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Animal Protein vs Plant Protein: What’s best for dogs?

Written by Ella White

Updated

Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever

When it comes to feeding our dogs the best diet possible, most owners know that a well balanced mix of animal and plant proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are vital to a happy, healthy life.

But do you know the difference between animal protein and plant protein, beyond their sources? Different types of protein offer different benefits, are of differing qualities, and are even different in terms of their bioavailability.

In this article we’ll look at the different protein sources available to dogs, and how to ensure your pet gets all the goodness they need from their diet. 

Dogs Need Protein

Different dogs have different needs depending on their breed, size, age, and other unique health factors. But one thing remains true for all dogs: protein is essential to their wellbeing. Protein supplies the body with amino acids which in turn help to build and strengthen the immune system, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, hair, nails, and skin. There are 10 essential amino acids that dogs (and humans) need to maintain a healthy, functioning body.

So it’s not just physical health but also appearance which protein plays a big part in. It also aids the production of enzymes and hormones, and is an essential element in keeping both humans and dogs healthy as they grow old. Both plant proteins and animal proteins can perform these functions. But are all proteins equal?

Where Should Dogs Get Their Protein?

In the human world, there’s been a major shift towards plant-based eating as a healthier and more sustainable option. Similarly, many human food products now come with ‘added protein’ ‘low sugar’ or ‘reduced fat’ – options that aren’t as common in the dog food market.

So if you’re considering feeding your dog a plant-based diet, you’ll have to do a lot of work to make sure they’re getting all the proteins they need to produce enough of the 10 essential amino acids required to keep their muscles, coat, and everything else healthy.

And since animal proteins are generally a higher quality protein – in that they are ‘complete’ proteins that contain the right ratios of all amino acids – meat is undeniably the healthiest and easiest way to serve protein to your dog. In fact, any AAFCO-approved dog food formula is guaranteed to contain the correct serving of protein to deliver all those healthy acids.

What Is The Difference Between Animal Protein and Plant Protein?

While the obvious difference between these two types of protein is that one is sourced from meat and the other from plants, the distinctions actually run even deeper.

From meat, the proteins available tend to be of a higher quality, and also more bioavailable meaning dogs can more easily benefit from the amino acids that the protein provides. Plant proteins, on the other hand, tend to only have small amounts of essential amino acids, and are less bioavailable because plants also contain tannin and other compounds that bind protein.

Therefore, dogs can get essential amino acids from both plants and animal sources, but those from meat are far more beneficial, and easier to obtain in one serving, than from plants. But that’s not to say plants should be omitted from your dog’s diet: no animal can survive on one protein source alone, and plant proteins have been proven to offer improved cardiovascular health amongst a wealth of other benefits.

Why Are Animal-Based Proteins Better For Dogs?

As we’ve already explained, both plant and animal proteins provide health benefits to dogs. But complete proteins that offer all 10 essential amino acids, like meat, are more bioavailable and are overall a more efficient way to ensure dogs get all the protein they need in their diet.

Dogs are omnivores, meaning they do still eat – and need – plants like fruit and vegetables. They offer much more than protein to your dog’s diet when fed alongside meats like chicken, beef, and fish.

Meat is also a better source of protein for dogs because it is much easier for them to digest. While humans are generally recommended to cut back on their meat consumption and eat more plants, dogs’ stomachs are not able to process large amounts of plant protein, but they are able to absorb all the protein from the meat they eat into their small intestine. 

Because plants contain some but not all amino acids, many dog foods will include a mix of vegetables that together can deliver the right amount of protein that one meat source would offer.

Soy is the one plant protein that does contain all 10 essential amino acids. However, it’s highly processed and also an allergen that some dogs are unable to eat. So meat still remains the more efficient and digestible source of protein compared to plants.

So Why Do Dog Foods Contain So Much Plant Protein?

Like humans, the trick to a healthy dog is a well balanced and rounded diet. This means that feeding your dog ‘complete’ meat proteins straight from the butchers isn’t going to cut it – despite offering the complete protein they need.

So while some dog food manufacturers might be filling their foods with plant-based protein sources as a way to fit current veganism trends or to cut costs by removing expensive meats from the many, there are genuine benefits to a plant-rich diet for dogs.

Dog foods approved by the AAFCO, like Front of the Pack’s air-dried dog food, will be packed not only with fresh meat proteins, but also with fruit, veg, and other plants too. Because as well as protein, dogs need vitamins, minerals, fats, micronutrients, carbohydrates, fiber, and more to stay truly healthy.