How much protein does a dog need?


Last month I discussed the essential nutrients a dog needs for maintenance and health. This month, I will be sharing advice on how to achieve optimal protein content in your dog’s diet.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) tells us that adult dogs require a minimum of 18% protein in their diets. If we round that up to 20%, this means that a 10 kg dog―which should eat 2-3% of its body weight, roughly 250g of food per day―should have 50g of protein per day.

Now, this does not mean 50g of meat. It means 50g of protein. For example, the average egg contains about 5.5g of protein, so it would take nine eggs to fulfill the ideal daily protein requirement of a 10kg dog. 100g of boiled white rice contains 2.7g of protein, i.e. 2.7%. So to get the protein from rice alone, the dog would need to consume 1,851g―and would inevitably end up obese, diabetic, and dead at an early age.

In general, 100g of chicken (with skin on) contains 18.6 g of protein―18.6% protein, almost exactly the recommended percentage of protein for a dog. If you feed 250g of chicken meat to your dog, you will provide it with 46.5 g of protein, which is almost the recommended amount for a 10 kg dog. But wait, it’s not as simple as that, because not all proteins have evolved equally and some have a higher biological value than others.

How important is the protein quality?

This refers to the digestibility of the protein, i.e. how much of the protein does the animal get to use vs. how much is excreted in its poop. People often say there are many plant-based proteins that have all the essential amino acids, and are therefore complete proteins. For example, soya and quinoa are both examples of a protein with a very good amino acid score, and contain all of the ten essential amino acids that a dog’s body can’t make itself. But can the dog actually utilise all the amino acids in the protein it eats? Studies suggest that the answer is no, they can’t. Egg white is used as the standard―due its very high digestibility―and is given a score of 1.0. All other protein sources are compared to this.

So, if all the protein in egg white can be digested and used by a dog’s body, less than three quarters (72%) of the protein in rice can actually be digested and used by your dog, and considering there is only 2.7g in 100g of cooked rice to start with, after digestion, that’s only 1.9g of protein actually available for the dog’s body to use.

So how can you use all this information to feed your pet, or street dogs, a more nutritious diet that is going to keep the animal as healthy as possible? Diet is one of the most important factors for an animal’s health; working at Dharamsala Animal Rescue,I have seen some animals in appalling condition due to poor nutrition, and have seen the transformation of an animal’s overall condition from providing a better diet. Diet really makes a difference.

Here is a good example. Here is a photo of our Mascot, Suraj, when he first came in. He had demodex mange caused by a weakened immune system. We treated him for mange but also changed his diet which boosted his immunity. The mange has not returned due to his protein filled diet—and look how handsome he is now!

Next week I will discuss the benefits of a meat diet, and how to feed your dog according to its needs.

If you have any questions, please put them in the comments. I look forward to answering!

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About the author

Dr Becky Metcalf

Dr Becky Metcalf

Since the age of 11, after watching the BBC science documentary series Horizon, Becky wanted a career in science.

After completing a Bachelor’s in cell and molecular biology and a Master’s in molecular and genetic medicine, she finally settled on immunology as her field of choice, going on to complete a PhD in the subject. One post-doc later, Becky left England for India, to volunteer at the Tibetan Delek Hospital in Dharamsala, working in the TB section. Feeling quite at home in the mountains, her six-month trip turned into eighteen months.

Just as she was preparing to return to the UK in 2014, her good friend Richard from Dharamsala Animal Rescue asked Becky to foster a puppy they had rescued. However, this was no ordinary puppy: Pluto had been diagnosed with diabetes at the age of eight weeks, was very small and skinny, and had a skin condition. Becky agreed to take her in for the winter, researched diabetes in dogs, changed her diet and insulin regime, got her healthy, and decided to adopt her. This was the start of her volunteer work at DAR. Becky is now a full-time volunteer at DAR, where she has set up a diagnostic laboratory, and aides in diagnosing and treating rescued animals.