Dogs are omnivores, meaning they can survive on a diet of both plants and animals. However, surviving is not thriving and, as veterinarian T.J. Dunn Jr. points out, dogs need animal protein in their diets to thrive and grow. While meat is essential for many aspects of canine health and dogs -- like their wolf ancestors -- can survive on a protein-predominant diet, fats and carbohydrates also are essential to create a balanced diet.
Dogs require 23 different amino acids to build healthy body tissue and cells. A dog is able to make 13 of these amino acids, but the remaining 10 must come from ingested protein sources. While plants do provide protein and amino acids, they are more difficult for a dog to digest, making animal meat a better source for these essential building blocks. According to veterinarian David McCluggage, an ideal canine diet contains 25 to 50 percent meat, such as beef, chicken, turkey and fish. Smaller dogs or less active dogs require smaller amounts, while large or active dogs require more protein to aid in muscle development and repair.
In addition to providing protein, meats contribute to another essential component of a balanced diet for your dog. Fats help to keep your dog’s skin soft and give his coat that beautiful shine. They also aid in the transportation of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A, D, E and K. At the same time, too much fat can lead to weight gain and obesity. In this sense, too much meat, or an all meat diet, can lead to weight problems and obesity.
Dogs have the ability to use protein and carbohydrates for energy. However, protein is necessary for amino acids and muscle development. In an all meat diet, a dog converts the protein into energy instead of using it for the muscles. Including carbohydrates, such as grains and vegetables, provide an energy source while leaving the protein available to supply amino acids to tissues and cells. You may ask, “But wolves survive on protein alone, can’t my dog?” In reality, wolves do eat carbohydrates. Wolves ingest plants and carbohydrates when they eat the intestines of their prey. In this way, they provide a balance of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
When it comes to dogs, many people often link high protein to kidney damage thanks to an old research study. According to veterinarian T. J. Dunn Jr., the research study looked at protein levels in rats and not in dogs. A rat’s body is not designed to eat meat, thus resulting in kidney damage. For years, dogs with kidney disease were placed on low-protein diets. However, this is no longer recommended unless the dog’s blood urea nitrogen, or BUN, level reaches more than 75.
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