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How good is the protein in your pet’s food? Amino acid availability as a measure of quality. (Part 4)

Protein in Pet Food
  • 9 April 2021
  • kmauzy

Last, but not least, amino acid availability must be considered when the quality of protein is assessed.

What is amino acid availability? Amino acid availability depends on the integrity of the chemical structure of an amino acid. If the chemical structure of an amino acid changes for any reason, then that amino acid is not going to be available for the animal to use (it’s as if the amino acid is missing from the diet).

What affects amino acid availability? Amino acid availability and chemical structure integrity is often negatively affected during the manufacturing of pet food. Production of pet food, especially dry pet food, entails exposing pet food to heat (cooking of food ingredients of animal origin and extrusion of the complete food). During the cooking and extruding process, pet food is often exposed to high heat and pressure, which leads to a Maillard-type reaction (also called browning in cooking science) in the food. The Millard reaction is a chemical reaction in which the amino acids in the pet food bind irreversibly with sugars and create advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), such as Amadori compounds. These AGEs cannot be used by your pet. Indeed, some studies have suggested that AGEs may be carcinogenic and inflammatory. Thus, if your pet food has been exposed to excessive  heat and pressure (this often happens in pet food containing animal/poultry by-products), there is a high chance that the amino acids within the food protein have a low nutritional value, even though the guaranteed values on the package show a high level of protein in the food. Indeed, when such a food is fed to pets, they often start to show signs and symptoms of protein and amino acid deficiency.

Bottom line: When it comes to the nutrition of protein in pets, it is not sufficient to just pay attention to the declared guaranteed analysis (i.e., the percentage of protein on the label). It is more important to pay attention to the source of the protein in the food and how the food has been processed. As mentioned in previous tips, proteins from ingredients of an animal origin have a better balance, quantity, and digestibility of essential amino acids than protein from ingredients of a plant origin. Additionally, you must also pay attention to the food processing procedures. Pet food devoid of any animal by-products and slowly cooked at low temperature is always superior to foods cooked under high pressure and high heat, because their essential amino acids are more available for your fur child(ren) to actually bring into their bodies and use.

Dr. Anoosh has a PhD in animal nutrition and has published numerous research articles on nutrition in animals, particularly during stress. His weekly tips and advice about animal nutrition are not meant to replace medical recommendations from your pet’s veterinarian.