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The Protein Controversy

Posted by Scott Pollak on

By Dr. Bruce DeBaun

A great deal of misinformation has been published about the adverse effects of protein on our animals. Large breed dogs, in particular, are believed to be affected by consuming too much protein during their puppy and adolescent stages. This misconception is predicated on the hypothesis that protein accelerates bone development. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The protein molecule is the fundamental building block of all cellular structure in the body, whether bone, muscle, organ, skin tissue or hair. The carnivore, in particular, requires a large amount of protein. The body takes this protein and converts it into one of five categories so it may be used wherever it is required.

Growth rate cannot be accelerated by feeding too much of a particular food element-it is determined by the animal's own gene pool. If the animal is not able to use a specific food element it will be stored or eliminated. There are certain minerals that can be accrued, but protein-when fed in the appropriate ratio of calcium and magnesium along with other necessary minerals-will not cause bone disturbances.

What about different protein levels for different life stages? If we think of wild dogs, we realize they eat the same protein prey (rabbit, woodchuck, and squirrel) through all life stages. Data supports the need for consistently high levels of protein. Younger animals require protein because they are going through rapid development that protein supports. Older animals, going through the accelerated degeneration of tissue that we call aging, require protein for regenerative support.

The crude protein values listed on the pet food label do not indicate the amount of usable protein in a food, but rather the overall protein in the package. The actual usable protein (bio-available protein) is often quite less, therefore animals using commercial food are more apt to be protein deficient, than to have too much. Non-available protein, which comes from grains and other difficult-to-digest food elements, can cause health issues including protein deficiency, digestive problems, and allergies. Therefore, the source and quality of the protein are of primary importance.

Excess calories should not be confused with excess protein. Bone growth problems are more likely to be caused by excess calories and rapid weight gain due to excessive feeding coupled with poor mineral intake than by protein. Young dogs raised on a natural diet such as raw meat tend to grow more slowly and have fewer musculoskeletal problems than dogs raised on commercial diets.

One should not rush to cut back on the amount of calories fed, either. In an effort to reduce calories in Lite, Puppy, or Senior formulas, pet food manufacturers generally reduce the already low protein and nutrient content. A careful look at the label illustrates that the higher-value ingredients have simply been removed, leaving a lot of fiber and inert material. The provider who wishes to ensure that his animal does not put on excess weight should feed less of a high-quality maintenance diet with a high protein level, rather than feeding a typical Lite formula.

If the animal is markedly overweight and a Lite formula is necessary, one must use supplements to ensure nutritional adequacy. Excess weight is usually a result of aging and a slowing metabolism along with a lack of adequate daily exercise. Quite often, we do not wish to acknowledge our own delinquency in not running, but merely walking, our pets. We'd sooner blame the food or seek a Lite diet.

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