Updated: Jul 31, 2022
Protein is one of the main building blocks when it comes to pet nutrition - it's a super important part of your fur babe's diet! Unfortunately, many of the protein sources in pet foods are inadequate. Keep reading to get clarity around why protein matters and how to ensure your fur babe is getting what they need to thrive.
What is protein?
Protein is found in every organism - plant and animal. And it's actually one of the major components of your dog's or cat's bodily structure.
Protein is made up of 23 amino acids. All of the 23 amino acids are important for animals to thrive, but there are various amino acids that must be provided in your fur babe's diet (10 for dogs, 11 for cat).
Animals will either utilise amino acids as a direct energy source or they will be converted to glycogen or fat for energy storage.
Unfortunately, many of the protein sources used in pet foods are inadequate. Whilst every food contains protein, not all protein is equal.
What dictates protein quality is the presence or absence of essential amino acids and the digestibility of the protein.
When your pet eats protein, it's broken down into individual amino acids. These amino acids are then utilised to build body tissues such as skin, bones, muscles, fur, nails etc. They're also used by the body to make metabolic enzymes that are essential to bodily functions eg immune system regulation.
Common protein sources in mainstream pet foods include meat proteins, fish, eggs, soy protein, pea protein, feathers, corn, gluten, wheat, etc.
Not all of these are biologically available or digestible by your fur babe.
The biological availability or digestibility of protein matters. If your pet isn't able to properly digest the proteins in their food, their body won't be able to use them for essential bodily functions, like:
repairing and building tissue;
increasing chemical reactions in the body for essential metabolic processes eg digestion;
cell, tissue and organ communication;
forming the connective framework for bodily structures;
regulating the concentrations of acids and bases in bodily fluids eg blood;
maintaining fluid balance;
forming antibodies to fight infection;
transporting and storing nutrients;
Cooking proteins at high temperatures (like what's done in the production of kibble and canned foods) also reduces bioavailability.
Which proteins are best?
The best proteins for your fur babe are those that have the highest biological value. These are going to be the easiest for your pet's body to break down and utilise.
Proteins from animal sources have the highest biological value for cats and dogs (with raw, whole preparations being the best). They're also more palatable for your fur babe.
But, if you're feeding your fur babe processed food like kibble, you need to pay particular attention to the ingredient list. It's not enough that the first ingredient is an animal protein. To ensure the meal contains bioavailable protein, the second ingredient also needs to be an animal protein source (not a grain like corn, wheat or a processed plant protein that's derived from soy or peas for example).
Can you feed too much protein?
There are circumstances where you can feed your fur babe too much protein. This will depend on their age, metabolism, activity level, lifestyle etc.
Protein is an essential part of your fur babe's diet.
The quality of the protein you feed your fur babe matters.
The best proteins for your fur babe are those that have the highest biological value.
Proteins from animal sources have the highest biological value for cats and dogs (with raw, whole preparations being the best).
Most commercial pet foods contain low quality protein ie proteins with low biological value.
You can feed too much protein but this will depend on the quality (high vs low biological value) and your pet's individual requirements.