Dr. Laurie Coger on Protein Quality in Pet Food

Welcome to my first blog for The Honest Kitchen!

Before I share today’s thoughts with you, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Laurie Coger, a veterinarian from upstate New York. I practice integrative and proactive medicine at a local veterinary hospital, and run the Healthy Dog Workshop, an education orientated website where I offer my personal blog, articles, and consultation services. I also organize the Healthy Dog Expo, a live event focused on natural dog health. When I’m not working on one of those projects, I’m helping out businesses like The Honest Kitchen in spreading the word about all things relating to natural pet health. I share my home with four Australian Shepherds, Puck, Fame, Flare, and Pix. I’m sure I’ll be sharing stories about them in the future.

Protein Sources and Why They Matter

Today’s blog was inspired by one of my morning appointments. Lucy was 7-year-old yellow Labrador, brought in for her annual check up by her charming “Dog Dad,” Mike. (Sorry I didn’t get a picture of them!) She was of course very happy, and in good health. Mike was sent with a note from his wife, with questions she wanted asked. One of them centered on the recent problems with dogs, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and grain free foods. In short, they wanted to know they were feeding Lucy the best food available.

Lucy was being fed a high-end grain free kibble. Her owners were happy to pay the extra money for it, as they wanted the best for her. She seemed to like it and had experienced no problems while eating it. But of course, her owners had read a lot of conflicting information online and were very concerned. This reminded me of three key things that I want all my owners to know about dog foods and the proteins they contain.

We know that while dogs are able to derive nutrition from a variety of ingredients, they are most efficient at digesting meat proteins. In fact, the dog is actually a subspecies of wolf, with very similar digestive system function and digestive enzymes. Protein is made of amino acids, some of which are required by the dog, others which can be made by the body from other amino acids. Taurine, the amino acid of concern in DCM, can be made by a limited extent by the dog’s body, depending on the diet fed.

What is Quality Protein?

For me, the quality of the protein in a food is everything. For my own dogs and my patients, I want human quality proteins. These will typically be listed on the ingredient panel as a meat, such as chicken, or beef. However, if the food is not listed as human quality on the package, you may have to call the company and ask if the food is human quality or made from ingredients that are “USDA inspected and passed.”

You may also see foods made with a meat meal, such as chicken meal. Meat meals are never human quality. They can be made from diseased animals, animals which died by means other than slaughter, and worse. They are cooked at high temperatures, sometimes multiple times, damaging proteins and fats. Their nutritional value is not the equal of human quality meats.

Beyond the quality of the proteins in a dog food, I like to see variety. Different meats contain a differing array of amino acids. By varying the meats, we are more likely to meet the biological needs of all dogs. My preference is for a minimum of four different proteins. This could be as simple as beef, turkey, chicken, and fish. Exotic proteins are not necessary unless your dog has a sensitivity to more common ingredients. I will sometimes mix proteins in a meal, or just vary them from day to day.

Choosing a dog food is a challenge, and there is much conflicting information, from all kinds of sources. But if you remember to start with the meat, it gets a lot easier. Choose only human quality. Avoid meat meals. And feed variety. These three simple guidelines will simply your dog food decisions, and let you know you’re are doing your best for your best friend.

Meet the Author: Laurie Coger

Dr. Coger is an integrative and functional medicine veterinarian, dog owner and trainer. Her mission is to guide owners down the natural dog care path, helping them to become educated and empowered advocates for their best friend's health.

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