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Unless there is a medical reason to feed a protein-restricted diet, older dogs should be fed diets with normal or even increased levels of protein. Several prominent veterinary nutritionists from leading veterinary colleges independently recommend that dietary protein comprise 20 to 26 percent of the calories for older
dogs. How this translates to the percentage of protein in a particular diet as found on the label depends on whether the food is a high calorie or low calorie product. In general, look for a complete and balanced dog food containing about 25 percent protein for your healthy older dog.

Cats Have A Higher Protein Requirement

In addition to their unique requirement for the amino acid taurine, cats have a higher protein requirement than dogs The protein content in a nutritionally complete and balanced dry cat food can vary from 28 to 36 percent. As with the dog, the protein requirements for growth and reproduction are the greatest of any time
during their life.

Because of the cat’s special protein requirements and other nutrient needs, they should never be fed dog food.

Protein Digestibility

To evaluate the protein levels of different pet foods, two factors should be considered. One is the level of protein, and the other is the protein digestibility or availability to the dog or cat which can be determined only by controlled feeding studies.

Two diets may have the same protein level listed, but the results of actual digestion studies show different levels of digestibility. For example, a dog food which contains 21 percent protein with 85 percent digestibility would deliver equal amounts of protein as a diet containing 23 percent protein with a 77.6 digestibility.

In addition to the formulation of the pet food diet, quality control during processing of the pet foods is important. Protein may be damaged by heat processing, causing amino acid damage. Reputable
food manufacturers use quality ingredients and proper cooking methods. As digestibility is not listed on the pet food package, the manufacturer’s reputation is important.

High protein content plus high digestibility means that the dog or cat does not have to consume as much food to get the same amount of usable protein. If the protein digestibility is too low, the diet may not be adequate for growth or maintenance.

Comparing Protein Levels

Putting different types of pet foods on a dry matter basis provides a comparison of the protein levels. This enables a pet owner to compare products from different manufacturers. For example, a canned diet (which contains about 75 percent moisture) with a protein level of seven percent converts to 28 percent protein on
a dry matter basis. The formula for determining this is:

% protein (as is) = % protein (dry basis)
% dry matter

In Summary

Protein is an essential nutrient. Deficiency symptoms include depressed appetite, poor growth, loss of weight, rough and dull haircoat, irregular estrus, lower reproductive performance and reduced milk production.

Factors determining the quality of dietary protein are the proper amino acid balance, careful processing and controlled feeding studies by the manufacturer to ensure its digestibility and availability to the dog or cat.

Purina Leadership Through Nutrition Research
©1998, Ralston Purina Company

Animal nutrition studies began at the Purina Pet Care Center in 1926. The modern 13-building Purina Pet Care Center complex is located on a 337-acre tract of land 45 miles west of St. Louis. Over 600 dogs and 500 cats call the Purina Pet Care Center home. It is the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the world devoted exclusively to pet nutrition and care research.

During the Purina Pet Care Center’s long history, 28 breeds ranging in size from Chihuahuas to St. Bernards and Great Danes have been used in nutrition and palatability studies. In addition to representing different sizes, breed haircoats have ranged from short to long to aid in studying the relationship of diet and haircoat.

Puppies and kittens not needed for nutrition studies are made available for adoption by Ralston Purina Company employees, their families and friends. All puppies and kittens are neutered or spayed before leaving the Purina Pet Care Center as part of Ralston Purina Company’s commitment to responsible pet ownership.

Additionally, Ralston Purina Company funds university studies designed to benefit the well being of the dog and cat.
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