Pet Food Bytes: The Difference Between Animal and Plant-Based Proteins

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Published: July 30, 2015

What's the Difference?

By Jennifer Coates, DVM

Feeding a high quality pet food is one of the simplest yet most important ways to promote health and wellbeing in dogs and cats. Unfortunately, some pet parents may unintentionally equate high protein with a high quality cat and dog food.

Protein certainly is important, but it is not the only nutrient that determines a pet food’s quality. Like almost everything else in life, moderation is the key to good health. Eating a diet that contains too much protein, particularly low-quality protein, can have adverse effects on your pet.

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Does the Source of Protein in Cat or Dog Food Matter?

To understand the importance of dietary protein, we must understand its nutritional role. When a dog or cat eats protein, it is not absorbed whole. Instead, it is broken down into its constituent parts – amino acids. Different types of protein contain different amino acid combinations, but as long as the pet eats, digests, and absorbs the right amount of each required amino acid, the source is not particularly important. In other words, arginine is arginine no matter if it comes from soybeans or turkey.

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So Dogs and Cats Can Digest Plant Proteins?

The truth is that while dogs do need some of their protein to come from animals, they are quite capable of digesting and absorbing nutrients (including essential amino acids) from high quality, plant-based ingredients like quinoa. Cats can also digest plant proteins but the diets must be balanced appropriately.

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Are High Levels of Protein in Pet Food Dangerous?

Another important consideration with regard to protein sources in pet food is phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for dogs and cats, but high dietary levels of the mineral are associated with a more rapid progression of chronic kidney disease, an all too common cause of death in dogs and cats. Chronic kidney disease can only be detected when two-thirds to three-quarters of kidney function has already been lost. Therefore, pet parents who are unknowingly feeding a high phosphorus pet food may inadvertently be contributing to an irreversible worsening of their pet’s kidney function.

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Will I Need to Change My Pet’s Diet?

If your pet does have chronic kidney disease, moderating the amount of phosphorus in the diet is often advised. This can be done by precisely combining high quality animal based proteins with plants that are an excellent, low phosphorus source of many of the amino acids that dogs and cats need.  But first…

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Consult Your Veterinarian

Don’t let fashion dictate what you feed your pet. While high protein pet foods may sound appealing, they are not always the healthiest choice for dogs and cats. Speak to your veterinarian to devise a diet that is appropriate for your pet.

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