Not all protein sources are the same. Protein sources range in nutritional content and digestibility.
In fact, some protein sources are more healthy for your dog than others.
With a range of protein sources from livestock to game meats to fish, it can be extremely difficult to decide which type of protein is actually the best for the health of your dog. So we put together a list of the benefits and downsides of each protein source so you can compare dog foods and pick the best one for your dog.
Beef is one of the most common flavors of dog food on the market. Beef can be a very good protein to feed your dog if it pasture-raised, organic, and uses whole cuts of beef. Beef has a high protein, a great fat content, and is rich in iron and B vitamins, which are all very healthy for dogs, especially active dogs. However, beef is extremely expensive and most beef is made with dangerous industrial farming practices. So the beef most commonly found in dog food is not whole cuts of beef but beef meal or beef byproducts. These two ingredients are made from all the unusable parts of the cow like bones, organs, and even rotten or diseased meats. They are heavily processed so they are very hard to digest. So even though beef is a great source of protein, unless the dog food uses whole cuts of beef, it should be avoided.
Chicken meat is another of the most common sources of protein in dog foods. Chickens, as well as their eggs are a great source of lean protein. However, chickens suffer from some of the same problems as beef. Since they are typically farmed industrially, even deboned, whole meat chicken can actually lack the vitamins and nutrients your dog needs to thrive. So if you decide to feed your dog chicken, make sure it comes from an organic, cage-free, or free-range source. Otherwise it may not meet all your dog’s nutritional needs.
Pork is not a great protein source for dogs. Like both beef and chicken, it is highly processed and industrial farmed. Pork is also extremely high in fat, so unless it is fed to an active dog can lead to obesity and liver problems. It is also hard for dogs to digest and can cause some stomach issues. So even though dogs love the taste of ham and bacon, it is not the best source of protein for them.
There is some disagreement among veterinary nutritionists about whether or not lamb is a healthy protein source. Though it has gained popularity in many natural brands because it is not as highly processed as other livestock meats, it may contain too much copper and fat which can be unhealthy for your dog. Also since most lamb meat is very expensive, the lamb in dog foods is usually a lower quality mutton. Since it is a relatively new ingredient, the verdict is still out on this one.
Turkey is another protein source that is becoming more popular in dog foods. Turkey is loaded with natural minerals like iron, zinc, potassium, and phosphorous, and B vitamins. Like lamb, turkey is not as intensely farm as some other livestock meats so it is often featured in natural, holistic, and organic foods. Turkey is a great protein source for dogs.
Fish is incredibly healthy. It is loaded which essential omega-3 fatty acids, high in lean protein, low in fat, and is easily digestible. Unfortunately though, fish does not provide all the nutrients a dog needs. In fact, if fed solely a fish diet, a dog can end up with a vitamin B1 deficiency. Also it is important to note that dogs digest freshwater fish like trout and salmon better than saltwater fish like tuna and mackerel. So even though fish should be included in your dog’s diet, be particular about which fish and don’t rely on it as the sole protein source. Instead treat fish as a supplemental source along with another source like turkey or beef to have a truly balanced and healthy diet.
As game meats start to gain in popularity, venison is starting to be used by dog food manufacturers. Venison is an excellent choice for owners looking to manage food allergies. It is an easily digestible protein source that is organically sourced. Venison also contains high levels of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and B12, phosphorus, niacin, and zinc. So it is a very nutritionally dense protein source and great to feed any dog.
Another common game meat starting to appear in dog foods is rabbit. As rabbits are often eaten in the wild by dogs, they are a natural, healthy meat source for dogs. Unfortunately, rabbits are starting to be factory farmed, and much like chicken can be raised malnourished. So if you feed your dog rabbit, just make sure it comes from an organic, free-range source so that your dog is getting all the important vitamins and nutrients rabbit offers them.
Other Game Meats
There are so many game meats now being offered from kangaroo to bison to alligator. It is difficult to gage the nutritional value of all these meats in comparison to other protein sources because there hasn’t been enough research yet. However they are worth investigating if your dog has any food allergies. Most of these meats are organically sourced and minimally processed so they are usually very high quality. So just make sure that if you switch to a game meat, you work with your veterinarian to see if it is making a positive difference in your dog’s health.
The quality of the protein source is important for the health of your dog. So the next time you compare dog foods, make sure that even if you find a great brand, you pick the right flavor so your dog gets the best possible nutrition available.