TLC Quality Protein Sources

Meat Matters: The Importance of Quality Protein

What is the difference between plant-based and animal-based protein sources in pet food, and why is protein so important for our pets? TLC answers these questions and more.

When it comes to your pet’s diet, protein plays a vital role for both dogs and cats; ensuring they receive everything they need to thrive. Here we take a look at this essential nutrient and explore the difference between animal and plant-based proteins.

So What’s the Big Deal About Protein Anyway?

Protein is responsible for many functions in your pet’s body but one of its more important roles is that it’s made up of amino acids. Our pets’ bodies make approximately half of the amino acids they need on their own (these are referred to as non-essential amino acids), with the rest depending on ingredients found in their daily diet. These amino acids are referred to as essential amino acids and ensuring your pet is receiving the right combination of ingredients to produce these amino acids is the best way to avoid deficiencies that can lead to a wide range of health problems.

Not All Protein Sources Are Created Equal

Protein in pet food can come from animal sources, plant sources, or a combination of the two, but it’s essential to understand that not all protein sources are created equal.

For example, dogs are technically considered omnivores (meaning they eat both meat and plant-based foods); however, it’s high-quality meat-based protein, like chicken, that contains all amino acids required for your pup to thrive, whereas a diet that depends on plant-based sources may be deficient in some essential amino acids.

Cats are carnivores meaning they require a diet made up of animal-based protein to meet their dietary needs. This doesn’t mean that plant-based ingredients are “bad” ingredients for your feline. Peas, for example, are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but when it comes to protein; animal-based ingredients are far superior.

Choosing the Right Diet Is Important

When you’re considering what food to feed your pets, you may wonder how you can be sure a pet food formula includes the right amount of high-quality meat-based protein. It’s not enough to find the protein percentage (listed under the Guaranteed Analysis); you need to understand what ingredients make up that percentage. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering a pet food:

  • Are animal proteins the main ingredient?

All pet food formulas must list their ingredients in order by inclusion level (by weight), with the highest inclusion listed first and so on and so forth. If a formula lists a plant-based ingredient first, the formula may not include the nutrients required to ensure your pet is receiving everything they need in their diet to thrive. Look for formulas that list quality meat-based proteins first.

  • How many plant-based ingredients are listed overall?

Compare the number of animal-based ingredients to the number of plant-based ingredients. Pay special attention to the top ten listed ingredients and where they’re listed. Formulas that list a meat ingredient first but pack their top ten ingredients with plant-based ingredients may not deliver the essential amino acids your pet requires to thrive. 

  • Are they ingredient splitting?

Some pet food companies will use a deceptive practice called ‘ingredient splitting’. This occurs when the same ingredient is labeled differently to lower its inclusion on an ingredient deck. For example, you might find a formula includes peas, pea flour, and pea protein all listed as top ten ingredients. This is a sign that the formula is likely relying more heavily on lower quality plant based protein sources and may not offer the essential nutrients your pet needs.