To understand what crude protein in dog food is, look at the nutrition label on your dog food.
The first section of the dog food label is the ingredients list and the second section is the nutritional information section.
Protein levels listed in the nutrition label may be very different from the levels of crude protein listed on the bag.
Note: In the USA, the FDA requires some type of distinction be made between crude protein and the protein ingredients in dog food.
What is crude protein
Crude Protein is a mixture of protein molecules that are already divided into smaller units called peptides. The most common source of crude protein is a protein that is produced by the animals fed.
Crude protein molecules are usually released when the animals digest carbohydrates, lipids and fats.
In dogs, proteins are broken down into different amino acids. Most of the dog’s amino acids come from animal sources, but the average dog will also eat other protein sources, such as milk, eggs, beans and nuts.
Crude protein & amino acids in dog food
Crude protein is an excellent source of amino acids and is much more digestible than protein found in fruits, vegetables or grains.
It’s easy for the dogs to convert the crude protein into its individual amino acids.
Human and pet nutritionists often refer to it as the “gold standard” of protein.
Sometimes processed, non-meat proteins are also included as a protein source in dog foods. They are often very high in calories, carbohydrates and fats and not terribly digestible by dogs.
Is crude protein bad for dogs?
Crude protein is good for dogs. Crude protein forms an essential component of a healthy, balanced dog diet. Crude protein in your dog's food is a primary source of amino acids and is easier for dogs to digest than other protein sources.
Sources of Crude Protein in Dog
Dogs do not get the all-natural variety of crude protein in their food because it is not necessary for health and diet.
Dogs also eat food from different sources for different reasons. Some dogs need to eat at a very high protein level to meet the needs of their activity level.
Others need a higher protein level to give their muscles the protein they need to repair damage or build up muscle mass.
They also need more protein to help them build muscle. To meet these needs, dog food manufacturers add other proteins, called “non-grain,” into the dry dog food.
Crude protein in complete dog food
When used in dog food, crude protein is often given as part of a blended mix. The non-grain ingredient is highly processed and inedible for humans.
A blended blend has many ingredients, including vegetable proteins, with the majority of the mix made up of raw ground meat. Sometimes, all the ingredients in the blend are raw ground meat, making it very rich in nutrients.
Worth a look: The most frequently asked dog food questions
Crude protein use in dog food
To understand what crude protein is and its use in dog food, we need not look any further than the modern, commercial dog food diet vs dogs who are fed on raw meat alone.
There are two measurements for protein content in food (human or dog food): crude protein and true protein.
Crude protein is calculated by measuring the nitrogen content of the particular food. To get a simple understanding of what crude protein is and its role in a dog's diet we need to explore the role of protein in dog food more generally.
As a dog ages, its protein requirements decrease and the amount of crude protein they need to eat each day drops.
Pure protein is measured in grams of protein and is the amount of protein that makes up a pound of a meat product. We compare the protein content of meats by weighing a pound of beef. We then add water and mill it into a protein mill.
This pure protein is what a dog would eat if that pound of meat was raw.
Some raw meat products sold in pet stores have added water in them to help make a pure protein measurement. If you cannot find that pure protein in that product, the percentage of crude protein is just an estimate.
How much protein do dogs need?
An optimal level of protein for dogs is about 20 to 22 percent crude protein, according to the American Kennel Club.
Most dog food manufacturers recommend feeding a protein source for raw meat products that has about 35 percent crude protein.
True protein vs crude protein in dog food
True protein is a measurement of how much protein is actually in the food. It does not mean that the dog has to eat one pound of actual meat, but the amount of protein in that pound of meat will help you calculate your dog's protein requirement.
For example, a large steak has a lot of bone as well as protein. We call this bone protein. On the other hand, whole muscle meat is high in other proteins, as well as cholesterol, fat, and water. It is a very lean and valuable source of protein, but it is also very high in waste, not to mention extremely expensive if you have large dogs.
This means that a large steak, or large bone, has more true protein, or nitrogen, than a small steak, or small bone. This same concept applies to other meats, like chicken and eggs.
Crude protein and lean meat
When you do some calculations, remember that it is difficult to count the nitrogen content of a meat product that is not lean. In fact, there is not a high enough value for that nitrogen content to put on a label on an uncooked bone.
Most dogs in the modern world are fed a high-quality commercial grade, ground meat, complete with pre-digested proteins and essential amino acids (EAA), while those that have no active interest in their own welfare are given higher-quality poultry and ground meats. These commercial grade proteins are fortified with minerals, vitamins, and nutrients and make for easy digestion.
Although the latter makes sense for many older or mentally or physically disabled dogs, it can be misleading when looking at the total picture, especially when comparing to the diets of smaller animals.
A note about crude protein
Human foodstuffs, whether meat- or grain-based, contain significant quantities of crude protein, but the plant-based components (beef or chicken, for example) are removed by the plants, leaving only the remaining sugars.
Amino acids in your dog’s diet
Those sugars, however, are relatively nutrient-poor, and the relative content of non-essential amino acids is low. These complexities mean that the only viable use for these substances is in supplying the essential amino acids that a growing puppy needs.
When amino acid is absent in the diets of dogs, the consequences can be significant. In the short-term, it can be fatal to puppies with poor muscle development.
In the long-term, the quality of the diet has more serious consequences. High-quality commercial-grade animal protein, even with added pre-digested proteins, need to be supplemented in the diet with dextrose.
Typically, the amount is around 0.35 to 0.6 grams of dextrose per kilogram of body weight. By the time that a full-grown puppy reaches 2 to 3 years of age, the protein requirement is 1 gram per kilogram of body weight.
Alternative protein sources in dog food
Fortunately, the recent uptick in dog food manufacturers offering high-quality protein alternatives to ground meat and chicken has led to a broadening of dog food offerings, which means that dog owners can use a wider range of products and the quality of those options has significantly improved.
Such alternatives include products of pigs and sheep; products derived from bovines, camels, and goats; poultry products like gourmet duck, salmon, and rotisserie chickens; and even hemp seed-based versions that make for a much healthier option.
All these products offer the appropriate number of essential amino acids, but they must be supplemented with energy and carbohydrates to provide the energetic level that dogs need.
Many dogs who require this type of diet also require mineral and vitamin supplements, although in an ideal world these would be free of dietary cholesterol and would be made from vegetable sources.
Kibble (complete dog food) and crude protein
Many complete dog foods of the kibble type all belong in the same category, although the only distinguishing characteristic is the type of grain (bread, wheat, oats, or rice) used in their production.
Regardless of the choice of grain, all such products include an adequate amount of essential amino acids in the form of several essential amino acids in varying quantities and at varying times.
With the available information, a dog food manufacturer can produce a dog food formula from an ingredient list that meets both the nutritional and energy requirements of the dog, which must be balanced against the food’s energy density.
Adult dogs and puppies have different nutritional needs and the total amount of protein needed by each is dependent on breed, life stages, size and energy levels.
Always remember to read the dog food label to get an idea of the ingredients and sources of the specific pet nutrition within any dog food you are thinking of feeding.
Choosing the right commercial grade protein for your dog
Once a dog’s total energy requirement is known, the next step is determining the best protein source to feed the dog.
Commercial-grade protein is based on the energy required to produce, harvest and deliver the protein. In addition, protein quality has to be tested to ensure it will meet the nutritional needs of the dog.
Whether commercial-grade or farm-grade, protein is a natural resource that must be treated and handled in a humane manner. Heavier commercial-grade proteins can be higher in fat and calories.
These ingredients are more easily digestible and may increase the likelihood of dog diarrhea or gastric upset.