Do Pets Need A High-Protein Diet?

Protein in the diet is crucial to the sustainability of every life function of pets. The digestive process breaks down protein into amino acids that are then absorbed into the bloodstream and utilized by the body to repair tissues, build muscles, support function of the immune system, create enzymes and hormones, and other physiological functions. Protein is also a major component of the skin, nails, hair coat, cartilage, and connective tissues.

What are amino acids?

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are the simplest form of protein that can be absorbed and used in the body. There are two general categories of amino acids--

1. Essential amino acids
These are amino acids that the body is unable to produce in quantities that pets require and must be supplied in the diet.

Essential Amino Acids For Dogs

Essential Amino Acids For Cats

Arginine

Arginine

Histidine

Histidine

Isoleucine

Isoleucine

Leucine

Leucine

Lysine

Lysine

Methionine

Methionine

Phenylalanine

Phenylalanine

Threonine

Threonine

Tryptophan

Tryptophan

Valine

Valine

Taurine

As you can see from the table above, dogs and cats have similar needs for specific essential amino acids except for taurine in cats. Taurine deficiency in cats can lead to serious health issues including blindness, heart failure, and poor immune response, to name a few. Cats must eat meat because a few of their essential amino acids, especially taurine and arginine, can only be obtained from meat. Cats also use protein as an energy source for various bodily processes.

2. Non-essential amino acids
These amino acids can be synthesized in the body of the animal, usually from other amino acids or dietary components.

How much protein is enough for pets?

The protein requirement of pets varies depending on their species, life stage, and activity level. Protein quality and digestibility are also important factors when it comes to your pet’s protein intake. Being true carnivores, cats need more protein than dogs.

More protein is needed in the diet of kittens and puppies to meet their body’s needs for growth and development. Pregnant and nursing pets will also require more protein, as well as dogs that are engaged in performance sports and competition. Certain health issues, like severe kidney or liver disease, calls for dietary protein restriction.

A typical high protein dry food diet for dogs will constitute a guaranteed protein percentage of at least 28% while a typical high protein dry food diet for cats will constitute a guaranteed protein percentage of at least 40%.

An example of a dog food with high protein percentage would be Nutrience SubZero Grain Free Canadian Pacific Dog Food.

Do dogs need high-protein food?

Being omnivores, dogs thrive with a balanced and complete diet composed of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Excessive protein consumption is not recommended for dogs, more so in those with specific medical conditions that can worsen when high levels of protein are consumed. A dog that goes out daily for walks or runs and plays a lot will need more protein in their diet than a dog that stays home all day. Puppies also have a higher protein requirement than adults because their bodies are still growing and developing.

Although protein is a vital nutrient in many physical and physiological functions of the body, eating more protein doesn’t always equate to better health. Optimal health is achieved with good quality protein coupled with a balance of other essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Dogs that will benefit from a high-protein dog food

  • Dogs that need to lose a few extra pounds

A veterinarian may recommend switching the diet of overweight or obese dogs to reduced-calorie, high-protein dog food. Studies have shown that this type of diet can help burn excess fats and calories which can help dogs to regain normal healthy weight. Also, a diet that is high in protein while lower in calories makes dogs feel full longer so they won’t crave for food.

  • Senior dogs

Senior pets need a slightly higher level of protein in their diet than regular adult dog food in order to avoid muscle wasting and help maintain their ideal body condition. However, do take note not to feed a high protein diet excessively. Just like humans, your pet's organs will deteriorate as they get old. Feeding excessive protein will put a strain on your pet's organs. In addition, if your dog or cat has kidney or liver issues, consuming too much protein can increase the workload on these organs and worsen the issue.

  • Canine athletes

Dogs that live an active lifestyle, such as those that are engaged in sports or have regular jobs, will need more protein to support muscle growth and recovery.

  • Puppies

Growing puppies benefit from the extra diet in their food to help them grow and develop.

  • Dogs that are pregnant or nursing

A nutrient-dense diet that also contains high-caloric quantity can be extra helpful for pregnant or nursing dogs.

Benefits of a high-protein diet for cats

  • It mimics the natural diet of their ancestors as cats are obligate carnivores. Cats thrive with a diet that contains adequate quantities of meat-based protein sources.
  • A high-protein diet reduces the risk of diabetes.
  • There is a reduced risk of obesity as protein improves satiety making the cat feel fuller longer.

As always, an important thing to remember when it comes to your pet’s diet and nutritional needs, consult your veterinarian or pet nutritionist.