Protein is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet – for both you and your dog – and it is especially important for dogs in recovery. But with so much information out there, it’s often difficult to figure out how much protein your canine companion actually needs. Is their protein intake high enough? Are they getting it from the right sources? These questions can be confusing to answer.
To help shine some light on the situation, here are the need-to-know facts about protein for your pup and why it is especially important for those in recovery. Plus, we’ve handpicked three healthy, protein-packed treat recipes you can make at home that your furry friends are sure to love.
The Power of Protein
Proteins are the main building blocks of the body. They are used to build and repair muscle and other body tissues. Protein helps form new skin cells, grow hair, and build organs, enzymes, antibodies, hormones, and more that are needed for healthy bodily function. Plus, it provides energy, helps support strong immune and reproductive systems, and enhances long-term overall health. It’s hard to overstate the importance of protein.
How Much Protein Does My Dog Need?
All dogs, from puppies to seniors, need protein in their diet. But it varies from dog to dog. For example, working dogs who are highly active for most of the day and consistently break down their muscles through exercise require more protein than a dog who isn’t very active. Larger dogs need to be fed a larger amount of protein than smaller dogs to keep their muscles and bodies at optimal condition. Older arthritic animals who need to build muscle, puppies under one year old going through rapid growth, and pregnant and nursing dogs also need a higher level of protein to meet their bodies’ needs.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about feeding your dog too much protein. If protein intake is higher than the body needs, the excess will be removed through the urine. Weight gain can be an issue if they’re fed very high levels of protein over a long period of time, as the protein not needed for energy can be stored as fat. On the other hand, if your pup is getting too little protein in their diet, over time they may lose weight, show symptoms of weakness, or their coat may become rough and dull-looking.
Protein for Dogs in Recovery
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that protein needs are highest in dogs during periods of rapid growth and development. When muscles need to rebuild following trauma, protein is essential in providing the adequate nutrition for healthy tissue repair. This is why it’s important to up your pup’s protein intake when they are on the mend. When muscle tissues are damaged through injury or surgery, protein is the foundation for repair, while also helping to prevent muscle atrophy from lack of use.
Picking Quality Protein Sources
In reality, your dog does not need protein but rather the building blocks that make up protein, which are called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids dogs need to stay strong and healthy, and their bodies produce 12 of them – the other 10 (called essential amino acids) must be obtained through food sources.
So, not all proteins are created equal. The levels of amino acids vary in each protein source, and each protein varies in its ability to be broken down into amino acids. Protein bioavailability refers to the relative amount of essential amino acids in the food in relation to the total protein content, and protein digestibility refers to how much amino acid content is able to be broken down by the digestive system.
What this means is that you want to choose quality protein sources that are high in both bioavailability and digestibility. Egg, fish, beef, chicken, lamb, and rice all rank high on the scale. When picking your pup’s food, ensure one of these quality protein sources is listed in the first few ingredients. And of course, whole foods should always be a focus.
Protein-Packed Dog Treat Recipes
Making your own dog treats is a wonderful way to ensure your dog is getting a wholesome, healthy snack that still tastes good enough to be considered a treat! While not all commercially-made dog treats are unhealthy, many contain cheap fillers, processed byproducts, and synthetic preservatives to help extend shelf life. When you make dog treats from scratch, you can be confident in the quality of the ingredients.
Give your beloved pet a daily dose of high-quality protein with these delicious and nutritious homemade treats.
Chicken and Wild Rice Mini Muffins
(via Lola the Pitty)
These wholesome treats that resemble mini-muffins are the perfect way to up your pup’s protein intake. Plus, the addition of parsley is a natural and nutritious way to freshen their breath!
- 1 cup cooked wild rice or brown rice, mashed
- 1 cup chicken, diced fine or shredded
- 3 Tablespoons rice flour (may substitute with another type of flour – avoid wheat if your dog is sensitive to it)
- 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, diced
- 1 egg, beaten
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
- Coat a mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. Using a spoon, press mixture into each cavity of the pan, packing tight and filling nearly to the top. (If you don’t have a mini muffin pan, a regular muffin pan works fine – just fill each cavity only halfway.)
- Bake for 25 minutes or until top begins to turn golden brown.
- Allow to fully cool and store in an airtight container. These will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Freeze half the batch if you don’t plan on using them within 5 days.
These protein-packed squares can be baked as dry or moist as you choose. Try cutting them into smaller squares to use as bite-size training treats.
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 to 1 cup oat flour, almond flour, rice flour, buckwheat flour, or amaranth flour (use 1 cup if using canned salmon)
- 1 pound ground turkey, chicken, beef, venison, OR one 14¾-ounce can of salmon
- 1 egg
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Mix baking powder and flour; add meat or fish. Combine until dry ingredients are fully incorporated. Add egg and mix until completely combined. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared pan.
- Bake 20 to 30 minutes until firm and dry to the touch. Cool in the pan. Cut into squares and store in the refrigerator (good for up to five days) or in the freezer (good for up to six months).
Easy Grain Free Dog Treats
(via The Beautiful Balance)
Your pup will love these grain free dog treats that are high in protein and loaded with nutrients. Pumpkin has the added benefit of being great for your dog’s digestive regularity – helping with both constipation and diarrhea – and cinnamon has healing anti-inflammatory properties.
- 5 and 1/2 cups garbanzo bean flour
- 4 bananas, pureed or mashed
- 2 Tablespoons flax meal
- 1 and 1/2 cups organic canned pumpkin (or fresh cooked pumpkin, pureed)
- 1/3 cup organic peanut butter (the only ingredient should be peanuts and salt – no salt is even better)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
- Using a tablespoon ice cream scoop, drop dough onto parchment paper.
- Bake for 45 minutes and allow to fully cool.
- Store in air tight container. These will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Freeze half the batch if you don’t plan on using them within 2 weeks.