Health Series 1: Protein
*I am not a vet and this is not medical advice - but I do recognize that our vets are trained to heal disease. They receive very little training in using diet to maintain optimal health.
With January being the month of New Year's Resolutions and a focus on health, I wanted to do a series on dog nutrition. Early in 2022, we lost one of our mamas. It was a tremendously emotional experience, and I recently wrote a blog post about it. That experience along with changes we had made in our family's diet was the catalyst for me to change my girls' diet as well. It's important for me to feel like I am doing everything I can to give my girls the best health possible.
So first let's talk about protein. Protein is the building block of the body. It is the main component of muscles, bones, organs, skin, and nails. OUR bodies need quality protein and so do our dogs. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends dog food contain 18% protein for adult dogs. I believe these percentages are too low for optimal health, considering the huge role protein plays. Based on the research I have done, I prefer to feed my girls around 30% protein. Here's a link to an article written by a vet on protein. He dispels a lot of the myths around protein and some the bad rap it has gotten in the past. He too promotes a diet of around 30% protein for dogs.
The downside is that protein is the most expensive macro nutrient, so I can understand why dog food companies would rather use less protein and more fillers. You can find the % of protein in your dog food on the back of the bag. I also like to note how much of that protein is from animal versus plant sources. Animal derived protein is much more easily digestible compared to plant-based proteins. Animal based proteins also contain a complete array of amino acids. You can see, in the picture, that the protein in this bag of dogfood is 77% from animal sources. I like to keep an eye on this ratio as well as the % total protein. I have poured over the ingredient lists in different dog food brands, and I decided that it is more cost effective for me to bump the percentage of protein my girls' diets by simply replacing some of their daily kibble with real protein. Not to mention, real foods seem healthier than the dry kibble from a bag.
We are blessed to have 2 pasture-based beef farmers within a mile of our home. I can get any cut of beef, including organ meats and meaty bones. Some other sources of protein I use are eggs, turkey, venison, chicken, Greek yogurt, salmon, and sardines. I like to rotate the sources. I do not currently feed my girls raw meat. It might be what I go to in the future, I just haven't thoroughly researched it. So at this point, I do still cook any meat I feed my dogs. I find it easy enough to put a large amount of meat (along with 10% organ meat) into a crockpot and slow simmer it overnight or for several hours. Once it's done, if there is a lot of fat, I'll drain the fat off. If the pieces are large, I'll grind the cooled meat in my food processor, but if it's fairly crumbled into bite sized pieces, I'll just bag it up once it's cooled. I like to fill each freezer bag with enough servings to feed my girls for 4 or 5 days. Then I freeze these packages. I try to keep one package thawed in the fridge that I can scoop out of each morning to add to their food. The whole process only takes a bit of prep work once every few weeks. I don't even need to worry about it tasting good (seasonings and such) because my girls aren't food critics!
If there is a day I forgot to set out a package of frozen meat to thaw, I'll feed my girls a can of salmon or sardines. Eggs are easy to crack open and add raw to your dog's diet. Also yogurt, especially Greek yogurt, has a fair amount of protein. Yogurt also contains probiotics, which will be the topic I discuss next in this health series. Follow along as I share my journey to feed my girls for optimal health!
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