The importance of protein for pets

When you pick out a bag of dog or cat food, you may be making your selection based on protein. 

But what is protein?

Protein is a macronutrient, meaning it is required in large quantities in the diet of dogs and cats. Protein is essential to many vital roles in your pet’s body.

Why do dogs and cats need protein? 


  • Helps your dog or cat build muscle mass 
  • Contributes to hormone production and regulation
  • Aides in the growth of healthy, thick fur
  • Strengthens the nails of dogs and cats 
  • Promotes immune system function
  • Helps the body produce more energy

Protein is made up of amino acids 

Although dogs and cats can produce some amino acids on their own, there are several types of amino acids that they must obtain from their food. That’s why the protein you feed your pet is so important. 

Pet food companies do not list amino acids on their bags. Instead, look for a pet food that is approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO standards require pet foods to contain all of the required amino acids to meet the needs of your dog or cat. 

Where does protein come from?

The protein in your dog or cat’s diet may come from animal sources, plant sources, or both. As carnivores, feeding your cat or dog a diet that is primarily made of meat is the closest to their instinctual dietary requirements. Your dog or cat’s ancestors used to hunt for the food they ate in order to survive. Luckily, your pampered house pet doesn’t have to go through all that hassle to eat dinner. However, your pet’s dietary needs have not changed much from their ancestors. Dogs’ and cats’ digestive systems are simply not made to digest large amounts of plants, which is why animal-based proteins are the key to a healthy diet for our pets. If you feed your pet a food like Vital Essentials, which is made with a high-quality animal-source protein, your pet will obtain all of the amino acids they need in their diet.

Animal-based protein sources commonly used in pet food include:

To learn about the benefits of each protein source, check out our Protein Source Guide.

The bottom line on protein for pets

When you’re choosing your dog or cat’s food, here’s what to look for to ensure you’re picking out a diet that is protein-packed with all of the quality nutrition they need.

Protein as the #1 ingredient

The first ingredient in the ingredient panel of the food you choose should be a quality protein source such as chicken, beef or turkey. Avoid any products that contain meat meals such as chicken meal, lamb meal or beef meal. Meal products are the remnants from slaughterhouses that are not fit for human consumption. They undergo a high-heat process that removes much of the nutritional value from the protein. The result is a low-cost pet food ingredient with less protein and less nutrients than whole meat.  

Only whole fruits and vegetables

The primary ingredient of your dog or cat’s food should always be meat. If the dog food you choose also contains fruits and vegetables, make sure it only contains whole fruits and veggies. Vital Essentials FUSION contains real chicken or beef as the first ingredient, combined with organic apple, squash and carrot and superfoods like blueberry and broccoli. Avoid dog or cat foods that contain grain, gluten or by-products.

Natural preservatives 

Only purchase pet food that uses natural preservatives like mixed tocopherols (Vitamin E). Avoid artificial preservatives like BHA and BHT. It’s also best to avoid foods that contain artificial flavors or colors.

Choose a raw diet

There are many different formats of dog and cat foodfrom kibble, to canned, to dehydrated, raw diets, freeze-dried and frozen. Although there are pros and cons to each type of food, feeding your dog or cat a raw diet is the closest to the food’s natural state. Vital Essentials and Vital Cat freeze-dried and frozen raw diets are made with the fewest ingredients, carefully selected with the maximum health benefits for your pet.  When you choose a raw diet like Vital Essentials, your pet is better able to fight off disease and remain the strong, playful family member that you know and love. Choosing a high protein raw pet food is the key to the health and longevity of your best furiend. 

Real pet story

Still not convinced Vital Essentials is right for your pet? Check out Baloo’s story:

Protein is great for dogs like Baloo

“Baloo has always been a picky eater with a sensitive stomach and finding the right food for him is challenging. The same goes for treats and we find ourselves short of good treats, of course until we found Vital Essentials Freeze-Dried Food and Treats. It’s been over three months of us giving him the Rabbit freeze-dried recipe mixed with his kibble and we don’t have to coax him to eat his food anymore! He is always looking forward to meal time. Moreover, we have seen a big difference in his alertness during this time – and his food is the only thing that has changed! We recently started using the Wild Salmon Treats as our training and hiking treats and could not be more in love.”A Happy Dog Mom

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