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Dog Food protein (essential amino acid levels) & why your dog needs more meat.

Dogs-and-protein-requirementsProtein has been one of the most controversial ingredients of the dog food industry since commercial dog food started becoming popular in America in the 1950's.

People use to know that it was sensible to feed a carnivore pet dog mostly meat, but that was until advertising and marketing in the post war years boomed, in the name of consumerism and profits became more important than ANYTHING else. 

The problem for dogs and dog food is that meat can be ten times (roo and lamb)  as much in wholesale cost to include gram for gram as grain.

So naturally a profit orientated enterprise (ie the corporation) would try and minimise the amount of meat included in dog food and make it seem reasonable/ normal.  This is far from the truth.

We analyse the 'essential amino acid' tables for the most common ingredients in dog food and see why MEAT is truly required.  Not only are all vegetables below minimum levels required in ABSOLUTE terms ...  BUT because of the inefficiency in our carnivore dog's digestion of extracting nutrtion from plants, MEAT is required in much GREATER amounts than is usually supplied in almost ALL commercial dog food .

 Dog FOOD Protein (minimum ABSOLUTE levels) required

Globally it seems most countries are happy to accept the flawed American, "AAFCO DOG FOOD NUTRIENT PROFILES BASED ON DRY MATTER" tables as their guide. This is probably because three companies from America control the global dog food market and its easier not to do testing.

They say that "The AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles were designed to establish practical minimum and some maximum nutrient concentrations for dog and cat foods, formulated from commonly used, non-purified, complex ingredients."

As mentioned many times in these articles,  Dog food (kibble) tends to contain about 30% meat.  And that is because in absolute terms, that is (on paper) the bare minimum meat protein you HAVE TO include to meet the lax aaffco table protein requirements.

The major concern always has been that nothing is as bio available (digestible) for carnivore dogs as MEAT.  And many vegetables proteins are 60% or less digestible as meat proteins to begin with.

While flawed feeding trials or poorly devised combos were devised to make these affco tables easy to achieve with cheap ingredients for pet food manufactuers, the tables purposefully DO NOT show the SOURCE OF FOOD that must be used to achieve the minimum levels for OUR carnivore dogs.

This means that most companies use cheap grain or vegetable based food sources, with the addition of a mass of vitamin additives (not all natural sources) to 'meet' the minimum levels. However they don't take bio availability into account.

The affco PROTEIN requirements are given for both " Growth & Reproduction Minimum"  and  "Adult Maintenance Minimum" situations (less protein required),  and only for the TEN essential Amino Acids out of the 22 amino acids that make up any protein.  "ESSENTIAL" means that these sub-components of protein can't be manufactured within the dog from other chemicals so must be provided by food, for the dog to function normally.

So if you understand that vegetable matter usually converts properly less than 70% of the time inside the dog before they expel it as waste, you would expect that the individual essential amino acids for any one PLANT protein source should be around 140% of the MINIMUM adult maintenance essential amino acid levels to make up for that inefficiency.  Unfortunately most vegetable sources only reach 70% of the minimum affco levels, even in absolute terms. THis is why many dogs are believed to have a protein deficiency and there is little left over for body maintenance functioning AFTER it is used for energy use by the dog.

What you will see from the table below is that we have compared  BEEF, Chicken, Wheat, Rice, Sweet potato and Pumpkin with the AFFCO essential amino acid tables minimum maintenance requirements (far right column).  We have done this as beef and chicken are two of the main meats used in dry and wet dog food,  And Wheat and Rice are two of the main by percentage GRAINS included in dog food.  We include Sweet potato and pumpkin, as these two vegetables are often used in GRAIN FREE dog food. So you would expect their protein levels to be sufficient from any one source, but its only true for MEAT protein sources.

The table below shows even in absolute terms (for plants you should reduce their absolute values by 30% to account for their inefficient digestion) that the FOUR vegetable sources shown fail MANY of the minimum essential amino requirements. This table shows ABSOLUTE essential amino acid levels  and DOES NOT take into account plant inefficient digestion.

AND that is the ONLY reason that dog food companies are FORCED to include meat to reach the minimum ABSOLUTE value of the Essential amino acid. Vegetables alone cannot do so.

KEY:  PURPLE = essential amino acids  - the only ESSENTIAL ones that AFFCO create minimum values for.  GREEN values indicate that a source is above minimum,  RED value indicate BELOW minimum. 


(with 10% water standardised for each source).  AFFCO values are for the LESSER "Adult Maintenance" dogs.  ONLY the essential amino acids are bolded. The other amino acids are greyed out.

Essential   Beef CHICKEN  wheat rice brown sweet pumpkin AAFCO DOG
AMINO   Cooked roasted duram cooked potato   Adult Maint.
ACID               Minimum 
  water % 10 10 10 10 10 10  
  protein % 55 67 14 8 7 10 18
  OTH % 35 23 76 82 83 80  
Tryptophan   0.34 0.78 0.18 0.10 0.15 0.13 0.16
Threonine   2.09 2.82 0.37 0.28 0.40 0.30 0.48
Isoleucine   2.37 3.52 0.54 0.33 0.26 0.33 0.38
Leucine   4.15 5.01 0.94 0.64 0.44 0.49 0.68
Lysine   4.41 5.67 0.31 0.29 0.31 0.56 0.63
Methionine   1.36 1.85 0.22 0.17 0.14 0.11 0.65
Cystine 0.67 0.85 0.29 0.09 0.10 0.03 0.65
Phenylalanine   2.06 2.65 0.69 0.40 0.42 0.33 0.45
Tyrosine 1.66 2.25 0.36 0.29 0.16 0.43  
Valine   2.59 3.31 0.60 0.45 0.41 0.36 0.49
Arginine   3.37 4.03 0.49 0.58 0.26 0.56 0.51
Histidine   1.67 2.07 0.33 0.20 0.15 0.16 0.19
Alanine 3.17 3.64 0.43 0.45 0.37 0.29  
Aspartic acid 4.75 5.95 0.62 0.72 1.81 1.06  
Glutamic acid 7.84 10.00 4.79 1.57 0.74 1.90  
Glycine 3.18 3.28 0.50 0.38 0.30 0.27  
Proline 2.49 2.74 1.47 0.36 0.25 0.27  
Serine 2.06 2.30 0.67 0.40 0.42 0.46  
Hydroxyproline 0.55 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00  

Values  calculated from nutritiondata source (see references) We have standardised the water content for each food source at 10% so that the sources are directly comparable.

NOTE, while almost every dog food has some form of MEAT as the first ingredient, ingredient splitting tricks on the label mean that the next three or four ingredients are usually PLANT based and make up the other 60-70% of the matter in the pellet bag.

BE VERY AWARE, That the above table shows the AFFCO REQUIREMENTS for "Adult Maintenance" ONLY.  If you look at their specs for "Growth & Reproduction" DOG requirements, vegetable source fails are much more spectacular.  For instance the aafco Minimum required for these specific amino acids: Arginine goes from 1.04 to 1.24%.  Lysine from 0.83 to 1.20%, Methionine required increases from 0.2 to 0.62% etc. 

GRAIN FREE OR GLUTEN FREE dog food makes no difference

Often dog food sites likes to obscure the fact that meat proteins from good sources are all that counts, by entering into the grain free or gluten free debate. The reality is if the main ingredient isn't meat (50 - 60% plus by DRY WEIGHT) then little else matters.  A dog food is likely to need around 50 to 60% minimum quality meat content (DRY) for it to correct for the bio availability issues of all plant matter. 

True Raw feeders aim for 80% quality meat or greater. The rest is offal and bones NO PLANT matter required.

One grain dog food site tries to cover this fact up by saying " Dogs have differences in 10 key genes compared to wolves that enable them to better utilize grains than wolves can."  The reality is that dogs have very little amylase protein in their saliva (unlike herbivores) so they are NOT herbivores, they can digest plants a little.  BUT Dogs have extremely high stomach acid to process MEAT and a very short intestinal tract to expel waste, so even pulverised grain doesn't hang around long enough for its low amino acid ingredients to be properly extracted.  A change in genes doesn't trump a carnivore digestive system that still remains to process meat.

husky dogsHIGH protein amounts required for ALL dogs !

dogfoodadvisor tries to act as a neutral source in the meat versus grain debate, though they regular post that the more meat in a product the better it is.  Under one blog post entitled " Dog Food Protein " they look into their FAQs on dog food protein

Some dog food companies will try and soften the lack of decent protein in their dog food with excuses that puppies and older dogs don't need it, but dogfoodadvisor (and us) believe the opposite is closer to the truth.

They say " Although there are many who still believe high protein can be a health problem for puppies, more recent studies tend to disagree. The rapid growth which causes skeletal disorders (like hip dysplasia) in larger breeds is now believed to be more appropriately linked to genetics, excessive dietary calcium or overfeeding during the puppy phase of life."

In the case of more mature dogs, when asked about the excuse for poor protein content in senior dog foods (the manufactures use the excuse of reducing possible issues with kidneys)  ... they say that "recent opinion finds high protein not to be a contributing factor to kidney disease in senior pets. As a matter of fact, it has now been shown that a low protein diet is actually unhealthy for most older pets."  

What dog food companies tend to do is reduce quality meat protein (saving them money) and add more fibre and low Kj plant matter to take account of reduced exercise of these dogs.  But the reality is to starve off dementia, and have sufficient protein to combat other ageing diseases in the body (protein being the building blocks for maintaining any dogs internal systems) older dogs may require more meat protein, not less !


Even if you believe the dog food companies that carnivore evolved dogs, are more herbivore than carnivore because they befriended man a few centuries ago (not millions of years ago).  You might take pause to reflect on why these companies include the small amount of meat that they do. And now from the tables above you can understand that they only do this to meet the ridiculously low 18%  protein requirement for dogs on "Adult Maintenance" diets.  

When the source food is standardised at 10% water. The TOTAL protein amounts in the most popular ingredients typically are:  Beef 55%, Chicken 67%, Wheat 14%, Rice 8%, Sweet potato 7%, Pumpkin 10%.  Even the highest plant source on the list, WHEAT, fails to meet FOUR of the essential amino acid minimum levels.

In absolute terms NO plant source that is regularly included in dog food comes close on its own to meeting the purposely set LOW aafco essential amino acid requirements. Figure in bio availability (poor plant digestion efficiency) and plant sources fail on almost all essential amino acid minimum requirements.

You should also appreciate that any science paper that a dog food company will cite to back up their low protein content was most likely sponsored directly or indirectly by a dog food company.

I always say, that if you are in any doubt that your dog is getting sufficient quality meat protein in its diet. Even if there is the smallest percentage of doubt that the affco tables were created purely to err in favour of corporations bottom lines, you should regularly give your dog a quality MEAT top up.  If protein levels were boosted (by increasing meat to 50 - 60% dry weight in your dog food bags), it would mean that dog food companies would lose hundreds of millions each year as their premium products became ultra expensive and people were driven to their low end brands ...

In Jan 2019 Australia's Grain corp had the cash price of wholesale WHEAT at about $420 per metric tonne. Meat and Livestock Australia give the price of Medium Cow c/Kg at 182 or $1820  per tonne.  As wheat is typically 10% water, and  Cow meat is 50% water  then standardising BEEF to 10% water (dried beef) the price is actually closer to $3280/ tonne wholesale, or about 7 times the price of wheat And that price is before the cost of deboning and refrigeration is figured into the equations. THIS is why your dog eats grain or potatoes, not for its health.

Your dog NEEDS MORE quality meat protein in its diet than it can get through the bulk of dog food formulations on the market in Australia. That is where quality MEAT based HEALTHY dog treats come into the fore.   Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Note, if you replace (not add)  large amounts of kibble with meat, you may need to increase calcium (via soft raw bones) and fish oil (omega 3). That is what we do in our dog's diet, to truly be whole and complete. Always consult your vet before doing a major dog diet change, and make the change slowly to avoid loose stools.




  • Beef, brisket, flat half, separable lean and fat, trimmed to 1/8" fat, all grades, cooked, braised Nutrition Facts & Calories
  • Chicken, broilers or fryers, dark meat, meat only, cooked, roasted Nutrition Facts & Calories
  • Wheat, durum Nutrition Facts & Calories
  • Rice, brown, medium-grain, cooked Nutrition Facts & Calories
  • Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt [Sweetpotato] Nutrition Facts & Calories
  • Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt Nutrition Facts & Calories


3              Proposed Revisions Edited per Comments for 2014 Official Publication 1 AAFCO METHODS FOR SUBSTANTIATING NUTRITIONAL ADEQUACY OF DOG AND CAT FOODS

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