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Protein in a Dog’s Diet: Complete & Incomplete Proteins

Nicole Cosgrove

June 16, 2021

There are so many dog foods on the market today that it can be overwhelming to select one. You want your furry friend to be healthy and to have a balanced diet. You know your dog needs protein, but what kinds of protein are best? How can you make sure you are feeding them the right food for their dietary needs? Read on to learn more about your dog’s nutritional needs and the two different types of proteins: complete and incomplete.divider-paw

Dog Dietary Needs

Dry dog food

Dogs are very much like humans in that they are omnivores. Your dog also needs to eat a complete, balanced diet to be healthy. A balanced diet for a dog should include many of the same properties as a balanced diet for a human. Your dog needs proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins.

The amount of each nutrient your dog needs is dependent on a number of factors including their age, size, activity level, and health. You should always speak with your veterinarian about the proper balance for your dog at their current stage of life.

The Importance of Protein

Your dog can get protein from plant or animal sources. It is crucial that they get enough protein. Protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair. It also helps your dog form new skin cells, and grow hair and nails. Protein provides energy for your dog, aids injury healing, and regulates hormone production.

One important thing to note about protein is your dog needs it every day. Dogs do not store excess protein in their bodies, so it has to be consumed as part of their daily diet.

Protein is made of amino acids. There are 22 total amino acids required by your dog, half of which their bodies can make on their own. The remaining must be consumed as a part of your dog’s daily diet.

This leads to the question of what types of protein your dog should be eating. Should they get all of their protein from meat and animal products? Or can they also have their needs met by consuming non-animal sources of protein? Read on for a breakdown of complete and incomplete proteins and how each has a place in your dog’s diet.

What Are Complete Proteins?

Complete Proteins
Image Credit: stockcreations, Shutterstock

Complete proteins are proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids. There is enough of each amino acid present to form a complete protein. These are typically animal products, although there are a few plant-based products that are considered complete proteins.

Complete Proteins for Dogs

While dogs can also consume plant-based proteins, animal products can be easier for them to digest. Complete proteins supply all of the essential amino acids, so you can be confident that your dog is getting what they need from animal proteins. Dogs also like eating meat. They may be more enthusiastic about their food if it contains an animal-based protein.

Sources of Complete Proteins

There are many sources of complete proteins often found in dog food. These include the following:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Fish
  • Lamb
  • Eggs
  • Meat by-products such as liver, heart, spleen, kidneys, and intestines
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat

Other than quinoa and buckwheat, all of the foods on this list are animal sources of complete proteins.

According to the American Kennel Club, food allergies are quite rare in dogs. They do note that some dogs have a sensitivity to certain complete proteins such as eggs, chicken, or beef. If you suspect your dog has a sensitivity to a specific food, you should consult with your veterinarian.

What Are Incomplete Proteins?

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Unlike complete proteins, incomplete proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids. This does not mean they are not healthy or useful in your dog’s diet. It just means that they must be supplemented with other proteins to ensure your dog is getting all of the essential amino acids they need for optimum health.

Incomplete Proteins for Dogs

Many incomplete protein sources contain other vitamins and nutrients essential for your dog’s health. Many high-quality dog foods will contain both complete and incomplete proteins.

Sources of Incomplete Proteins

You have probably noticed many of these ingredients in your dog’s food, but you may not have been aware of their role in your dog’s diet. Some sources of incomplete protein include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Grains such as corn, rice, wheat, soybeans, oatmeal, and barley

All of these foods contain varying amounts of protein, along with other nutrients. The main role of a lot of these products is to provide an energy source in the form of carbohydrates. Your dog does need carbohydrates for energy, just like you do. However, excess carbohydrates are stored as sugar and converted to fat. If your dog is consuming too many carbohydrates for their energy level, they will put on weight. Excess weight can lead to many health problems in dogs.

What to Look for in a Dog Food

Poodle puppy_Shutterstock_thamKC
Image credit: thamKC, Shutterstock

If you have ever tried to read the label on a bag of dog food, you know how confusing and misleading they can be. There are a few things you can look for to make sure you are buying high-quality food.

First, a real protein source should be one of the first ingredients. Chicken, beef, lamb, or another protein should be the primary ingredient. The bag may also list a ‘meal’, such as a chicken meal. This is also generally a quality protein. The term ‘meal’ refers to a dehydrated, protein-rich form of that specific meat.

While all dogs will have different requirements, a general rule of thumb is that at least 20% to 25% of the food should be crude protein. The rest of the food should be a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins. Your animal’s needs will vary for these nutrients as well.

Finally, you can feed your dog canned or dry dog food provided the food you pick is made of quality ingredients. Canned food can be more expensive, but it does contain extra moisture if you have a dog that doesn’t like to drink a lot of water.

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Conclusion

Hopefully, you now feel confident in choosing the most balanced food for your dog. Quality food should have balanced nutritional value and should contain a protein source as the first ingredient. Protein should make up about one-quarter of the food’s content. While incomplete proteins are healthy for your dog to consume in moderation, you should try to focus on complete proteins to ensure they are getting all the amino acids they need for optimum health.

Related Read: How Much Protein Do Senior Dogs Need?


Featured Image Credit: Susan Schmitz, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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