Exploring the Role of Protein in Canine Nutrition

In the realm of canine nutrition, few elements hold as much significance as protein. As a crucial macronutrient, protein is vital for the overall well-being of our loyal canine companions. These complex molecules, made up of amino acids, serve as the very foundation of life. Just like humans, dogs require a specific set of essential amino acids (EAAs) for optimal health. Since dogs can’t produce these EAAs on their own, they must be supplied through their dietary intake.

What is Protein?

Protein is an essential macronutrient, and it plays a crucial role in your dog’s diet. These molecules are the building blocks of life, comprising amino acids that are vital for your dog’s health. Proteins are involved in various biological processes, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters and the metabolism of nutrients. They provide energy and support muscle growth and repair.

Main sources of protein for dogs typically include animal-based options like meat, fish, and eggs. However, some plant-based sources like seeds and legumes can also contribute to their protein intake.

Amino Acids: The Precursors of Protein

Proteins are intricate molecules composed of amino acids. Just like in human nutrition, dogs require a specific set of essential amino acids (EAAs) for their optimal health. These include Arginine, Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. Crucially, these EAAs must be supplied through their dietary intake as dogs are unable to synthesize them internally.

Quality Matters: Animal vs. Vegetable Protein

Not all protein sources are equal. Animal-based proteins are considered superior to their plant-based counterparts due to their complete amino acid profiles. A diet solely reliant on vegetable or plant-based proteins may fall short in providing all the essential amino acids, such as Lysine, Methionine, Threonine, and Tryptophan.

If the goal is to feed your dog real food without the addition of any synthetic amino acids or other nutritional additives, (and we thinks that’s best), it is imperative to feed animal protein as it provides all the B vitamins and amino acids your dog needs to thrive. Read our blog about food synergy to learn more.

alternative meat sourcesanimal protein meat only

Exploring Non-Meat Protein Sources

Researchers have investigated plant-based protein sources, including soya meal, corn gluten meal, wheat gluten, and maize gluten in diets for dogs. While these plant-based options can offer sufficient nutrition when combined with animal protein or fortified with crystalline amino acids, further study is warranted to see how plant-based meals affect dogs’ body condition long-term.

Additionally, owners feeding vegetarian or vegan diets to their dogs should regularly check urine PH to avoid Urinary Alkalinisation caused by the lack of acidifying amino acids in plant protein, which can lead to the development of kidney stones.

Cooking meat: The Maillard Reaction

The method you employ to prepare your dog’s protein can significantly impact its nutritional value. High-temperature, high-pressure processing can diminish the bioavailability of absorbed amino acids. This effect occurs due to the Maillard reaction, a chemical process wherein sugars react with amino acids, creating amino acid complexes. Although these complexes can be absorbed, they aren’t able to be utilised for protein synthesis.

The Maillard reaction typically occurs within the temperature range of 140 to 160 degrees Celsius. Consequently, most kibble dog food undergoes this reaction due to the manufacturing process known as extrusion. In extrusion, the ingredients are ground, mixed, and subjected to heat treatment at temperatures that can reach as high as 176 degrees Celsius.

Which is why at Proper Dog Food we sous-vide cook your dog’s food in the bag. This is a gentle cooking method that avoids the Maillard reaction, retains essential nutrients and increases the bioavailability of amino acids.

Proper Dog Food

The Right Protein Levels

It’s not just about the type of protein; the quantity plays a pivotal role. Insufficient protein levels in your dog’s diet can lead to various health issues. Ensuring that your dog’s diet meets the minimum recommended protein levels, generally falling between 18% to 21% of the dry matter content, is crucial.

You may have heard of the controversy surrounding grain free diets and the development of DCM. If not, you can read more about it in this blog or our research review.

There are several theories regarding diet-related Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), with the primary one being the lack of taurine synthesis. Dogs produce taurine within their bodies, but this process relies on an adequate supply of sulphur-containing amino acids in their diet, such as cysteine and methionine.

While an apparent connection has been established between grain-free dog foods and DCM cases, it’s not solely about the absence of grains in the food. It primarily relates to the formulation of these diets, which often exhibit low protein content and high fibre content.

A study conducted by Sanderson et al. (2001) revealed that a diet restricted in protein (at 10% on a dry matter basis), even when supplemented with synthetic amino acids to meet the recommended minimum levels, led to significant reductions in both whole blood taurine and plasma taurine. In one instance, a dog developed DCM as a result. Fortunately, this condition was successfully reversed through taurine supplementation and a shift to a diet with higher protein content.

The Benefits of High Protein Diets

Recent research suggests that high protein diets can offer numerous benefits to dogs. They support weight management and metabolic health, as they create a satiating effect, aid in weight loss, and preserve lean body mass. Furthermore, high protein diets have shown associations with enhancements in immune metabolic health.

Which is why Proper Dog Food is a high protein diet for dogs. Packed with high quality grass-fed British meat and offal to provide the most bioavailable form of this vital nutrient. Find out more about bioavailability here.

In Conclusion...

…Protein is the bedrock of your dog’s diet, and it is vital to ensure that they receive the right quantity and quality of protein for optimal well-being. From amino acids to cooking methods and non-meat protein sources, there is a wealth of science to consider. Ultimately, the choices you make in your dog’s dietary plan can significantly impact their overall health and vitality.

Key Takeawyas

  • Protein is a crucial macronutrient in your dog’s diet, essential for health, and is comprised of amino acids. Dogs need 10 essential amino acids in their diet because they can’t produce them themselves.

  • Primary protein sources for dogs include meat, fish, eggs, and some plant-based options like seeds, corn gluten meal, wheat meal and soya meal.

  • Animal-based proteins are superior to plant-based protein due to their complete amino acid profiles. Nutrients from real food without the addition of synthetic additives is recommended for the best nutrition – this is certainly possible if you feed your dog high quality meat and offal.

  • Plant-based proteins can work when combined with animal protein or supplemented with amino acids, but long-term effects need further study.

  • High-temperature, high-pressure processing affects protein’s nutritional value due to the Maillard reaction.

  • Ensuring your dog’s diet meets recommended protein levels of at least 18% to 21% of dry matter, is vital for their well-being and health.


  • Bhat, Z.F. et al. (2021) ‘Thermal processing implications on the digestibility of meat, fish and seafood proteins’, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 20(5), pp. 4511–4548. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12802.

  • Brown, W.Y. et al. (2009) ‘An experimental meat-free diet maintained haematological characteristics in sprint-racing sled dogs’, British Journal of Nutrition, 102(9), pp. 1318–1323. doi:10.1017/s0007114509389254.

  • Cargo-Froom, C.L. et al. (2019) ‘Apparent and true digestibility of Macro and micro nutrients in adult maintenance dog foods containing either a majority of animal or vegetable proteins1’, Journal of Animal Science, 97(3), pp. 1010–1019. doi:10.1093/jas/skz001.

  • de-Oliveira, L.D. et al. (2011) ‘Digestibility for dogs and cats of meat and bone meal processed at two different temperature and pressure levels*’, Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, 96(6), pp. 1136–1146. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0396.2011.01232.x.

  • Donadelli, R. A., Jones, C. K., & Beyer, R. S. (2019). The amino acid composition and protein quality of various egg, poultry meal by-products, and vegetable proteins used in the production of dog and cat diets. Poultry Science, 98(3), 1371–1378. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps/pey462.

  • FEDIAF (2021) ‘Nutritional guidelines: for complete and complementary pet food for cats and dogs’. The European Pet Food Industry: www.fediaf.org.

  • German, A.J. et al. (2010) ‘A high protein high fibre diet improves weight loss in obese dogs’, The Veterinary Journal, 183(3), pp. 294–297. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2008.12.004.

  • Hill, R.C. et al. (2001) ‘The effect of texturized vegetable protein from soy on nutrient digestibility compared to beef in cannulated dogs.’, Journal of Animal Science, 79(8), p. 2162. doi:10.2527/2001.7982162x.

  • Hou, Y., & Wu, G. (2018). Nutritionally essential amino acids. Advances in Nutrition, 9(6), 849–851. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy054.

  • Knight, A. and Leitsberger, M. (2016) ‘Vegetarian versus meat-based diets for companion animals’, Animals, 6(9), p. 57. doi:10.3390/ani6090057.

  • Laflamme, D. et al. (2014) ‘Myths and misperceptions about ingredients used in commercial pet foods’, Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 44(4), pp. 689–698. doi:10.1016/j.cvsm.2014.03.002.

  • Laflamme, D. P. (2008). Pet Food Safety: Dietary Protein. Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, 23(3), 154–157. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.tcam.2008.04.009.

  • Mansilla, W.D. et al. (2019) ‘Special topic: The association between Pulse Ingredients and canine dilated cardiomyopathy: Addressing the knowledge gaps before establishing CAUSATION1’, Journal of Animal Science, 97(3), pp. 983–997. doi:10.1093/jas/sky488.

  • Menniti, M.F. et al. (2014) ‘Effect of graded inclusion of dietary soybean meal on nutrient digestibility, health, and Metabolic Indices of Adult dogs1’, Journal of Animal Science, 92(5), pp. 2094–2104. doi:10.2527/jas.2013-7226.

  • Nery, J. et al. (2010) ‘Influence of dietary protein content and source on fecal quality, electrolyte concentrations, and osmolarity, and digestibility in dogs differing in body size1’, Journal of Animal Science, 88(1), pp. 159–169. doi:10.2527/jas.2008-1666.

  • Sanderson, S.L. et al. (2001) ‘Effects of dietary fat and l-carnitine on plasma and whole blood taurine concentrations and cardiac function in healthy dogs fed protein-restricted diets’, American Journal of Veterinary Research, 62(10), pp. 1616–1623. doi:10.2460/ajvr.2001.62.1616.

  • Weber, M. et al. (2007) ‘A high-protein, high-fiber diet designed for weight loss improves satiety in dogs’, Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 21(6), pp. 1203–1208. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1676.2007.tb01939.x.

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Bone Broth - Proper Dog Food - Natural Ingredients, No additives

Proper Bone Broth
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The one with lamb

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The one with beef

To purchase our products head to our order now page and provide us with a few details about your dog. Each meal is made to order and tailored to suit your dog.

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