Dog Protein
October 31, 2010 2:42 PM   Subscribe

How do I decide the protein level I want in my dog food?

I'm about to switch my dog over from puppy food to adult dog food and it seems like there's wide variance in protein levels among the fancy brands. Canidae and Innova are down at 24%, Blue Wilderness and Wellness Core are 34%, and Orijen is 40%. Seems like a broad spectrum. Aside from just trying one and seeing how my dog does on it, is there any way to determine what's right for her? (She's about 55 lbs, a flat-coated mutt that looks like a retriever/spaniel/aussie shepherd, and she has a pretty normal activity level for a city dog).
posted by malhouse to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
40% is really high, I'd say unless your dog is an actual working dog (ie sled dog, guide dog, sheep dog, etc) that she does not need that much protein. Unlike cats, who can metabolize pure protein, dogs are true omnivores and absolutely need carbohydrates.

Of course, you still want to avoid cheap fillers like corn and wheat (although it sounds like you know that already because of the brands you are considering) but any food with a good mix of fruits and veggies and real meat (try to avoid meat "meal") should be good. Puppy food is higher in protein and fat than adult dog food- you might try giving her the higher protein adult food for now to make the transition less noticeable, and then if you find she is gaining too much weight, switch to a lower protein food.

My dog sometimes gets grain-free food (which is always higher protein because a bigger source of the ingredients is meat, usually) and I find if I feed it to her consistently, she gains noticeable amounts of weight. Evo even makes a low-fat grain free formula that is 54% protein, which is just insane (unless you're feeding sled dogs!).
posted by Aubergine at 4:02 PM on October 31, 2010

Dogs are carnivores, I would expect that they need their protein levels in the food to be pretty high. But you also need to make sure it is the right kind of protein- it has to have the right kinds of amino acids.

Just for grins, what are the protein levels in your standard Purina Dog Chow or Iams?
posted by gjc at 4:03 PM on October 31, 2010

real meat (try to avoid meat "meal")

I think you are mixing up a generic meat meal (i.e. "meat meal" or "poultry meal"), which IS an inferior ingredient, with an identified meat meal (i.e. "lamb meal" or "chicken meal"), which is a very high-quality ingredient (in dry dog food). Meal is the meat without the water, and since ingredients are listed by weight, you get more bang for your buck with a meat meal in dry food. More info here.

Most dogs thrive on a high protein and low carb diet, but the best food is the one your dog does best on. I tend to think that it's the quality of the ingredients and their ratios that really matters most. My dogs do best on grain-free foods.
posted by biscotti at 4:21 PM on October 31, 2010

unless your dog has a history of digestive issues, i honestly don't think you could go wrong with any of those brands. i have a 5 year old weimaraner and i've been feeding him innova since he was a baby. (fwiw, puppy food is sort of a gimmick; a puppy is just as able to eat adult food as adult dogs are.) due to the company buyout of natura pet, we recently (and i mean, just this week) switched over to orijen. he's had no problems with it. in fact, he pretty much gobbles it down whereas with the innova, he would eat it throughout the day. i am also feeding him less of the orijen (as recommended by their guidelines) than i was the innova.
posted by violetk at 4:24 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unlike cats, who can metabolize pure protein, dogs are true omnivores and absolutely need carbohydrates.

Aubergine, this concept was debunked by newer research (c1990, IIRC) into wolves' diets (which share 99.8% of their DNA with the subspecies of gray wolves known as "dogs"). Dogs are at least 98% pure carnivores, with any plant carb intake probably accidental.

And dogs can metabolize pure protein into their bodies' necessary carbs, just as cats can.

Ergo, higher protein* = probably better for dogs (*where higher means w.r.t. carb content; dogs still need fats and minerals and fiber from bones or other sources).
posted by IAmBroom at 10:14 PM on October 31, 2010

Dogs are at least 98% pure carnivores, with any plant carb intake probably accidental.
Wolves are at least 98% pure carnivores, with any plant carb intake probably accidental.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:15 PM on October 31, 2010

For any declarative statement about what's good/bad/worse/better regarding any aspect of dog nutrition you can usually find an equally compelling argument from an equally convincing source stating the opposite... and it's very frustrating!

I home-cook because until recently there was literally no high-quality dog food that I could find locally (now we have a couple of choices), so I've had to read an awful lot about dog nutrition and, honestly, it makes my head spin. I resolve this issue for myself by monitoring my dog's health, not sticking slavishly to a single formulation, introducing a lot of variety, and of course using all human-grade, high quality, fresh ingredients. If I were feeding commercial and had a full range of choices, I think I would vary high-quality brands so my dog wasn't eating just one kind of food. My logic is that a) this means I'm not relying on only one single formula for a perfect protein/carb/fat etc. ratio, b) in the case of contaminated foods/recalls, the exposure will be less in a dog who is only eating this certain food as a third or fourth of his/her overall diet, and c) that in the case that the dog's diet needed to be adjusted for health considerations, he or she wouldn't be so used to one food that this would become problematic.

The downside is that I imagine that it would make an elimination diet to pinpoint the reason for an allergy or reaction more complicated. I'd also keep a close eye on Google news for "dog food" and "recall" and /or check the FDA site.

I generally agree with the higher protein, fewer grains crowd, but I have no idea if that's optimum. Of course there is value in observing the diets of wild canids, but we need to remember that they expend more energy than our domestic dogs, and they don't eat every day, either — so I'm not convinced that we should try to replicate that diet too blindly. For my "handrolled," I feed a lot of variety and don't slavishly stick to any one formulation, but generally follow these guidelines from biscotti's linked site above, and keep an eye on how my dog is doing. (She's doing great; no allergies or skin problems, good weight, no puking, good poop, good energy, good attitude, good/fast healer.)

As to gjc's comment, Just for grins, what are the protein levels in your standard Purina Dog Chow or Iams?The Dog Food Project points out that:
It is critical to stress that the term "crude protein" is used in the guaranteed analysis, which means there is no statement whatsoever as to its digestibility. Protein comes in many forms, even shoe leather, chicken feathers or cow hooves have a fairly high crude protein content, but the body is only able to extract and process very little of it, at the price of a lot of work and stress to do so.

Due to this labeling issue (only one of many, many others), the percentage of protein in a food by itself doesn't say anything at all. Ingredient lists are not 100% straightforward and truthful either, but at least you can somewhat gauge if there's even any quality protein in there at all.

Just to illustrate once again by example, let's say we have two foods which have the same percentages of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber and moisture. Food A contains 25% protein that is 60% digestible and food B contains 25% protein that is 85% digestible. That means of food A the body is able to utilize 15% of the protein content, but of food B 21.25%. Logically, to meet the body's requirement of protein, you'd have to feed more of food A than of food B, and the body of the dog eating food B will have to work less to utilize it.
As points out about Purina Dog Chow:
Meat and bone meal is an extremely low quality ingredient. It is the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. We would have greater confidence in this ingredient as fertilizer than as a dog food ingredient [HAH!].
and also that "Soybean meal boosts the protein content of the food, but Soy is a product we prefer not to see used in dog foods, especially this high on the ingredient list. Soy is a very common cause of food allergy problems, and although boosting the (otherwise minimal) protein content of this food, it is very low quality protein compared to that sourced from meat."

So percentage of protein can be very misleading; it's important to find high-quality protein at the percentage you prefer.

Some of the resources that I use to puzzle through these things are the aforementioned Dog Food Project and, and The Whole Dog Journal (mostly subscription, though there are some free articles; this one can be useful for coming up with your own customized feeding considerations). Basically, though, opinions vary — just as in optimum diet/nutrition for humans — so it's best just to pay attention to your dog's health and reactions and (I believe) don't put all your eggs in one basket.
posted by taz (staff) at 7:15 AM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

In case there isn't a way to tell, I can give you my experience with Orijen - it was such a positive step with my dog that I made my parents switch (I bought them the food) and they've seen positive effects too. The point of that is more to say that we haven't noticed any too much protein side effects - although I guess I don't know what those would be. Both dogs are non-working/average activity, a little smaller than yours, good health. I switched from Halo, which was not bad.

Mine will overeat it if you let them, so if you don't feed set amounts you'll probably have to start or risk them gobbling it all up.

Also, I sent you a MeMail.
posted by mrs. taters at 9:02 AM on November 1, 2010

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