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Fact or Fallacy? Dogs need to eat meat

The reality: Other foods can fulfill their requirement for protein

[From Tufts May 2011 Issue]

While dogs need dietary protein and essential amino acids, and meat has proven to be an excellent source of both, they can meet their requirements from other sources such as egg, dairy and vegetable proteins like soy. However, the best canine diets for completeness, palatability and digestibility include some meat, says nutritionist Sally C. Perea, DVM, MS.

While dogs can forgo meats and get a complete and balanced diet eating fish and vegetables, they need additional vitamins and minerals to meet established vitamin and mineral requirements, Dr. Perea says. They also need supplements if they’re on a vegetarian or vegan diet — one that avoids dairy, eggs and “flesh” foods.

Dogs are considered omnivores — they eat both plants and animals — and meat is palatable for them, says Dr. Perea, senior nutritionist at Natura Pet Food and a member of Your Dog’s editorial board. “It’s part of their natural diet; therefore, it is reasonable to expect them to have a preference for meat. In my experience, meat-based diets generally out perform others in palatability studies.”

Grains are another story. Dogs have shorter gastrointestinal tracts than humans. “They can be more prone to having trouble digesting grains and vegetables that have a lower digestibility,” Dr. Perea says. “In pet foods, grains and vegetables are generally well cooked, helping to increase the digestibility of these ingredients.”

Grinding or milling the ingredients, in addition to cooking, helps improve digestion. Most commercial dry pet food ingredients are milled before extruding kibble.

The ideal diet she’d select would have meat, fish, poultry and perhaps eggs, Dr. Perea says, adding that she wouldn’t exclude vegetarian or vegan sources, but they wouldn’t be her first choice.

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