The Mystery of “Crude Protein:” What is it, really?

Read the label on your dog’s food, and you’ll see a section called “Guaranteed Analysis.” That’s called the “ingredient dec” (or “declaration”) in pet food manufacturing lingo.  Listed there, along with all the ingredients, you’ll find percentages for moisture, crude fiber, crude fat, and crude protein.

Given how important protein is to our dog’s diet, many people think that “crude protein” refers to protein in its most basic, “crude” form. I used to think “crude protein” meant the  total amount of protein— the “bottom line” number — that I could be sure was in this food and my dogs could absorb into their systems.

“Crude” is the confusing word

What the term “crude” actually refers to in pet food is the scientific method used to determine the nutrient content of your dog’s food. The protein content is actually determined not by looking at what forms of protein (fish, meat, chicken, etc) are in the food, but instead by analyzing the levels of nitrogen in the food as the method for calculating protein, just as the fat content is calculated by analyzing levels of lipids (fats).  However, the source and quality of the protein is not considered in this number, nor whether it is truly bioavailable to the dog’s system for absorption.

Where did that protein come from?

The real bottom line about crude protein is the quality and the digestibility of the sources of that protein.  While nutritional guidelines have been developed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organization has no regulatory authority over pet food ingredients or manufacture. The quality of dog food varies based on the original ingredients and how they are prepared. The best advice is to feed your dog the highest-quality food you can afford from a company in which you have confidence in how they are creating their foods.

The difference between a premium food and budget food is often found in the quality and source of ingredients. Your best bet is not to look at scientific calculations of percentages but to select pet foods made with real, recognizable ingredients: whole meats—such as chicken, lamb, salmon, etc.—and whole vegetables, grains and vegetables or fruit.

We can get protein from many sources beyond meat

Dogs and humans are omnivores which means they can eat a combination of meats and plants. It’s also possible for a dog to thrive if fed a well-balanced, quality vegetarian diet. I’ve written before about how Halo’s Vegan Garden Medley dry and canned foods are a blessing to my vegetarian dog-owning friends. As the saying goes, “We are what we eat.” Wholesome nutrition is the key to health and happiness for you and your best friend.

—Tracie Hotchner
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photo credit: stevenbates Springer Spaniel with empty food bowl via photopin (license)