You may be wondering if dogs should have more than one protein source from meat, as I was wondering myself a few years ago.
At the time, my holistic veterinarian suggested I limit the diet of my Labrador, Blanco, to one protein source because we were trying to figure out what was triggering apparent food related issues Blanco was having. He was tired, prone to ear infections, and his fur was falling out in clumps.
But it’s tough to find dog foods that have only one protein from meat.
Plus, the supplements I give Blanco to support his hips have protein derived from green muscles, which is, of course, a different protein from the meat protein in his dog food. See Blanco’s green muscle hip supplements here.
Lately, I’ve even been hearing advertisements on an Austin radio station about vegetable only dog foods!
All this led me to wonder if it’s important for dogs to eat more than one protein from a meat source, and what the protein source should be.
If I was having this challenge discerning the best protein source as a dog owner, I thought you, my Pooch readers, might be as well.
So, I picked the brains of several veterinarians to find out if dogs should have more than one protein source.
While veggies and other food types have protein, note that this post addresses protein from meat since meat provides the most protein.
Keep reading to see what these experienced veterinarians had to say about whether dogs should have only one protein source vs several protein sources.
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Should Dogs Have More Than One Protein?
Usually, as long as your dog gets all the essential amino acids they need in their everyday diet, it doesn’t matter how many protein sources they have. This is according to all the vets who provided information for this post.
(Read this entire post, however, as there are times when limiting your dog to one protein can be necessary.)
According to the veterinarians we interviewed, if your dog has a meat-based diet, they will be able to get all of their essential amino acids from that one protein source.
However, there is something to be said for diversifying your dog’s diet.
According to Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, a veterinarian from fatty15.com, “because every food contains different nutrients and minerals, dogs benefit greatly from having several protein sources.”
By having several sources of protein in your dog’s diet, such as chicken, fish, and beef, you are giving them the best chance at a well-balanced diet according to Dr. Venn-Watson.
Melissa M. Brock, a board-Certified Veterinarian working with Pango Pets, gives this example to expand on the point about multiple proteins:
“If you’re feeding your dog chicken and eggs, they’ll be getting a good amount of B vitamins and iron; while if you’re feeding them beef and pork, they’ll be getting a lot more zinc. They also tend to have different amino acids, so it’s better for your dog’s health overall if they’re getting a variety of protein sources.”
Why Do Dogs Need Protein?
Dr. Brock explains that dogs need essential amino acids because these are the building blocks of protein.
Your dog needs amino acids to make up their body’s proteins, including important body functions like organ, bone, and muscle development.
If your dog is young and active, they require even more protein than an older, more sedentary dog.
High quality, sufficient sources of protein allow them to build and maintain muscle, which will allow dogs to stay healthy and active.
A good rule of thumb is to look for dog foods that contain at least 30 percent protein.
This is an ideal amount of protein for most dogs.
What Type of Amino Acids Do Dogs Need?
Chyrle Bonk, DVM, a veterinarian working with hepper.com, also emphasized the importance of your dog getting those essential amino acids.
As Dr. Bonk also explained, “These are amino acids that they must get from their food because their bodies can’t make them.”
Dogs get essential amino acids from the protein sources in their food, like beef, chicken, and pork.
Each of these types of protein provides all the essential amino acids your dog needs. Each is considered a completed protein source.
Can Dogs Have Plant-Based Proteins?
“Plant-based proteins don’t contain all the essential amino acids, so some mixing and matching has to be done to get the complete amino acid profile,” according to Chyrle Bonk, DVM.
This means that if your dog is on a plant-based diet, they will need multiple protein sources to meet their amino acid requirements.
However, it is possible to feed your dog a plant-based protein diet.
Dr. Bonk recommends making sure that they are getting all the amino acids and nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Do Your Dog’s Protein Requirements Change as They Age?
It is important to find dog food created specifically for your dog’s life stage, activity level, and size, according to Dr. Alex Schechter, DVM, a veterinarian working with GreatVet.
For example, puppies need more protein than adult dogs because they are still in the process of growing and developing.
Different breeds of puppies have different nutritional needs, as well.
Regardless of your dog’s age and size, Dr. Schechter recommends that you steer clear of dog foods with excessive amounts of protein as explained:
“Since protein is food with a high caloric content, many high-protein diets are also very high in calories and can quickly cause weight gain. Over 50% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. A dog’s kidney or liver problems may worsen if they are overworked from eating too much protein, which can alter the body’s nutritional balance.”
What Is the Best Protein Source for Dogs?
As long as the protein source you are feeding your dog has all the essential amino acids they need, any protein source that is considered complete, will do.
This means that there is no “best” protein source for dogs.
However, there are different benefits that each source of protein provides as previously suggested.
For example, salmon is a great protein to include in your dog’s diet.
According to Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, “not only is it packed with proteins, it includes essential fatty acids that can really enhance your dog’s immune system and promote a healthy skin and coat.”
Interestingly, meat is generally considered the most digestible source of protein.
It also has a high concentration of amino acids, plus lots of vitamins and minerals that may be missing from plant-based proteins.
Your Dog’s Future Protein Needs
Garrett Yamasaki, Veterinarian and Founder of Trending Breeds, agreed with the other vets that it’s good for dogs to have more than one protein source.
He made a very good point; consider your dog’s long term dietary needs when addressing multiple vs single proteins in your dog’s diet. If you’ve been feeding your dog multiple protein sources you’ll have more choices should you need to limit your dog to only one protein source in the future.
Can Dogs Be Allergic to Protein?
Yes, dogs can be allergic to certain types of protein.
This can make it difficult to find a food they can eat, as most commercial dog foods are made using several different types of meat and protein sources.
As previously written, this is exactly what I experienced with Blanco, my white Labrador.
Dogs that are allergic to a certain protein often benefit from a single protein source diet.
This ensures that they do not ingest the type of meat or plant-based protein that they are allergic to.
This is the only time that a single protein source diet is absolutely necessary, according to Chyrle Bonk, DVM.
Dr. Bonk further explains, and I can attest, that you can choose to feed your non-allergic dog a single protein source diet, but they are often expensive and hard to find.
Everything I learned from the veterinarians we interviewed for this article aligns with my own experience in giving my dog more than one meat protein.
For example, my Austin veterinarian had me feed one protein to Blanco to figure out if and which protein was triggering food allergies. Then I added additional proteins one at a time while observing Blanco’s response.
My veterinarian also had me get a food allergy test to assess for allergies. This was an excellent starting point even though it was, admittedly, not easy getting an adequate amount of saliva out my Blanco’s mouth!
I did, however, finally find a high quality, very clean single protein dog food I like. Check out my “Products I Like” page to see it. The company has different types of single source protein varieties, such as chicken and beef.
The Big Picture: Is One Protein Source Enough for Dogs?
According to the veterinarians who provided information to us, and assuming food allergies are not an issue, the most important thing to remember is that your dog’s protein source should be complete whether he gets one protein source or multiple proteins.
This means that they should contain all the essential amino acids your dog needs to stay healthy.
Before making changes to your dog’s diet, be sure to consult your veterinarian or a dog nutritionist first.
This is especially important if your dog appears to have any allergies or digestive issues.
Your own veterinarian may have recommendations on what kind of protein is most appropriate for your dog so this might be the best place to start.