Are protein rich diets good for your dog?

Over the years, dogs have eaten whatever we humans eat out of convenience. A hundred years ago, they were fed table scraps and today, with the availability of commercial foods and kibbles, most dogs still eat what humans eat. This is a ‘balanced diet’ of protein, carbohydrates and fats.

Scientists have long believed that a high protein diet can be damaging to human health – and that belief has carried over to dogs. We’ve all heard that excessive meat consumption can cause kidney disease and many dogs in kidney failure are fed a low protein diet. The burden of proof for this statement is based largely on early research by Louis Newburgh.

Newburgh force fed excessive amounts of soybean, egg whites and beef protein to laboratory animals and found that this diet did indeed cause kidney disease. The problem with this research is that the animals – rabbits – were later found to be herbivores which have a natural diet of buds and bark, not their fellow animals. As misguided as it seems to feed animal proteins to rabbits, it’s equally misguided to assume that carnivores, namely dogs, should be force fed excessive amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables.

Another fallacy pertaining to meat is the notion that an all meat diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals. In fact, meats contain all of the essential amino acids (the basic structural building blocks of proteins), and they do so in a ratio that is ideal for their complete utilization. Meats also contain twelve of the 13 essential vitamins in large quantities.

Meat is a very concentrated source of vitamins A, E, and the entire B complex. Vitamins D and B12 are found only in animal products (although adequate amounts of vitamin D can be attained with adequate sunlight).

The thirteenth vitamin, vitamin C, is found only in very small quantities. This is problematic because vitamin C plays a vital role in growth, development and immunity. Furthermore, conditions like scurvy can be reversed by consuming fruits which are high in vitamin C. This doesn’t mean however that low levels of vitamin C are caused by not eating fruit.

Nutritionists discovered years ago that B vitamins are depleted from the body from the consumption of carbohydrates. Theodore Van Italie of Columbia University states “There is an increased need for these vitamins when more carbohydrate in the diet is consumed.” Carbohydrate consumption may also cause vitamin C depletion.

Type II diabetics have 30% lower levels of vitamin C in their circulation and Metabolic Syndrome is also associated with significantly reduced levels of vitamin C. It seems that vitamin C deficiency might be a byproduct of processed, carbohydrate laden diets. Nutritionists Julie Will and Tim Byers of the Centers for Disease Control and the University of Colorado respectively observe that high blood sugar and/or high levels of insulin work to increase the body’s requirements for vitamin C. When blood sugar levels are increased by carbohydrates in the diet, the cellular uptake of vitamin C will drop. High levels of blood sugar will also impair the reabsorption of vitamin C by the kidneys, so the higher the blood sugar, the more vitamin C will be lost in the urine.

It seems that the key factor determining how much vitamin C is delivered to the body’s cells isn’t determined by the amount of vitamin C in the diet but whether starches and carbohydrates flush any vitamin C out of the body. This is relatively new research and is yet to be scientifically proven but Will and Byers suggest it is both biologically plausible and empirically evident.

Clearly, the role of carbohydrates in the diet needs to be reexamined. Interestingly, the above research and findings are from human studies. If increasing the amount of meat in the human diet produces a greater concentration and utilization of essential vitamins, surely the same must apply to dogs. It appears that not only do dogs not need carbohydrates, their consumption may actually reduce the availability of the vitamins found in meats.