency

Fats should be the main source of energy for a dog, but when certain nutrients may be lacking, the body can use the protein to produce energy where needed.  As meat protein generally comes with fat, the body will use the fat first as a source of energy, and then the protein as a last resort.  If the body is forced to use protein as an energy source, this can cause the body to become protein deficient. 

Protein deficiency in dogs can cause many issues which include : 

  • Reduced growth rate
  • Poor coat
  • Skin conditions
  • Brittle hair
  • Anorexia
  • Anaemia
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Reproductive problems
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Longer healing times for illness or injury 

As well as health issues, the amount of protein in the diet can be linked to causing behaviour issues, or changes in mood.  Tryptophan is one of the essential amino acids required and helps to maintain healthy mood and behaviour.  A lack of, or low level of tryptophan, can cause a dog to become depressed, anxious, stressed or even aggressive.   This is because Tryptophan is essential in maintaining the levels of serotonin.  Serotonin is a hormone which transmits the signal between nerve cells and is responsible for regulating mood, behaviour and aids sleep. 

Types of Protein

Complete protein

The main source of protein in a dog’s diet should come from animal protein, this is what is known as a complete protein source.  Sources of complete protein include meat, fish, eggs and some dairy products. 

Incomplete protein 

Protein can also be sourced from plant matter such as grains, soybean, corn, wheat, maize, potato and vegetable protein, but these are classed as incomplete protein as they do not include all of the essential amino acids required by dogs.  Sources of incomplete protein are harder for the body to digest so should not be the main source of protein, a lower level of protein should be fed if from an incomplete source and essential amino acids will still need to be added to the diet.

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