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How Much Protein does my Pet Need?
Protein is a critical nutrient for cats and dogs and their dietary
need depends upon many factors including their weight, life stage and
whether it is breeding. Cats need more protein in their food than dogs
and they have a specific need for taurine (an amino acid derivative) in
their diet due to their metabolic differences and this is reflected in
the different formulation and protein content in prepared cat foods
compared with dog foods.
Proteins are large molecules containing hundreds, or in some cases,
thousands of smaller units called amino acids (think of it like a necklace
of beads). There are around 20 different types of amino acids that can be
strung together into a huge number of different proteins. Dogs and cats
need protein in their food to obtain amino acids.
The dog or cat cannot make all the amino acids they require and must
consume enough of certain amino acids in their food. These are called
"essential amino acids" and there are some 10 essential amino acids for the
dog and cat. The type of amino acids and how they are "strung together" in
each protein determines the individual properties and function of each
protein within the body.
It's not just the amount; the source of the protein is important too
Proteins from animal tissues, such as eggs, fish, poultry and meat are
considered good sources of proteins providing a range of essential amino
acids. The dog or cat digests these proteins in their food, breaking them
up into smaller units (peptides) and their component amino acids, absorbing
these into their body and then using these amino acids to rebuild new
complex proteins that the dog or cat needs to make.
If the food provides enough protein to meet the dog or cat's needs,
providing even more protein does not provide any substantial benefit. It
should be recognised that growth and reproduction can increase the protein
requirements of animals and many owners choose to feed foods with elevated
protein levels in these cases. The changes in protein requirements for pets
at different lifestages are discussed later in this article.
Understanding the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, selecting appropriate
ingredients and producing pet foods with the appropriate protein content for
the dog or cat are important considerations for manufacturers of quality
prepared pet foods.
The protein should be easily digested and absorbed
The ease with which a dog or cat can digest the protein depends on the
source of the protein and the processing of the food.
Protein digestibility means how much of the protein eaten is actually able
to be absorbed and used by the pet. Animal proteins, such as egg, milk and
meat proteins are generally good sources of highly digestible proteins
providing a good range of essential amino acids for the dog and cat.
Proteins are also found in cereals (e.g corn, rice) and legumes including
peas or soybeans. In prepared pet foods, manufacturers generally select a
variety of raw materials to provide the required amount and type of protein
needed by the dog or cat.
Manufacturers of good quality pet foods understand the importance of
protein, processing and quality control of the production processes and
manage these to provide nutritious foods for dogs and cats.
Animals use excess protein for energy
The protein in foods such as egg, meat or cereals are digested by the dog
or cat and the amino acids which make up these proteins are absorbed into the
bloodstream of the animal. The dog or cat uses these amino acids to build new
proteins that it needs and some essential amino acids are converted to
different amino acids (dispensable) that are needed. It might be proteins for
muscle, blood, skin, enzymes used in metabolism, hair growth or any number of
other proteins made by the animal. Any excess amino acids that are consumed and
absorbed by the dog
or cat, that are not converted into these new proteins are not stored to
any great extent in the body nor used to make even more muscle tissue.
Instead they are processed in the liver to produce energy (calories) that
can be used by the dog or cat and a waste product called urea, which is
excreted from the body in the urine.
Protein requirements are different for dogs and cats and for different
Protein requirements depend on an animal's species (dog or cat),
bodyweight, lifestage and whether it is breeding. Cats have a specific need
for taurine (an amino acid derivative) in their diet and they need
considerably more total protein in their food than dogs due to their
metabolic differences and this is reflected in the different formulation
and protein content in prepared cat foods compared with dog foods.
Pregnant, lactating or rapidly growing animals may need extra protein in
their diet and manufacturers offer a range of prepared pet foods
specifically formulated to meet these nutritional needs at different
lifestages including growth and breeding. Extra protein may help animals
recovering from major surgery or severe illnesses. They need protein to
repair damaged tissues and replace the protein lost from the body. Most
healthy, adult pets need only a moderate level of high quality, highly
Feeding extra protein in excess of the amount that your pet requires
provides no particular health benefit to your pet.
Complete and balanced foods
Fortunately, when you choose to feed quality prepared pet foods, the hard
work has all been done. Dogs and cats need a balanced diet which contains
the appropriate amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins and
minerals to ensure that they stay in peak condition. These nutrients must
be present, not only in the correct amounts, but also in regards to some
nutrients, the correct proportion to each other to provide a nutritionally
complete and balanced diet. Choosing a prepared pet food that includes a
statement that the food is complete and balanced for your pet means you're
choosing a food that provides all the nutrition that your pet needs for
This article is for general information only:
This information is provided by the PFIAA as general information only. For
advice and information concerning feeding your individual pet, we recommend
that you seek the advice of your veterinarian.