Dogs evolved from wolves, and wolves eat meat! As high-energy, working dogs, Labrador retrievers need a significant amount of meat-based protein in their diets to be healthy.
Protein for Puppies
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Labrador puppies need higher levels for protein than adult dogs. Protein is important to build strong muscles to support the large adult bodies. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires that puppy foods have a protein level of at least 22 percent. However, many pet nutritionists and holistic veterinarians recommend protein levels closer to 30 percent for adequate puppy growth and muscle development.
Protein for Adult Labradors
AAFCO requires that maintenance (adult) foods have a protein level of at least 18 percent. The other 72 percent of ingredients can come from fat or carbohydrates. However, for most dogs, this level of protein is too low. Although dogs are carnivores, they do need a significant amount of high-quality animal protein in their diet. Top rated dog foods generally have an animal protein level of above 30 percent.
Protein for Working Labradors
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Many Labradors work as service, hunting or agility dogs. These dogs burn more energy and need higher levels of protein to maintain energy and body condition. Studies have shown that working dogs fed diets of 30 percent protein or higher have fewer injuries when exerting higher levels of activity. They also have greater red blood cell capacity, which means their bodies are more efficient at using the oxygen they breathe.
Protein for Older Labradors
There is a general misconception that dogs need less protein as they grow older. However, many studies have proven that older dogs benefit from maintaining moderate levels of protein, as it provides essential amino acids. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that even dogs with kidney issues receive benefits from moderate levels of protein. Unless specifically instructed by your veterinarian, you should not lower the protein levels for your senior Labrador below 20 percent.