Are proteins really bad for dogs?

It’s a myth that high level of proteins causes aggression and kidney failure in pets. Here’s the myth buster.

Role of proteins: Proteins perform numerous functions in the body, encompassing roles as diverse as Nutritionstructural components of practically all body tissues, enzymes for digestion of food and metabolic reactions, homeostatic hormones and transport proteins, and immunoglobulins and other components of the immune system. Body proteins are constantly being turned over, requiring a supply of amino acid building blocks.

Proteins: Dogs and cats are able to synthesise 12 of the 22 different amino acids found in proteins, but only as long as sufficient nitrogen is present in the diet. These are the so-called non-essential or dispensable amino acids. The other 10 amino acids – the essential or indispensable – must be supplied in the diet and include arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Cats require an eleventh amino acid, namely taurine.

Dietary protein and amino acid requirements vary according to life stage and lifestyle, as well as factors such as disease, environmental temperature and stress. The ability of a food to meet these requirements depends upon how digestible the protein is and how well its amino acid profile meets the amino acid needs of body tissues. The latter represents the biological value or quality of a protein.

Protein dietary requirements: National Research Council 2006 recommends that adult dogs should be fed a diet containing at least 25 g protein per 1000 kcal. This requirement increases to 50 g/1000 kcal in female dogs during pregnancy and lactation and 56g/1000 kcal in puppies. Protein requirements are also higher in working and racing dogs, reflecting the demands of increased muscle turnover and protein synthesis.

Protein supplied in excess of requirements is simply converted to energy and stored or utilised as such. There are no recommended maximum protein intakes for dogs.

Myth busted: Anecdotally there are claims that raw meat (high protein) diets are linked with aggression in dogs. This has led to speculation that a high protein level in dog food causes aggression. Brain biochemistry indicates that certain amino acids are linked with production of ‘calming’ hormones; hence there is a leap of faith suggesting that certain diets are calming and others have the opposite effect. Likewise there has been speculation that high protein diets cause kidney disease, especially in cats. This has partly come about because low protein diets are used to treat the symptoms of kidney disease.

Dogs are semi-carnivores, cats are carnivores; this means that they evolved to eat diets rich in protein. For example, the maternal milk of dogs is much higher in protein than human or cow’s milk.

Scientific studies have shown that there is no link between high protein diets and aggression in dogs. Our resident dogs at our Pet Centres in Waltham and Verden, Germany are continuously looked after and monitored with respect to their health, happiness and behaviour. Over many years of feeding foods containing a range of protein levels, we have never experienced any indication of a relationship between dietary protein and aggression.

Similarly, several scientific studies have shown that there is no link between high protein diets and risk of kidney disease in healthy cats and dogs.

The independent international nutrition guidelines for dogs (NRC) are based on the latest science and they have not specified a limit to upper levels of protein for dogs.


Is salt really bad for dogs?

It is assumed that salt products are bad for dogs, causing problems such as high blood pressure or kidney failure or even skin diseases and hair fall. But, is salt really bad for dogs?

The facts…

  • Salt is present in our pet products to ensure the essential nutrients sodium and chloride are present at nutritionthe required levels.
  • It is not a flavour enhancer for dogs and is not added to increase palatability.
  • It provides the essential nutrients – sodium and chloride. The sodium requirement of dogs has been defined by the National Research Council (NRC), which sets a safe lower and upper limit.
  • Dogs are semi-carnivores. This means that they evolved to eat meaty diets that are naturally rich in sodium. Because of this they have not developed taste systems that respond to sodium, hence it is not a flavour enhancer as it is for humans.
  • There is no evidence of a link between high salt (sodium) diets and risk of high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney or skin or hair coat disease in healthy dogs.

Why do dogs need salt?

Salt has two constituents – namely sodium and chloride – both of which are crucial for the maintenance of body’s fluid balance and blood volume, as well the functioning of nervous tissues. Deficiencies in sodium and chloride result in problems with nervous signal transmission, low blood pressure, restlessness, increased heart rate and pasty or thick mucus.

Research has indicated a diet low in sodium can induce reductions in blood pressure regulating hormones during prolonged sodium deficiency, fatigue , exhaustion , inability to maintain water balance, decreased water intake, retarded growth, and dryness of skin and loss of hair.

How much salt do dogs need?

Adult dogs require a daily sodium intake of around 13 mg/kg body weight, which corresponds to a minimum dietary level of 0.2 g/1000 kcal. Requirements are 2-3 times higher in puppies and during pregnancy and lactation, and five times higher in very highly active dogs such as greyhounds or sled dogs.

How much salt is there in dog foods?

The sodium content of dog foods is in fact similar to that of prey consumed by dogs in the wild, including small deer, rabbits and chickens, which contain between 2.5 and 10 g/kg of dry matter. By contrast, cereals, fruits and vegetables are low in sodium and typically contain less than 1g/kg DM (around 200mg/1000 kcal). Thus dogs as semi-carnivores have evolved to tolerate high levels of dietary sodium. Likewise they show limited ability to detect dietary sodium levels and do not use salt as a driver of food selection and consumption. Omnivores such as man respond to dietary sodium, presumably to enable selection of foods with adequate sodium levels for health.

Commercially available dog foods provide intakes of sodium that are comfortably in excess of minimum requirements and typically have between 0.5 and 2.5 g/1000 kcal or 2-10 g/kg of dry matter. Studies on the sodium requirements of dogs have shown a wide range of tolerance. The minimum requirement for health in adult dogs is 200 mg/1000 kcal and the maximum is approximately 4 g/1000 kcal. Mars pet-foods (Pedigree) are formulated within the Waltham guidelines, which define an even safer range of 0.5 to 3 g/1000 kcal. Dry foods tend to contain less sodium than wet formats, including canned, tray and pouch products, because they contain fewer meat products that are naturally rich in sodium. Sodium levels are similar across brands, with no significant differences between mainstream and premium products in either wet or dry formats.

Processed human foods that are frequently offered to dogs in the form of table scraps – such as bacon, sausages and cheese – have sodium levels well in excess of those of dog foods and hence should be avoided.

Is dietary sodium harmful to dogs?

Healthy dogs are perfectly tolerant to large amounts of dietary sodium and adapt well to substantial fluctuations in intake. Adverse signs are seen only once intakes are more than twice those found in even the most sodium-rich of dog foods. The recommended upper limit, which includes a margin of safety, is currently set at 15 g/kg dry matter.

There is no evidence that sustained high levels of salt intake in dogs are linked with high blood pressure, renal failure or coronary heart disease in dogs, whereas high salt intakes are implicated in the aetiology of all these diseases in humans. Furthermore, excessive salt intakes do not contribute to disease progression in dogs with either kidney or heart failure.

In fact, increasing dietary salt levels within the NRC range, may have benefits including the risk of calcium oxalate stone formation. Studies have shown that the increased dietary sodium promotes the formation of dilute urine with no net increase in calcium concentrations.

(This article is contributed by Mars India International, with inputs from Dr Tim Watson BVM&S, PhD, MRCVS, Townhead of Aber, Gartocharn, Dunbartonshire, G83 8NQ)

Bite the bad habits

Perhaps two of the most annoying habits of our pooches are digging in the garden and begging for food. Here’s how to handle these behaviours.

Digging…a chore!

Many of us would have tripped in our dog’s latest backyard excavation, or had our carefully tended vegetable Dog Traininggardens destroyed. All this is due to the digging behaviour of dogs that is sometimes annoying and destructive.

There are a number of reasons a dog will dig, and most of them are easily fixed. These include:

  • The most common reason for digging is boredom. Dogs dig because it is highly entertaining when they have nothing else to do.
  • Sometimes, the dog has lot of pent-up energy, which he burns while digging.
  • They may also dig because of anxiety, in an attempt to escape, or to cool off in hot weather.

Exercise…a cure!: The first step in preventing digging is to make sure your dog is getting enough exercise. Many dogs will become destructive if they are not mentally and physically stimulated. Provide plenty of activity that includes human interaction – take lots of walks, play ball, or go for a swim at a dog-friendly lake or beach. This satisfies your dog’s need for attention and burns off excess energy, meaning he’ll be more likely to behave when left on his own.

Alone…but not lonely: When you have to leave your dog alone, provide plenty of toys that will stimulate him, and take them away when you come home. A Kong toy stuffed with treats entertain and keep them busy for a long time.

Bad habits…die hard: If your dog continues to dig, here are a few preventive measures:

  • If your dog is only digging in one area, such as your flower garden, try putting up a barrier that keeps him out of your prized petunias.
  • Turn on your sprinklers. Dogs don’t like to be sprayed, and yours will learn to stay out of the garden if he gets wet every time he goes near it.
  • Offer him his own sandbox or a corner of the yard, where he can dig to his heart’s content. Hide treats below the surface to encourage him to use his own area.
  • Make sure your dog has ample shelter and plenty of cool water to drink as he may be trying to escape the heat by digging.
  • As a last resort, you can place solid dog waste into the holes he’s dug, especially if he returns to the same spot time and again. It may not be the most suitable solution, but it will prevent him from digging there any further.

Begging… who taught it?

There’s nothing more frustrating than sitting down with the family to enjoy a meal, only to be interrupted by your dog’s whining as he begs for food. But begging is not a natural doggie behaviour. It is taught entirely by well-meaning humans who do not realize they are doing more harm to the dog than good. We feed our dogs table scraps to satisfy our own emotional needs, not realizing how damaging it can be for the dog. Yes, he appreciates the morsels of food you throw his way, but in the long run, these well-intentioned treats hurt him. Knowing he can beg for food – and get it – only encourages your dog to continue the behaviour. It is extremely bad also for his health and weight.

Table manners: In order to get your dog to learn some table manners, you must stop feeding him from the table altogether. Or from your plate or the kitchen! He must know he cannot eat what the rest of the family is eating. If you give into him just once, you only keep his hopes alive and encourage further begging.

Human food…unhealthy for pooches: Not only does eating human food encourage your dog to beg, but also many foods are dangerous for him to ingest. Chocolate, grapes, and raisins are all human food items that convert to a toxin in your dog’s system. Effects of eating these foods can range from stomach upset to death. Not all dogs react the same, so as a rule, it is best to keep these foods out of your dog’s reach altogether. Besides, a dog’s stomach is not designed to digest most human foods, either. Too much of an unfamiliar diet can lead to nausea, diarrhoea, and even skin and coat problems.

Early training…a must: If you are raising a puppy, start him out right and feed him only high quality dog foods and treats designed for dogs. Teach him from the start that his food and your food are not the same. If he never eats from your plate, he’ll never know to ask.

Ignore those pleading eyes: If, however, you are trying to fix a begging problem that has already been created, you will need to stand firm in your resolve and not give in to those desperately pleading eyes. It’s hard to do, but it really is for the best. Stop giving him any human food. Don’t even put it into his food bowl. Make him eat his dog food. Teaching him to eat his own food will keep him from begging for yours.

Thus, a few simple things can make your pooch better mannered and of course healthy for life!

Dog Health

Blowing bad breath away

Bad breath (halitosis) is a common pet odour complaint, but it can be prevented. Here are the causes, diagnosis and treatment of this health problem in dogs.

Halitosis is an unpleasant odour, also called bad breath, which is defined as an offensive odour from the oral Dog Healthcavity of a canine. In the majority of cases, the predominant source of halitosis in dogs and cats is within the oral cavity. Microbial metabolism or protein-containing substances such as food debris, exfoliated epithelium, saliva and blood result in the production of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs). These compounds, particularly mercaptyl sulphide and hydrogen sulphide, produce breath malodor when exhaled.

Common cause of halitosis

The most common cause of halitosis is periodontal disease caused by plaque (bacteria). Bacteria are attracted to the tooth surface within hours of teeth cleaning. Within days, the plaque becomes mineralised producing calculus. As plaque ages and gingivitis develops into periodontitis (bone loss), bacteria change from fairly irritating strains to bone destroying types which produce hydrogen sulphide, causing halitosis.

Other causes of halitosis

  • Diabetes mellitus.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Gastrointestinal disease, including cancers, obstructions, and certain infections.
  • Infections of areas around the mouth, such as the folds of the lips.
  • Respiratory disease, e.g. sinus infections.
  • Dietary “indiscretions,” such as eating stool or spoiled garbage.
  • Other oral disease, such as tonsillitis, cancer, trauma, and some autoimmune diseases.

What are the signs of halitosis?

Periodontal disease is painful. Some dogs and cats may have problems chewing hard food, while others may paw at their mouths. Unfortunately, most of the dogs do not show any signs.


It usually isn’t too difficult to identify where the smell is coming from, although there are other locations which need to be eliminated as the source of the bad smell, which include:

  • Ear infections can be quite strong and can permeate through the coat.
  • A discharging abscess or a skin ulcer – located anywhere on the body.
  • In dogs discharged anal sacs (“scent glands”) give off a very strong odour which can permeate throughout the body coat.
  • A dirty, soiled coat. Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the bad breath and help guide subsequent treatment recommendations. Some tests may include:
    • A complete medical history and physical examination.
    • A complete oral exam, which may require a brief anaesthetic.
    • Periodontal probing (a blunt probe that is used to check the gum/tooth interface) to identify gum and periodontal diseases.

Full-mouth radiographs (X-rays) with a dental machine.


Halitosis treatment depends on the cause; while optimal therapy of any serious or persistent medical condition depends on establishing the correct diagnosis. There are numerous potential causes of halitosis and before any treatment can be recommended, it is important to identify the underlying cause. Initial therapy should be aimed at the underlying cause. This treatment may include:

  • Removal of foreign object if present.
  • Treatment of any oral tumours as needed.
  • Periodontal therapy and root planning (cleaning/scraping the teeth under the gums).
  • Antibiotics may be used to annihilate bacteria causing periodontal disease and halitosis. Often the antibiotics are used in a pulse therapy fashion (given the first five days of each month). Odour neutralisation of hydrogen sulphide occurs with the use of zinc citrate.

Living and management

Home care recommendations will depend on the underlying cause of the problem. Some steps that you can take to eliminate your dog’s bad breath include:

  • Provide your dog with fresh water at all times. Water helps to wash away food particles that can become lodged between the teeth. It is important that your dog always has fresh supply of water.
  • Brushing your dog’s teeth daily. Tooth brushes/finger brushes and special toothpastes are available from your veterinarian/ pet shops.
  • Provide your dog with rawhide bones, chew toys, and biscuits to keep his teeth free of plaque. Regular chewing of such items will help remove plaque naturally, as well as aid in keeping the teeth strong and healthy.
  • Spraying 0.12 percent chlorhexidine (prescribed by your veterinarian) into your dog’s mouth once a day for seven to fourteen days.
  • Supplementation of diet with
    • digestive enzymes are often very helpful
    • beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotics supplement improve normal bacterial populations.
    • Aloe Vera – heals the mucosal lining of oral cavity.

(Dr S S Patil and Dr K B Kore are Ph D scholars and Dr P P Mirajkar is MVSc scholar at Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI).)