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How good is the protein in your pet’s food?

How good is the protein in your pet’s food?
  • 2 March 2021
  • ejohnson

Dietary protein in your pet’s food is assessed based on how much of essential amino acids it supplies (i.e., the concentration of essential amino acids), the composition (or mixture) of the essential amino acids, the digestibility of the protein, and the availability of the essential amino acids. An “ideal protein” for your pet is a protein that provides essential amino acids (as close as possible) to meet the requirements for optimum health. Now, if the protein in the diet of your pet contains high amounts of non-essential amino acids and it is deficient in essential amino acids (even only one of them), that protein does not have a nutritional value for your fur kids (even if the guaranteed value on the food label shows a high percentage of protein).

In general foods of animal origin (ex: chicken meal, salmon/fish meal, meat meal, chicken, lamb, salmon, etc.) have a higher and better composition of essential amino acids, compared to food ingredients of plant origin (ex: soybean, corn, wheat, barley, rice, peas, etc.). Therefore, the rule of thumb is that the more protein comes from ingredients of animal origin, the higher and better the nutritional value of the pet food protein. Plant proteins are often deficient in essential amino acids such as lysine, methionine, threonine, and/or tryptophan.

Another measure for assessing dietary protein for pets is protein digestibility. Your pet’s body must break proteins down into amino acids in his/her digestive tract.  Your pet will then absorb those amino acids across the wall of its intestine and into its blood.  Thus, if a protein is not digestible, it cannot be broken down into amino acids in the digestive tract of your pet, and the amino acids will not be absorbed. As a rule of thumb, protein from ingredients of a plant origin have a lower digestibility than proteins from ingredients of an animal origin. However, it is noteworthy that some animal proteins, such as the proteins found in hair, feathers (e.g., feather meal), or fish scales, have very low digestibility. Thus, when you purchase a food for your fur child, always ask this question “What is the main source of protein and amino acids in this food? Is it coming from an ingredient with an animal origin? Or does it come from ingredients of a plant origin.”  The first five ingredients listed in your pet’s food are generally the most abundant – although beware of labels that list chicken versus chicken meal as a top ingredient…


Dr. Anoosh has a PhD in animal nutrition and has published numerous research articles on nutrition in animals, particularly during stress. He is an owner of Pet Wants Lubbock.  His weekly tips and advice about animal nutrition are not meant to replace medical recommendations from your pet’s veterinarian.