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Our last blog detailed carbohydrates that are appropriate and how they can enhance your dog’s health.  We will now move on to how functional proteins play a role in your dog’s health.

There are many functional proteins that are important to your dog’s diet. Protein is responsible for building and repairing muscles and tissues and provides the structure for skin, hair, nails, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and muscle fibers. You can imagine how much your dog’s body suffers if he doesn’t get the proper amount or quality of protein in his diet.

Let’s look at a few important functions of protein:

– Antibodies made of proteins help protect the body from foreign “attackers” such as viruses and bacteria, keeping the immune system strong.

– Collagen (a protein) forms most of the body’s connective tissue.

– Messenger proteins, including some types of hormones, regulate various systems in the body (e.g., insulin, which is essential to controlling blood glucose levels).

– Protein enzymes carry out almost every one of the thousands of chemical reactions that take place in cells.

– Proteins help regulate muscle action.

– Protein provides essential amino acids.

– Transportation proteins in the blood carry essential vitamins and nutrients throughout the body.

As you can see, dogs need lots of protein in their diet to ensure their health flourishes. Because the body uses so much, dogs need a constant supply.  The quality of proteins they digest, however, is as important as the quantity.
It is also important to understand the difference between the functional proteins and non-functional proteins.

Proteins are made up of long chains of smaller units called amino acids. Dogs utilize 22 different amino acids. Twelve of these amino acids are called “non-essential” because a dog’s body can make them in sufficient amounts to meet their nutritional requirements, so they’re not necessary in the diet. The other ten are called “essential amino acids” because dogs cannot manufacture enough of them.  These are:
– Arginine
– Histidine
– Isoleucine
– Leucine
– Lycine
– Methionine
– Phenylalanine
– Threonine
– Tryptophan
– Valine

Dietary protein is also the body’s primary source of nitrogen. The body needs nitrogen to synthesize the essential amino acids and other molecules necessary for life. The body can only synthesize protein if all essential amino acids are present in a sufficient amount. If even one essential amino acid is deficient, the entire process of protein synthesis shuts down.

The highest quality proteins for dogs comes from animal sources:

– Dairy
– Eggs
– Fish
– Muscle meats
– Organ meats

High quality takes on new meaning when it is re-defined to include sources that are functional. A high quality, functional protein according to the principles of nutrigenomics must…
– Be easily digestible and assimilated.
– Be free of contaminants such as chemicals, hormones and antibodies.
-Not promote food intolerance/sensitivity.
– Not contain compounds that send unhealthy messages to the epigenome, triggering unhealthy gene expression.
– Is unadulterated (e.g., non-GMO) and unprocessed or minimally processed.

It is recommended you rotate among the following functional, high quality protein sources:
– Dairy products made from goat or sheep sources, including milk, cheese and yogurt (preferably raw and organic).

– Eggs (preferably free-range and organic)

– Fish that are low in mercury, including sardines, wild-caught Alaskan salmon (avoid farm-raised), Pollack and catfish. Avoid high-mercury fish such as tuna (especially albacore or white tuna), king mackerel, tile fish, shark and swordfish. It is also recommended that you do not give your dog shellfish, such as shrimp, crab, lobster, oyster and clams, since some dogs can experience the same severe allergic reaction as people.

– Muscle meat and organ meat from novel animal sources, such as bison or buffalo, duck, goat, pork, rabbit, turkey and venison (preferably grass fed and naturally raised without hormones or antibiotics). These sources are less likely to cause food intolerance/sensitivities that more common animal proteins, such as beef, chicken and lamb.

The amount of protein your dog requires depends on his age, activity level, specific health issues and also the quality of the protein. If the protein is not as digestible the dog will need more to assimilate the amino acids. This is why many dogs on a homemade diet don’t eat as much as those that eat a commercial kibble.

There is so much to know about nutrition that we are only getting started. Be sure to check out our first two blogs in this series and be sure to watch for our next blog on functional fats and oils.

Information adapted from Canine Nutrigenomics – The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health by W. Jean Dodds and Diana Laverdure.