Is Protien Safe for Dogs?
For the last several decades, various health and fitness trends have picked different macronutrients to vilify. During the 1990s, public enemy number one was fat: we all started buying 2% milk, scraping mayonnaise off our fast food hamburgers, and investing in fat free yogurt, low fat graham crackers, and even reduced fat Oreos. In the new millennium, we have shifted the blame from fat to carbohydrates. Today, every product sitting on a grocery store shelf screams of its low carbohydrate content. We have begun making pizza crust out of cauliflower, chips out of leafy greens, and brownies out of black beans. High-fat, low-carbohydrate foods such as nuts and avocados have once more become health foods.
But the one macronutrient that has always remained in our good graces is protein. This is one of the few diet beliefs that appears to hold true across age, lifestyle, and even species: protein is good for you, and the more you eat, the healthier you will be. Our love of protein has resulted in a huge boom in high-protein products, including powders and supplements that consist of little more than this muscle-building macronutrient. So, should we give these products to our pets? Can my dog take protein?
The answer: it depends on how you define ‘protein.’ Certain foods that are high in protein, such as beans and lean meats, can be beneficial for your dog in moderation. Fortified foods and dietary supplements geared towards human athletes, however, are not safe for our pets. While your dog does require a certain amount of protein to remain healthy, a healthy dog eating a balanced diet has no need for protein powders and dietary supplements. If you suspect that your dog is protein deficient, the answer is not to mix a scoop of vanilla whey protein powder into their food. Some of the ingredients in protein powders may be harmful to canines. Dogs suffering from nutritional deficiencies should be examined by a veterinarian.
Though our dogs need all three macronutrients to be healthy, protein has earned its reputation for a reason. While carbohydrates are the fuel of choice for your dog’s body, protein provides the raw materials necessary to make every structure in your dog’s body. The amino acids in protein are used to build and repair the heart, the powerful muscles in your dog’s hind legs, and even their skin and their fur coat. Protein is an important part of your dog’s diet, and without it, they may develop a wide range of unpleasant symptoms.
Dogs consuming an inadequate amount of protein will often suffer from skin problems such as itching and dandruff. Their fur coat may also lose its luster—pups who aren’t eating enough protein may have fur that is thin, brittle, and dull in color. Some dogs may also suffer from chronic fatigue, frequent colds and other infections, depression, and constant hunger.
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so dogs who are not getting enough will often overeat when given the opportunity. If your dog is overweight or obese, it is important to examine their overall protein intake before altering their diet. If they are eating low quality kibble that is high in carbohydrates—or if they eat too many low-protein table scraps—you may find that simply increasing the percentage of calories from protein will help them feel more satiated. Protein is a great way to combat overeating.
Things to Consider
Though protein is healthy, you can have too much of a good thing. High protein foods can be satiating, but that does not negate their calorie content—feeding your dog too many calories from protein is no better than feeding your dog too many calories from carbohydrates. Anything that your dog’s body does not use immediately will be stored as fat. Excess protein may also be harmful for dogs who are prone to liver or kidney problems. If your dog’s kidneys are already weakened, increasing their workload by introducing large amounts of protein may be harmful.
Finally, protein powder is not safe for your dog because the ingredients are often not canine-friendly. Whey protein is derived from milk. Since most dogs are lactose intolerant, feeding them whey protein will likely result in digestive distress, including symptoms like bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Other types of protein powder contain preservatives and sweeteners that may be harmful to dogs, including xylitol and chocolate. Your dog should never eat any foods that have been flavored with either of these ingredients. If your dog eats chocolate protein powder, shakes, or bars, contact a veterinarian or a poison control center.
You may love your protein shake, but the reality is that your dog does not need any supplementary protein if they are healthy and eating a balanced diet. While protein is an important part of your dog’s diet, placing an emphasis on any one of the three macronutrients is more likely to do harm than good. If you are unsure about your dog’s diet, ask a veterinarian to recommend a high quality brand of food.