Since we were in school, we learned about the importance of a balanced diet. A balanced diet consists of Protein, Carbohydrates, Fat, Vitamins, Minerals, and Water. They are collectively known as Nutrients. But you know what? The balance of these six nutrients plays a vital role in any diet, regardless of the species or life stage of the animal.
Your beloved felines and canines' ancestors had to hunt for food every day to survive. But, well now, your pampered fur baby has you to get food for them. They trust you to get them a balanced diet filled with nutrients needed for their overall growth and development. Although for us humans, the most essential nutrient is Water, for our pets, it is Protein, as it aids in almost everything, right from creating cells to maintaining their organ health. It is also used to produce energy when needed. In this article, let us understand this ‘protein’ more.
What is protein?
Proteins are large organic molecules that are made up of twenty to twenty-two building blocks known as Amino Acids(AA). These amino acids are categorized into Essential Amino Acids(EAA), which can be synthesized(made) in the body, and non-essential amino acids, which cannot be synthesized and need to be obtained, through the diet. The human body requires 9 EAA, while our beloved dogs and cats require 10 and 11 EAA respectively. Deficiency of even one of these essential amino acids can lead to health problems.
To make matters a little confusing, some non-essential amino acids can become essential under certain circumstances of illness, pregnancy, or excessive stress, which means the body is unable to produce them in sufficient quantities, and you need to get them through a balanced diet like EAA. These amino acids are known as Conditionally essential Amino acids.
Advantages of protein
Although protein acts in numerous tasks to help in the optimal functioning of your pet’s body, the ones mentioned below are the most noteworthy.
- It aids in maintaining muscle growth and maintenance of your cat’s and dog’s muscles.
- Although fats are the primary energy source, protein is an alternate energy source.
- It contributes to the strength and health of your pet’s skin, fur, and nails, keeping them feeling their best.
- It boosts the production of antibodies and other immune system components, which helps in making their immunity stronger.
- The body needs protein for maintaining, repairing, and replacing cells and tissues.
Now that you know what essential nutrients your pet needs and what are its benefits, let’s go ahead and understand the sources of protein in your pet’s diet. There are two main types of protein sources: complete and incomplete.
If the food source consists of an ample amount of all the Essential Amino Acids (10 for dogs and 11 for cats) required for your pet’s protein needs, it is called a complete protein source. Most animal-based products like Fish, Eggs, Meat(chicken, duck, lamb, turkey), and some pet-safe dairy products are complete protein sources, while soy products are the only plant-based source of complete protein.
When any of the Essential Amino Acids is low or absent in the food source, which doesn’t fulfill your pet’s protein requirements, the food is known as an incomplete protein source. Most plant-based products like vegetables, legumes, grains, corn, nuts, and seeds are incomplete protein sources. These protein sources may be difficult to digest for your pet.
It can be a good idea to combine different protein sources so that your pet gets what it needs nutritionally unless they have some allergy or intolerance to a particular protein.
Unlike their ancestors, your pet doesn’t need to hunt for food, but regardless, their dietary requirements resemble that of their ancestors.
Although dogs are technically omnivores, they require more animal-based food rather than plant-based for their nutrition requirements, as your dog’s gastrointestinal system is incapable of digesting large amounts of plant products due to their ancestral history of hunting for prey.
At the same time, cats are carnivores, which means their diet solely needs animal-based products for their overall development(now you know why our cat meows louder when there’s meat and fish around). Arginine and taurine are the two most essential amino acids required for your cat, which are widely present in animal products.
Instead of feeding your pet a combination of food to meet their protein requirements, you can give them store-bought protein-rich food that gives them all the nutrients in a scoop. You can identify these protein-rich foods by reading the ingredient list. When the packet has meat as its first ingredients, like Purepet, Royal Canin food, N and D puppy food, and Whiskas cat dry food, it will provide your pet with sufficient protein when served in appropriate quantities.
It is also important to note that the protein's quality is related to the quantity. For example, your pet will need to eat more low-quality and vice versa to meet their protein needs.
How much protein does my pet need?
The amount of protein your dog requires depends on their lifestyle, life stage, and health conditions. A puppy or kitten has more protein requirements than an adult dog or cat as they constantly grow. A pregnant and nursing animal requires more to nourish their young ones. Active pets, who love being full of energy, need more of it than normal adult pets to keep them constantly recharged. Injured cats and dogs need more protein to make the healing process quick.
On average, puppies, pregnant and lactating dogs need 22.5%, whereas an adult dog needs 18% of protein. There is a misconception that senior dogs need less protein, while the fact is that they need more than 20% protein with exercise to maintain their lean body mass. An adult cat needs 26% protein, while kittens, pregnant and lactating cats need more than 30%. Like senior dogs, senior cats, too, require more protein than their adults; they need up to 50% protein.
What is Protein Deficiency?
Till now, you know how great of an importance protein has on your canine and feline companions. Read on to find out what happens when your pet becomes protein deficient. Although it is uncommon for a pet to become protein deficient, it can happen. Some of the symptoms of protein deficiency are:
- Poor coat and skin
- Change in mood
- Weight Loss
- Enlarged abdomen due to fluid collection
Some of the underlying conditions of protein deficiency are food allergy, fungal, bacterial, or parasitic infection, Gastrointestinal disease, ulcers in the stomach or intestine, or congestive heart disease.
Another infamous cause of protein deficiency is protein-losing enteropathy (PLE), which occurs when your pet eats sufficient protein-rich food, and it doesn’t get digested through the intestinal walls as usual and is eliminated undigested through the body. It is a dangerous condition as it stops your cat from getting the adequate nutrients it needs.
Even if you switch your pet’s diet and they continue to show the above symptoms, rush them to the vet. Be prepared to be asked about your pet’s medical history and for a bunch of tests. Don’t stress; your vet will know the best.
We hope this protein deficiency didn’t scare you; we just wanted to make sure you are prepared for every scenario. In Conclusion, it is crucial to choose the best-balanced diet for your pet, as it will improve their longevity and quality of life.