My pet needs a high protein diet
Many owners elect to feed their pets a high protein diet and with dogs being omnivores and cats being obligate carnivores it does sound like the right fit. But is there any benefit to feeding your pet a high protein diet?
Dogs & cats require protein to provide them with their daily essential amino acid intake. However, unlike carbohydrates they are unable to store protein. So, once they have gotten enough protein to meet their daily needs the remainder is used up as energy, stored as fat or urinated out. So effectively, unless your pet has additional protein needs (such as a working dog with higher energy output) they do not require any extra protein in their diet.
But is the extra protein bad for them? Here is what we know:
- Poor quality or poorly digestible protein excess can lead to toxic byproducts in the body.
- Recent studies suggest high protein or raw diets can contribute to poorer gut microbiomes.
- If the excess protein is stored as fat it may contribute to unnecessary weight gain.
- A high protein diet consisting of a poorly digestible protein can be less beneficial than a lower protein diet with highly digestible protein. So digestibility and quality makes a difference.
- Feeding too much animal protein considerably increases the carbon footprint. Beef & lamb-based foods have the highest impact.
Because of this we do not recommend high-protein diets unless it’s for a specific reason.
Grains are bad for pets and not very digestible
Grains are a form of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are essential for a pet’s diet because they:
- Provide energy
- Provide a glycogen source
- Provide fibre
- Provide vitamins and minerals
- Provide fatty acids
- Provide essential amino acids
- Provide a plant protein source where animal protein can’t be used.
However not all grains are created equal! How the grain is prepared impacts it’s digestibility and thus it’s nutritional value. For example, corn has earnt a reputation of being poorly digestible but in fact it is one of the most digestible grains if prepared well (e.g ground). Furthermore it’s a great protein source for muscles, provides fatty acids, is a great source of fibre for the gastrointestinal tract, contains antioxidants such as Vitamin E and reported adverse food reactions to corn are very rare (of pets with reactions – 3% dogs, < 0.07% cats). In fact, most adverse food reactions are to animal proteins.
If a grain-free diet is selected, the carbohydrates used are often lower in fibre, fatty acids and vitamins and minerals compared to diets containing grain. Regardless of whether grains or a grain-free diet is selected, the result of this carbohydrate intake is glucose. There is no evidence that carbohydrates are nutritionally harmful to pets.
Our recommendation? A good quality diet should contain a digestible, good quality grain.
Dogs should eat what their ancestors ate
Although dogs share 98% of their DNA with wolves, they have evolved to develop the ability to digest carbohydrates making them omnivores. Some dog breeds also display significantly different dental and jaw structure compared to wolves so lack the ability to kill and chew meat to the same extent as their ancestral counterparts. Wolves ability to digest fresh raw meat was also associated with how fresh the kill was as bacteria did not have a chance to develop on the prey that was eaten within 1-2 hours of death. Rarely are our pets given meat this fresh.
Interestingly captive wolves live significantly longer than wild wolves and those that are fed a commercial diet live significantly longer than their counterparts.
For more info click here.
Raw food diets are more natural so must be better for pets
A raw diet is a diet that includes uncooked ingredients derived from food animal species fed to dogs or cats living in home environments. Due to the risks associated with feeding a raw food diet, most veterinary nutritional organisations worldwide actively discourage the feeding of a raw food diet to pets including the American Animal Hospital Association, The American Veterinary Medical Association, FDA, World Small Animal Veterinary Association & the European FEDIAF. Click on the Association to read their position statements.
There is a lot of evidence to suggest an increased risk of infectious disease to both pet and humans when pets are fed a raw food diet. Just like humans, dogs and cats are susceptible to bacterial food poisoning which is particularly prevalent in chicken due to salmonella contamination but can involve other meats and bacteria such as Campylobacter or Listeria. By not cooking the meat this increases the risk of your pet ingesting these potentially life-threatening bacteria and even worse, shedding these bacteria which may lead to another family member becoming sick. This is a huge public health implication as humans can easily become infected. For this reason any owners that are immunosuppressed are strongly recommended NOT to feed raw food diets to their pets.
Apart from the public health concerns, most home cooked raw diets and many commercially prepared raw diets are not considered to be adequately balanced which means your pet is not receiving the appropriate amounts of fibre, protein, energy, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. A 2011 study of home-cooked raw diets suggested up to 60% contained major nutritional imbalances. This can be life threatening as certain deficiencies can lead to severe metabolic dysfunction such as taurine deficiency causing heart or neurological disease. In puppies or kittens this is often seen as a Vitamin D and calcium deficiency that affects bones and growth.
Other risks include increased risk of constipation and other problems associated with feeding whole bones. There are no scientifically proven arguments to suggest raw food diets are more beneficial than commercial diets.
Our vets can help tailor a diet that suits your pet. If you’re researching online we strongly suggest you stick to reputable, scientifically proven information. Some links are below.