Homemade Diet Series: Protein in the Diet

Protein in the Canine Homemade Diet:

Wild canines consume a high protein diet. This is not a surprise, since the diet of wild dogs is largely made up of hunted prey. While many argue that dogs naturally will also consume other foods, such as grasses and berries, the vast majority of the calories in the diet are from meat and bone. Despite this, commercial dog foods and many recipes for homemade diets are grain based, and consequently have much less protein than a dog’s natural diet. With this being said, many dogs do quite well on diets that are lower in protein than the diets of their ancestors. These leaves owners wondering how much protein they should be feeding their dogs when preparing a homemade diet. Hopefully, this post can help provide direction on how much protein our dogs really need.

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Protein is one of the most important components of a healthful diet.

Why is Protein important?

Dogs require protein to live. Specifically, dogs need 10 amino acids that are found in proteins. (http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/banr/miscellaneous/dog_nutrition_final_fix.pdf). The ten amino acids that dogs must get from their diet are arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. (Some studies suggest that some dog breeds also need taurine from their diet). These serve as the building blocks for the tissues in your dog’s body.

What are the Best Sources of Protein for Dogs?

Some foods are better sources of protein than others. Animal products are the most digestible forms of protein for your dog. While dogs can survive on well planned vegetarian diets, logically it doesn’t make sense to feed an animal that was designed to eat the flesh of other animals a diet of beans and rice. Animal proteins contain all the amino acids your dog needs in a biologically available form. Vegetable proteins can be combined to provide the same amino acids, but again, dogs are meant to eat other animals.

Above I mentioned that studies are now showing that some dogs suffer from taurine deficiency. Taurine is not always considered an essential amino acid for dogs, but certain breeds or dogs with certain health conditions may not be able to produce enough taurine in their own bodies to support their needs. American Cocker Spaniels and Newfoundlands seem to be susceptible to this, especially if they have heart problems (https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/cardiovascular/c_dg_taurine_deficiency). Taurine is not found in plants, so the only ways for a dog to get this amino acid is from animal sources.

Minimum Protein Requirements of Dogs:

The National Research Council (NRC) is an agency that provides information on what dogs and cats need from their diet. The AAFCO also preforms this function, but the NRC tends to update their requirements more frequently, so we will look at their recommendations.

According to the NRC, an adult dog weighing 33 lbs. should get at least 25 grams of protein daily (http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/banr/miscellaneous/dog_nutrition_final_fix.pdf). For reference, this is the amount of protein found in 3 ounces of grilled chicken breast. Recommendations change according to the life stage and activity level of the animal, but for this post we will only be looking at adult dog requirements. This is the minimum, and there is no recorded safe upper limit to protein, meaning your dog can’t overdose on protein in the way that he could consume a toxic dose of vitamin A. This doesn’t mean a dog can eat as much high protein food as he likes, because eating too much of anything will cause him to gain weight. It does mean that much more of a dog’s calories can come from high protein foods, and there is no hurt in exceeding the minimum requirement. Instead,

Optimal Protein Levels for Dogs:

How much protein your dog needs to survive and how much he needs to thrive are different matters. Studies have repeatedly shown that dogs do well on high amounts of protein. From my own experience with my dogs, I can honestly say that my dogs seem to do better with lots of good sources of animal protein. This is logical considering that dogs have the dental structure and digestive systems designed to handle large amount of animal products (Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs). Giving an exact number of grams of protein that is optimal for your dog is difficult since, as stated above, there is no safe upper limit to protein in a dog’s diet. Generally with protein, it is better to err on the side of more rather than less. Feeding your dog a diet that is made up of at least 50% animal products will assure that they get more than enough protein (http://www.dogaware.com/diet/homemade.html). Wonderful sources of animal protein include red meat, poultry, eggs, fish, dairy, and organ meats. You can always feed more animal products in relation to other ingredients.

If more Protein is Better, why all the Grains?

Since animal products are so beneficial for dogs, many owners are confused as to why the majority of commercial dog foods are plant based. I think the main reason for using more plant products as opposed to animal products in pet food is to keep prices down. This is understandable as many people are limited in how much they can afford to spend on pet food (See Dog Food on a Budget). While using grains and starchy carbs to reduce the cost of food is understandable and even reasonable, is seems wrong to pretend that these ingredients are superior to animal products.


Dogs were designed to eat a high protein diet. Feeding more rather than less protein whenever possible works well for most healthy dogs. While plant products can form part of a well balanced diet for dogs, animal products are the premier source of protein and other nutrients that your dog needs to thrive.

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