Dogs are omnivores, which means they can eat, and thrive on, plant matter and animal matter. But dogs do have specific protein requirements. A study by the National Academy of Sciences determined that most adult dogs need a minimum of 10% of their diet to be protein, although puppies, nursing mothers, and elderly dogs may require up to 50%. A dog’s diet should also contain no more than 50% carbohydrates. Other dietary components include fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Your vet can help you determine how many grams of protein, fat, and carbohydrates your dog needs on a daily basis.
Knowing how much to feed your dog is great, but how do you know that your food provides all the nutrients needed? Commercial dog foods are required to list minimum amounts of crude protein and crude fat, and maximum percentages of fiber and water. The simplest way to determine how much protein you dog gets every day is to take the grams of food given and multiply it times the percentage of protein. Lets say you feed one 1lb can of wet dog food per day, which is 454 grams. The food contains 10% protein. 0.10 x 454g = 45g. If this matches up to the recommendation of your vet, then you’re probably on the right track.
Lets say you want to change your dog food to better meet the needs of your pet. Your vet recommends switching to a food with a higher protein content. How do you compare dog food labels? While it may seem as though you can just compare percentages, you need to be careful. All pet foods, even dry kibble, has some water in it. Your dry dog food may list crude protein at 26%, and canned food at 8%. On the surface, this looks like the dry food is the way to go. However, the percentage is based on the food as it is fed, with all the water. To truly compare protein percentages, you will need to figure out how much dry matter makes up the food, and calculate the protein in the dry matter. This is easier than it sounds, but you’ll need to break out the calculator.
Peteducation.com outlines a sample calculation, comparing a dry food to a wet food. The dry food has 10% moisture, which is found on the label. That means that the dry matter is 90%. If the protein percentage is 20%, you divide 20/90 to get 22%. The wet food is 80% moisture, which means there is 20% dry matter. The label says there is 5% protein. 5 divided by 20 is 25% protein So the wet food actually has a higher protein percentage. You can use this calculation to compare dry foods to each other, or to raw diets.
The final consideration in choosing a dog food is the protein source. Dog food labels must list ingredients in order of weight, so a food that lists meat and meat by-products in the first few ingredients is probably a higher quality dog food. The most common carbohydrate sources are corn, rice, and soy. Check with your vet if you have any questions about ingredients.
All these calculations may seem like a lot of work just for dog food, but doing these basic comparisons will help pet owners feel more secure in their dog food choices. By working with your vet and doing your own research, you can choose the best dog food for your furry friend.
National Academy of Sciences Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs
Protein Requirements for Dog Nutrition