Cats and dogs require a lot of proteins for reproduction, lactation, growth, and so forth. However, in certain cases, they may need up to 2x as much as “normal.” Let’s take a closer look at that.
For starters, what are proteins? They are predefined chains of amino acids that are released in the digestive tract in order to build, repair, and regenerate cells as well as produce hormones and antibodies.
Proteins contain about 20 amino acids and they come in two forms: Essential and Non-Essential. As the name suggests, non-essential amino acids (NEAA) are not required because the animal can synthesize them within their body. The essential amino acids (EAA) however cannot be synthesized and must be provided via the food consumed. Dogs require 10 EAA and cats require 11 (taurine is the extra EAA for cats).
When it comes to reporting protein in pet foods, manufacturers are required to post a Guaranteed Analysis which MUST have Crude Protein %age (min.). It also requires Crude Fat %age (min.), Crude Fiber %age (max.), and Moisture %age (max.). The first part that is confusing is the term “crude”. This refers to the testing method, nothing more. In the case of Crude Protein, the food’s nitrogen level is measured and multiplied by 6.25 to reach the %age. The problem is that Crude Protein (CP%) levels can be manipulated through the addition of nitrogen (i.e. melamine) or an overabundance of NEAAs.
In the case of the melamine recall, Chinese ingredient suppliers were adding melamine to wheat flour, adding it to their proteins and artificially inflating the nitrogen (Crude Protein) numbers. This led manufacturers to use inaccurate numbers when calculating their formulations which led to insufficient levels of EAA for dogs (as well as poisoning due to high levels of melamine).
A more common cause of high CP% is NEAA. While not criminal or even problematic (unless a lush lawn is your goal), it is misleading. For example, let’s look at two pet foods with similar manufacturing processes. Diet A lists their CP% as 44% while NOBL’s Beef & Chicken Recipe shows 35%. Most, if not all, consumers would think Diet A, with 44% CP, is “better” and “higher in protein”. In reality, the only thing it tells you is that Diet A is higher in nitrogen content.
At NOBL, we have been demanding transparency from the industry. Transparency is the cornerstone of why we founded the company. When it comes to protein, rather than simply supply CP%, we think companies should be required to provide their EAA profile/numbers. While not perfect, you can measure the “quality” of a diet by subtracting the EAAs from the CP%.
In NOBL’s Beef & Chicken Recipe, 27.17 of the 35 (77.6%) is from EAA. This leaves 7.83 (22.4%) from NEAA. How does Diet A fare? According to their own reporting, 16.79 of the 44 (38.1%) comes from EAA and 27.21 (61.9%) comes from NEAA. Again, not a perfect 1:1 but directionally accurate and far better than simply reporting nitrogen content.
Now that we know the EAA content of each diet, what do we do? This is where reporting the EAA profile is important. AAFCO, FEDIAF and NRC all provide minimums (and outside of AAFCO, ideal levels) of each EAA for dogs and cats. This is where the Nutritional Adequacy statement comes from on the package. If you hit all three you can call yourself adequate for “All Life Stages.”
The chart above contains the 10 EAA ranges across 22 pet foods, NOBLs results and AAFCO’s minimum guidelines for Growth/Reproduction and Adult Maintenance.
If we go back to Diet A (the one with the high CP/Nitrogen %age), you can see their EAA profile and how it compares to both AAFCO guidelines and NOBL. Once you see the data laid out like this, it is pretty difficult to imagine why CP% is even required or reported.
Without help from manufacturers (self-reporting) or regulatory agencies (labeling requirements), it is very difficult to actually determine the protein quality of a pet food. Lots of manufacturers hide behind the word “proprietary” as their rationale for why they won’t share this information. Don’t believe them! For about $2,000 and 50lbs of food anyone can have a lab run the analysis. For an extra $3,000 and two weeks of food, you can even have a digestibility study done.
The real reason they don’t share is because 1) they haven’t actually performed the analysis and base everything off of computer formulations, or 2) they have run it and it isn’t very good! Regardless of why, as a consumer you have the right to know what you are actually feeding your dog and the quality of that food. Quality - not with a marketing spin, not from an ingredient list but from a pet’s health perspective!