by Rose Springer
Dogs are omnivores, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a veterinarian who would recommend a vegetarian diet for your dog. Dr. Trisha Joyce, veterinarian of New York City Veterinary Specialists, has seen dogs survive but not thrive without meat. "In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, we saw dogs that had probably eaten garbage on the streets for weeks but likely no protein. The body starts consuming muscle. They were skin and bones."
Luckily, dogs are not picky eaters. "Their sense of smell is incredibly acute, but their sense of taste is much duller," says Joyce. Your furry friend may not exhibit a preference for chicken over beef over lamb, but that doesn't mean that one isn't better, health-wise, than the other. Below, Joyce comments on the carnivorous leanings of canines and whether all meats are created equal.
Protein for Growth and Maintenance
Protein is crucial for all aspects of growth and development, which is why puppies as well as pregnant and lactating females need an even greater amount than other dogs. It is also crucial to the maintenance of the immune system and the body in general.
There are 22 amino acids (the stuff that protein is made of) required by dogs, and 12 of them dogs produce themselves. The other 10 must be consumed, and a lack of any one of them can cause health issues.
Choosing a High-quality Food
Dogs thrive on meat-based diets. To make sure your dog is getting just that, choose a food that has a high-quality animal protein as its first ingredient. That is, a meat or meat byproduct, such as meat meal, which is simply meat with the water and fat removed.
Commercial foods with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) seal have an adequate proportion of protein to carbohydrates. You cannot feed a healthy dog too much protein, and a high-protein diet will not cause kidney problems. If these develop, however, a special food may be in order. If a dog's protein intake outpaces its need for it, the extra will be secreted into urine or turned into fat.
"Think of canines in the wild. They catch and consume other animals, and probably have a higher protein intake than what would ever be sold in pet stores," says Joyce.
Chicken, Beef or Lamb?
Every protein source has a different level of usable amino acids. This amount is termed biological value. Egg has the highest biological value, followed by chicken, fish and red meat, in that order. But don't let that information distract you. Any source of meat protein will serve your dog well.
The one time to consider switching your dog's protein source is if allergies develop. Indications of food allergies include chronic itching without evidence of an infection; intermittent vomiting; or intermittent diarrhea.
"If you're seeing a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms, blood tests can reveal whether the GI tract is out of whack. Sometimes the culprit is an allergic reaction to a protein caused by overexposure. The answer to this is a novel protein -- one they haven't seen before, like duck or venison," says Joyce.
In short, a commercial food with any high-quality protein will satisfy your dog's nutritional needs.
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Pets | Dogs: The Best Meat Meal for Your Dog