Thinking of making your own dog food? Worried whether you'll be able to provide your dog with a complete and balanced diet? Understanding the function of essential nutrients is a place to start.
Food keeps your dog alive. It provides your dog with energy, the building blocks for tissue growth and repair, and enzymes to regulate his physiological processes.
An Essential nutrient is a nutrient that is needed for your dog's body to function properly, but that his body cannot synthesize at all or in sufficient amounts to maintain health. Such nutrients have to be provided through your dog's diet.
Proteins are vital nutrients that serve as a source of energy, as structural elements, and perform a number of other vital functions in the body. Proteins are complex molecules that consist of chains of amino acids. If a protein was a necklace, amino acids would be the beads. Although the number of amino acids is relatively limited, they can be combined in many different ways to produce all the different proteins that your dog’s body relies on.
When your dog eats protein, say from a meat source in his food, it is digested and broken down into amino acids that are then reassembled to form new proteins in your dog's body.
Some amino acids can be synthesized by your dog's body, and some cannot. Those that cannot are referred to as essential amino acids, and they have to be present in your dog's diet.
There are 10 amino acids that are essential to dogs: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Proteins are present in all living matter, including plants and microorganisms. However, not every protein contains all the amino acids required by dogs, and not all proteins are easy to digest. Protein quality is measured by both digestibility and the so-called amino acid score, which indicates how many of the essential amino acids are present in the chain. Your dog’s food as a whole needs to contain all the essential amino acids. Every protein source individually does not have to be complete.
Plant proteins are more difficult to digest, and have lower amino acid scores, because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. That's why balancing proteins in vegetarian diets can get complicated.
The good news is, that eggs, meat, poultry and fish are all both highly digestible and with high amino acids scores. This means that using the above ingredients as protein sources in a diet gives your dog the amino acids he needs.
Generally, if a high quality animal protein source is included in your dog's food, balancing proteins is the least of your worries.
What to watch for
Keep in mind that proteins are used as a source of energy first. Only after energy requirements have been fulfilled can the remaining amino acids be utilized for other specific functions. Therefore, if your dog has higher energy demands than normal or if he in on a restricted protein diet you need to pay closer attention to making sure he gets all the essential amino acids that he needs.
Proteins and allergies
Proteins play an important and somewhat contradictory role in your dog’s immune response. Antibodies are proteins and are essential to the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, bacteria and other foreign invaders.
Interestingly though, it is foreign proteins that the immune system often reacts to during an allergic response. If your dog is allergic to pollen, his immune system is reacting to pollen proteins. When a dog suffers from food allergies, the protein sources are likely offenders – but remember that protein is found in both meats (e.g., beef) and plants (e.g., corn).
Dog Food Standards by the AAFCO
Feeding Your Dog: Commercial or Home-cooked?
Dog Nutrition and Carbohydrates: The Essential Non-Essentials
Have a question? Something to add? Leave a comment.