Breaking DOG FOOD news. Science journals recommend up to double the dry meat content in your dog’s food than found in regular dog food.
For over a decade we have advocated for dogs having their natural diet, and how 100% single ingredient meat-based treats can be vital to supplementing what a dogs body actually needs.
And because of the commercial nature of commercial dog food, rarely does the question of amount or quality (meat versus vegetable) protein get asked. But this 2023 Science article fortunately adds credit to what a lot of dog nutritionists have long known. DOG typically DON’T get enough animal-based protein. The best way of dissecting this article is to use direct quotes from the authors and what that means to Australian dog owners.
For instance, “Domestic cats and dogs are carnivores that have evolved differentially in the nutrition and metabolism of amino acids. This article highlights both proteinogenic and nonproteinogenic amino acids. “ ref 1
Unpacking this – many corporation sponsored articles hang onto the hair splitting of carnivore, obligate carnivore, and omnivores. Hills (grain based dog food) even say “Dogs are classified as members of the family Canidae and the order Carnivora,” but then water this statement down. Basically, obligate carnivore means that an animal (like a domestic cat) will soon die if it doesn’t get meat protein because vegetable protein doesn’t include enough of the specific type of amino acid that cats need to live, like taurine.
Omnivore means that an animal can “survive” on both meat and vegetable based proteins. It doesn’t mean all animals, like dogs, THRIVE. It doesn’t suggest the animals preference, and it doesn’t take into account that just because a dog can TOLLERATE vegetable matter, that it should NOT make up the bulk of their food.
The ONLY reason that dogs are fed vegetable matter (grains or potatoes) in commercial dog food, is because it’s cheaper for dog food companies to make. And that over centuries humans fed dogs cheaper food at home (vegetables rather than meat) – because centuries ago, many changed from hunting to farming, but meat was still comparatively expensive.
The authors also make a point that some breeds of dogs have a very obvious requirement for meat “Dogs inadequately synthesize citrulline (the precursor of arginine) from glutamine, glutamate, and proline in the small intestine. Although most breeds of dogs have potential for adequately converting cysteine into taurine in the liver, a small proportion (1.3%–2.5%) of the Newfoundland dogs fed commercially available balanced diets exhibit a deficiency of taurine possibly due to gene mutations. Certain breeds of dogs (e.g., golden retrievers) are more prone to taurine deficiency possibly due to lower hepatic activities of cysteine dioxygenase and cysteine sulfinate decarboxylase.” Ref 1
Dogs and the basics of amino acids (protein).
Protein is made up of smaller chemical chains called amino acids. The structure of animal based amino acids and plant based amino acids are different. But the main thing to consider regarding meat is that there are TEN essential amino acids (out of the 22 that make up protein). Essential means that they cant be created within the dogs body from building block chemicals (from food). THAT means they need to be provided directly from FOOD. But MEAT amino acids are MUCH MORE bio available than plant amino acids – meaning they are much more efficiently converted in the dogs body – MORE SPECIES appropriate.
The 10 essential amino acids are arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine.
Back to the original author quote “Dogs inadequately synthesize citrulline (the precursor of arginine) from glutamine, glutamate, and proline” ref 1 That means in general that a decent bio available version of the essential amino acids ARGININE is critical to a dog health (along with the other nine essential amino acids).
The authors say that “dogs are less sensitive to amino acid imbalances and antagonisms (than cats)” but the issue is not “sensitivity” only, but absolute amounts, that they can efficiently make use of.
AAFCO the controlling ‘volunteer’ body from America that is responsible for creating nutrition tables for bare minimums of types of nutrients (amino acids, fats, minerals and vitamins) – have an EXCEPTIONLLY LOW level of protein required for domestic dogs.
They set the bar at a ludicrously low 18% for the average dog. AND to allow for high carb loading (not needed for dogs) – they don’t assign if that protein should be from HIGH bio-avalble meat, or low bio-available plant matter.
If you are wondering why 18% – its based on some flimsy feeding trials typically, and means that dog food companies can add up to 70% grain (or potato (cheap fillers), and by the simple edition of 30% meat … the minimum 18% TOTAL protein is reached (from plant and animal sources). Some grains might be as low as 10% poor protein, yet meat is often 50%- 60% quality protein. So its the addition of high quality yet small absolute amount of 30% meat plus vegetable protein that has many dog food just reach the bare 18% (combined protein) minimum to be allowed to be called dog food.
Why dogs need more animal protein, than 18% from ANY source.
It is true that genetic mutations in some dogs make them the rare exception that must have low levels of protein to survive. But typically puppies and pregnant dogs require more protein that middle aged dogs. Aafco allow a big 4% boost up to 22% protein for these cases (from any source).
The point here, is its obvious in the growth stages of a dog (puppy or pregnancy) if a dog is suffering from malnutrition. Yet dog food companies are happy to use as much misdirection as possible to take your mind of what really matters, the amount of MEAT in their product. Hence the proliferation of companies telling owners they must get a kibble specific to the breed of their dog !
The actual reality is that if a dog is just feed more animal protein, much of their health issues will reduce. And just like humans, you will never know that a life long deficient of quality nutrition catches up with them, until old age.
This is why the next paragraph, even by neutral author standards, explains so much about why a middle aged dog, as much as a senior dog – can only benefit from more animal protein (and essential amino acids). You shouldn’t wait for your dog to get old to consider how vital this statement is:
“Throughout adulthood, cats and dogs may lose 34% and 21% of their lean body mass, respectively. Adequate intakes of high-quality protein (i.e., 32% and 40% animal protein in diets of aging dogs and cats, respectively; dry matter basis) are recommended to alleviate aging-associated reductions in the mass and function of skeletal muscles and bones. Pet-food grade animal-sourced foodstuffs are excellent sources of both proteinogenic amino acids and taurine for cats and dogs, and can help to optimize their growth, development, and health.” Ref 1
To be clear, their unbiased view of “adequate intake” (ie, not exceptionally high), … is likely to assist with preventing or recovering a dog from muscle loss or illness is ONLY 32% PROTEIN ! This relatively low level is still much higher than the 18% minimum aafco value they say a dog food is legally required to have (from any source including LOW bioavailable plant matter).
The next quote passage reiterates many of the previous blogs and source intention that I have quoted over the years. Funny how it seems to have more gravitas when coming from a published science journal.
“Both cats and dogs have: (a) a relatively shorter digestive tract, longer canine teeth, and a tighter digitation of molars than omnivorous mammals such as humans and pigs, (b) a very low activity of salivary α-amylase, (c) a limited ability to synthesize de novo arginine and vitamin D or to convert α-linolenic acid to 5,8,11,14,17,20-docosahexaenoic acid, and (d) instinct preferences for meat to plant products Based on their anatomical, metabolic, and natural feeding characteristics, dogs (facultative carnivores) and cats (obligate carnivores) are classified as carnivores in classic animal nutrition and veterinary medicine textbooks, but these animals have evolved to have some unique feeding behaviors and metabolic characteristics that are distinct from omnivorous mammals such as pigs, rats, and humans” Ref 1
In previous blogs I would write many pages on why the facultative carnivore designation of domestic dogs was just a get out of jail free card for profit driven dog food companies to supply the bare minimum healthy amount of protein requirement of affco. And it still very much applies today, with the ridiculous creation of VEGAN dog food.
You don’t have to believe me, or the authors of this science journal (see reference) – but on the off chance that it has any credence of reality … perhaps it might be worthwhile, before your dog reaches old age, to consider a regular quality meat-based protein boost on a regular basis, to their diet, just in case.
PS why not consider feeding your dog 70% dry meat, rather than 30% in commercial dog food? Original raw dog diets are based on Meat, offal and bones, NO carbs. If you are wondering how much you can slowly change into your dog’s diet, then consider you can replace up to 50% dry weight of kibble without affecting the affco table minimums. And that you can swap gram of meat for gram of kibble with approximately the same energy value.
By all means, Consult your vet if you need to – but first check how much kibble they have on their shelves before accepting that they are giving you purely objective advice.
And remember there are a lot of experts (not from multi-national dog food companies) who are against massive plant matter filler in dog food) – but virtually no one is saying to feed dogs less meat.
1 Amino acid nutrition and metabolism in domestic cats and dogs. Peng Li & Guoyao Wu . Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology volume 14, Article number: 19 (2023) Cite this article.