Protein Requirements Throughout the Stages of a Dog's Life


Understanding the role that protein plays throughout a dog's life is important because puppies and geriatric dogs need extra protein compared to the healthy adult dog. Research suggests that healthy geriatric dogs may need higher levels of protein than healthy adult dogs.

Recently, Purina Pet Products reformulated its senior dog foods to have higher protein. "There is a myth that older dogs do not need high levels of protein. Research indicates that the exact opposite is true: older dogs may actually need more protein than younger dogs. If an elderly dog is healthy, higher levels of protein will help maintain lean body mass and support immune functions," says Dottie Laflamme, DVM, PhD, of Ralston Purina Company.

Geriatric Dogs Need High Levels of Protein

Research conducted at the Purina Pet Care Center as well as other institutions indicates that healthy geriatric dogs digest protein in a similar manner to young adult dogs. However, they may be less efficient in metabolizing protein after absorption. In order to maintain optimum protein reserves healthy geriatric dogs may need more protein than younger adult dogs. "Higher protein does not necessarily mean higher calories. It is important to be sure that the protein/calorie ratio is properly adjusted to meet the specific energy needs of the aging dog," says Laflamme.

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Less active older dogs often have reduced energy requirements and may benefit from a lower calorie dog food with an adjusted protein/calorie ratio, such as Purina® Senior, Pro Plan® brand Reduced Calorie or Purina O.N.E.® brand Reduced Calorie dog foods.

Protein Intake Helps Females During Pregnancy

Although protein is important to other canines, it is crucial during reproduction, especially before puppies are born. Pregnant bitches need to receive proper nutrition during the pregnancy. Inadequate nutrition during this critical period can affect the puppies even months later.

During the last trimester when fetuses are growing rapidly, they depend heavily upon the female's diet for essential nutrients. During these last two to three weeks, expecting bitches should be fed a diet containing more than 1600 metabolizable calories per pound of food and at least 21 percent protein. The protein, along with the other nutrients, helps the fetuses grow and develop properly. As always, when a complete and balanced food for all life stages is fed, supplements are not necessary. While food intake normally fluctuates, it is important to remember that overweight bitches can have lower conception rates and more problems at whelping.

Protein Is Important to the Growth of Puppies

Puppies' diets require special attention. Feeding puppies the correct amounts of nutrients helps ensure proper growth. Puppies should begin nibbling solid food by three to four weeks of age. At week six, puppies are usually ready to be weaned. To ensure normal growth and development puppies need about twice the nutrition per pound of body weight than they will as adult dogs. This can best be accomplished by feeding a nutritionally dense food. Puppy foods such as Purina® Puppy Chow® brand puppy food or Purina O.N.E.® brand puppy formula are specially formulated to meet the special nutritional needs of puppies. They do this by offering higher levels of protein, iron and other nutrients in a highly digestible form.

Hardworking Dogs Need More Protein

Compared to less active pets, hardworking dogs require higher levels of protein, calories and fat in their diet to maintain stamina and good body condition. Choose a dry dog food that is complete and balanced and includes at least 26 percent protein and 1650 kilocalories of metabolizable energy per pound. During the seasons when dogs are not working, their energy requirements decrease. Feed less of the high calorie food or gradually change to a less nutrient-dense dog food. Maintaining dogs in good body condition in the off season will help make conditioning less stressful.

Protein is important at all life stages, and it should always be present in dogs' diets. Fetuses to puppies to geriatric dogs all need protein because it enables their bodies to grow, reproduce and stay healthy. If you show, breed, board, trial or feed five or more dogs, call 1-800-851-3148 to join the Purina Pro Club.

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