Dog Food Protein, Why Should I Care? Pt 1

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imageTasty Tuesday is about celebrating ‘good food’. Good food can mean many different things. To SlimDoggy, our goal is to help our friends understand the essentials of quality food, food you want to feed your pets every day. What makes it ‘good’ vs. what makes it not so good. We don’t want to be the food police for dogs, we just want to share some of what we’ve learned in the process of building our App and our food database.

Last week we established that dogs require a diet high in protein from high quality protein sources.  Proteins should form the base of a good  diet for your dog. Today we will focus on protein: why it is essential, comparisons of different proteins, and how to tell if your dogs food has a high protein content.

The Building Blocks


Meat & fish…basics of protein needs for your dog.

Proteins are necessary for growth and development and key to the creation and maintenance of the muscular and skeletal structures as well as the immune system.  It is not protein exactly that is needed but the amino acids contained in the protein that are critical.  Proteins consumed in the diet are broken down into the building block amino acids by the digestive system, so the body can use them to build, rebuild or replace cells in the body.

Dog’s require 22 amino acids, 10 of which, called “essential’, must come from dietary sources.  The 10 essential amino acids are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Proteins can be evaluated in several ways including their biological value and their digestibility.


Biological Value

Biological value compares the nutritional worth, or completeness, of different protein ingredients. It measures a protein’s ability to supply amino acids, especially the 10 essentials, and to supply them in the appropriate proportions.  Below are the biological value ratings for some proteins.  You will notice immediately that meat and fish have higher values than plant and grain proteins.

bio values


This is the measure of the body’s ability to break down and digest the protein for use in cellular functions.  Dogs have short intestinal tracks and thus plant proteins are less digestible than meat proteins.  T.J. Dunn, Jr. DVM, has published this data on digestibility of common dog food proteins.

bio values 

In short, unless there is an underlying medical reason, dogs should be fed a diet with meat or fish as the primary protein source.


How Much Protein is in My Dog’s Food?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) publishes nutritional minimums and standards for dog foods based on the life stage of the dog.  The table below shows the AAFCO protein and fat minimums.


To see how your dog food stacks up against the AAFCO guidelines, you need to know how to read the “Guaranteed Analysis” section of the food label. The key to understanding the guaranteed analysis section of the label is to convert all the values to a ‘dry matter’ basis.  Dry matter (DM) analysis simply adjusts for the moisture content of a food, and is especially important when looking at canned (wet) food.  Below is an example.  The normal food label will list the first two columns- the nutrient type and the associated percentages on an ‘as fed’ basis (which means including the moisture content).


We have added another column to the table showing the DM values. To calculate the DM basis of protein (and other macro nutrients), you first need to determine how much of the food is not moisture and use this to rescale the nutrient percentages.  In the example above, 78% of the food is moisture so 22% is dry.  Use the reported (as fed) protein percentage and divide that by the dry percentage to determine the true protein content.  In this example, we would divide 8%/22% = 36%.  Thus, this food is 36% protein which obviously exceeds the AAFCO minimums.

Limitations of the DM Analysis

Using the DM analysis is a quick way to determine the relative protein amount in your dog’s food.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell the entire story because we can’t tell the protein’s biological value nor its digestibility.   Not sure what to do?  Stick with meat and fish based protein sources to ensure that your dog is getting and utilizing adequate protein and amino acids.

Next week, we will continue our discussion of proteins and will examine the difference between common meat and fish based protein sources.


We’re joining the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop sponsored by Sugar, the Golden Retriever and Kolchak from Kol’s Notes:

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  1. Great article. Sharing.
    Sue at Talking Dogs recently posted…Tasty Tuesday: We Won Honest Kitchen SmoochesMy Profile

  2. Woof! Woof! You got mom doing MATH this morning. Golden Thanks for sharing this formula, MUST Know Information. Happy Tasty Tuesday. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar
    SUGAR: Golden Woofs recently posted…Tasty Tuesday: Frosty Yogurt Berries Bone ParfaitMy Profile

  3. I’ve been learning so much about the quality of food, what goes in my dog’s food, and even how it’s manufactured. I’m convinced it’s important to my dog’s health and want to make the best choices I can (without going crazy or broke!)
    Peggy Frezon recently posted…How to Prepare your Dog for a New Best FriendMy Profile

  4. It’s so important to read (and know how to understand them)! The other thing Mama always tells her client is that just because it meets the AAFCO minimums, doesn’t make it a “good” food. The AAFCO is a nutritional standard, not a quality standard!

    Great post!

    • Great point!

  5. This is really helping, thank you! Our current food is good on protein, but has other bad things (by-products, and no high quality fats or carbs). I am starting to understand it all much better now. I think knowing what is wrong with our current food will really help to pick out a new food.
    Jan K recently posted…Black & White Sunday 5/5My Profile

    • Jan- we have so much more to talk about including a discussion of by-products (coming next week) and other good and bad ingredients. We will be busy writing about dog food for many weeks to come, that is for sure. Our SlimDoggy ranking system, currently available in our App, makes it easy to choose quality foods so check that out if you have an iPhone.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      • I don’t have an iphone, but I see in your reply below that there are other things coming, so that is good news!
        Jan K recently posted…Challenges of a Multi-Pet HouseholdMy Profile

  6. Great post! Will have to do some math based on this. Want to mention corn and soy are mostly considered detrimental to a dog’s health.
    Also would love to use your app. Will it ever be available for android?
    Kirby the Dorkie recently posted…Chicken Barley SoupMy Profile

    • Thanks Kirby. After you do the math, remember that the AAFCO standards are just minimums and not necessarily optimal.

      Regarding Android- yes, we will eventually have an Android version. Our ETA on this has been pushed back as we continue to enhance our iPhone version with new features.

      We will be releasing a web based widget tool this month that will have some (not all) of the app features. This will be available on our site and we will also make the widget code available to our blogger friends (and soon to be friends) so that they can share it with their own readers. Stay tuned for the details and release announcement!

  7. Doing that DM calculation is so confusing!I have head how to do it several times but my brain can’t seem to wrap around it.
    Jessica recently posted…Homemade Kong Stuffing: So Bad Even My Dog Won’t Eat ItMy Profile

    • It is easy. All you are doing is re-basing without the moisture. Just take the protein % and divide by (1- moisture %):
      protein% / (1-moist%) = dry matter protein %.

      We will make sure to add this calculation to our App in a future release.

  8. This is a great refresher from my nutrition class… one of the hardest classes I took in college I think!
    Ann “Paws” Staub recently posted…Mother’s Day Treats for Moms and Their DogsMy Profile

  9. Great post! Have a great day.
    JoAnn Stancer recently posted…Wordless Wednesday ~SunroofMy Profile

  10. Good article. One thing I think is great to mention, proteins are not just like actual building blocks/bricks. Proteins are actual workers too. It is proteins that do all the hard work in the body, from carrying oxygen, breaking down foods, building things, fighting infections …
    Jana Rade recently posted…Tackling The Veterinary Terminology: Prefixes (fibro-)My Profile

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