The Obscure Dog Food Nutrient More Essential Than Protein


I’m always amazed at the obsession most people have about dog food protein.

obscureEspecially since protein isn’t even considered an “essential” nutrient.


Well, it’s the stuff protein is actually made of that’s considered essential… not the protein itself.

I’m talking about amino acids.

You see, amino acids are the basic building blocks of all protein.

Think of protein as a freight train… with each “car” of that train being an amino acid.  It’s the kind of cars… as well as the order in which they are arranged… that makes each protein unique.

Ten Critical ‘Life-or-Death’ Nutrients

Every dog has the natural ability to make her own amino acids… except for ten very special ones… ten “essential” amino acids that absolutely must come from the diet.

Otherwise, a dog could suffer serious health consequences… or maybe even death.

These ten essential amino acids are…

  • Arginine
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophane
  • Valine

So, What Happens When One Is Missing?

Proteins are manufactured by a dog’s cells in a step-by-step, assembly line fashion.  If just one amino acid is lacking, the entire process shuts down.

This missing nutrient is known as the “limiting amino acid”.  That’s because its absence “limits” the process from using any of the other available amino acids altogether.

So, every dog food must contain all ten.

Don’t Count Protein… Count Amino Acids

Now, trying to judge a dog food strictly by the amount of protein it contains can be very misleading.

You see, just because a dog food boasts a high protein percentage doesn’t mean it contains the right amino acids.

So, how can you improve the odds a product will meet a dog’s amino acid needs?

Well, remember… proteins are made completely from amino acids.

So, all you need to do is find a protein source rich in all ten essential nutrients… and you’ve got a quality ingredient.

The Best Sources of Essential Amino Acids

Now, generally speaking… animal-based protein sources contain a more favorable essential amino acid content… than non-animal sources.

But the right combination of vegetable proteins can also satisfy a dog’s amino acid needs.

The main thing to remember?  Don’t fall in love with any dog food just because it reports a lot of protein in its Guaranteed Analysis.

Sure… a higher protein content usually indicates you’ve probably come across a better dog food… but only if you take the time to confirm the protein comes from a quality ingredient.

  • Ron Monroe

    I would NOT use some of those items such as Butter or cheese or even leavened breads Patricia. You may want to look those up on a reputable site like or non guessing Q&A sites.
    Especially during the important puppy growth period when they cant fight bad foods very well.

  • Jana Rade

    I totally agree about the protein vs amino acids bit. It is not just amino acid score alone, though, there is also the question of digestibility. So while the amino acid balance might be achieved “on paper”, does that automatically mean that all of those can actually be utilized by the body?

    I believe that is another aspect one needs to consider. Plant-based proteins have lower digestibility than animal-based proteins.

  • Sue Magoss

    Now I’m really confused. I have a 7 month old whippet whose pasterns are too straight and all I thought about was lowering the AMOUNT of protein in the food……… what??

  • Mark

    our dog will sit occasionally sit for an orange segment (membrane removed)-but not grapefruit. Years ago had a germen shepard who would harves (and eat) tomatoes from the garden.–only ripe ones tho.

  • Mike Sagman

    Patricia… Thanks for your great idea. By the way, you might want to check out my post about dogs and vitamin C.

  • Patricia

    I have read all of your articles on this site in reguards to the requirements for a healthy dog…They all sound very interesting, but i am not a scientist and have decided prior to the dog food toxins to feed my dog REAL FRESH FOOD…1/3 veggies.. 1/3 meat, poultry or fish…1/3 pasta, rice or homemade whole grain bread..with various fruits and yogurt, honey, cheese as snax. i also add some herbs, sea salt and butter and extra virgin olive oil along with a vitamin c which i take daily. It would be good to have an article in reguards to this type of diet for dogs rather than bagged stuff that really has no content anyone really knows what it really may be until many years from now…as a child i recall the dog food in cans were of a beef stew sort with real gravy beef chunks and carrot cubes and peas and potatoe cubes and dogs seemed healthier than today. why not post an article on the nutrients a dog can get from REAL FRESH FOOD.
    Thank U

  • Mike Sagman

    Heather… I never called amino acids an ingredient. I used the title “Nutrient More Essential Than Protein” for good reason (which I explain in this article). Also, as a medical professional I can assure you that proteins truly are chains of amino acids… nothing more… nothing less. Amino acids are chemically known as peptides. And that’s why proteins are frequently referred to as polypeptides. My goal of this post is to make readers more aware of the quality of a dog food’s protein… what kinds of amino acids are biologically available for use by the animal’s body.

  • Heather

    I find the title of this article misleading. While, yes, it is important that a dog food contains complete “essential” amino acids, the article itself states that a protein is simply a long-chain of amino acids. To say that an amino acid is an “ingredient more important than protein” would be like saying glucose is an ingredient more important for humans than carbohydrates. (I am a scientist and despite these anti-carbohydrate diet fads out there, carbs are humans’ primary source of energy. The brain uses more glucose than any other part of the body.) Don’t get me wrong. I’m just giving an analogy.

    The title does achieve its goal: to get reader’s attention and interest, and in doing so alerts the readers to be more aware of what goes into their dog food. In that respect, it has redeeming qualities.

  • Mike Sagman

    Cheryl… I’m familiar with this product and I’ve heard good things about it. Since I’ve not yet formally reviewed this dog food it would be unfair to comment on it at this time. I do plan to review it in the very near future. Watch for it soon.

  • http://WWW.YODERLABRADORS.COM cheryl yoder

    I really like the food we have been using for the last couple of years, Life’s ABundance. It’s not found in stores, manufactured in Florida and shipped “fresh” dry kibble to your/my front door. What do you know about this food?

  • Mike Sagman

    Phyl… stay tuned. Your wish will soon be a reality

  • Phyl Herman

    I just wish instead of all the esoteric info, someone reputable would come out and name names on dog food. What is good for them and which ones to avoid for us laymen? I am no scientist, just a pet lover who wants to do well by my rescued pets to the best of my personal and economic ability.