Grain Free Dog Diets: Can Too Much Protein Be Unhealthy?
Responding to a growing number of health complications in canines, including diabetes, skin disorders and allergies, arthritis, obesity and behavior problems, grain free diets are intended to provide dogs with all of the nutrition they require and no filler ingredients.
Grains are now known to largely contribute to all of these canine complications. However, meat content is a controversial and often misunderstood topic with regard to dog nutrition. Moreover, the source of protein, either from animals or plants, is factor that heavily determines protein's potential benefit or harm in canines.
Dogs in Their Natural State
The reality is that dogs evolved biologically to eat and thrive on a meat-based diet. Wild dogs that prey on other animals have done for this for centuries, and have successfully adapted, hunted and procreated throughout that time. Thus, science has begun to encourage that domestic dogs share a similar regimen. Pet owners need to be aware that protein found in the meat dogs consume is both a nutrient and a building block. It helps to maintain the structures of antibodies, hormones, enzymes, organs and body tissues. Growing puppies and adult dogs alike need to continually replace and rebuild all of these.
But Can't Too Much Protein Be a Bad Thing?
A dog's liver serves to process protein, while the kidneys filter and excrete waste. High-quality meat, such as that of human grade, does not create great waste that needs to be removed from the body. However, protein that is of poor quality poses digestive problems to dogs. This places undue stress on the kidneys, as they must work harder to filter the waste materials. It is this factor, therefore, that has instilled within people the belief that too much protein is unhealthy. Studies show that low-grade protein are indeed associated with canine health complications and can lead to both liver and kidney diseases. Protein of low-quality is found in many different forms. Among those that are the most difficult for dogs to digest are as follows:
- blood meal
- meat by-products
- corn gluten meal
Good protein sources include meat, fat, bones and organs. To support a dog's need for high-protein diets, veterinarians continue to study its impact on their bodies. For example, the book Kirk's Veterinary Therapy XIII states,
"...restriction of protein intake does not alter the development of renal lesions nor does it preserve renal function. Considering these (research) findings, the authors do not recommend reduction of dietary protein in dogs with renal disease or reduced renal function."
Instead, the authors indicated that phosphorous blood levels can largely impact the health of dogs that suffer reduced kidney function. Misleading lab tests have also spurred unnecessary questions of whether or not too much protein can harm dogs. Several years ago, scientists conducted studies on rats to determine how their bodies responded to large amounts of protein. The rats became ill and were unable to digest their foods, so those results were also instinctively applied to dogs. Such was unfounded and is now seen as falsely implicated.
The Need for Well-Balanced Diets
While protein is essential for a dog's health and well-being, it must also be balanced with other vital nutrients. The recommended protein content for dogs is 20 to 30 percent of their daily nutrients. In addition, calcium and phosphorous are important minerals, while vitamins A and B are essential for optimal organ function. These are only a few examples of the nutrients required in a dog's diet.
Ultimately, too much protein is not cause for alarm with pet owners. What they should be concerned with is the source of their pet's protein and how it is balanced with other nutrients. Professor Dominique Grandjean, DVM, Ph.D., said it best at the Fourth Annual International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association Symposium: "The dog can digest large amounts of proteins, especially those of animal origin." Thus, the best diet for dogs is one in which animal tissues comprise the greatest amount of protein, and optimal vitamins and minerals are used for balance.