Feed This, Not That: Protein

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In theory, every single ingredient in a dog food formulation has a purpose, a specific reason or benefit that made the food company include it in the recipe.  It could be that the ingredient is to provide protein, or perhaps it acts as a preservative.  Whatever specific role needs to be filled, there are usually a wide variety of ingredient choices to fill that need, some of which are healthier and safer than others.  Indeed, the ingredients that a pet food company chooses to use (or not) define the suitability of that food for a species, as well as the overall quality of the food.

Feed This Not That


Today, I am starting a new food series called “feed this, not that”.  This is a play on “Eat this, not that”, a series of articles and then books by Dave Zinczenko, the former editor of Men’s Health magazine.  In the “eat this not that” series, the author would compare and contrast popular human foods and make recommendations for healthier choices.  I plan on doing the same type of thing, focusing on specific pet food ingredients that serve similar purposes in a dog food recipe.  You see, for any nutritional requirement, there are always good, healthy choices as well as worse, not-so-healthy choices.   Each week, I will choose a food “function”, that is the reason that an ingredient is included in a dog food, and then compare at least two “forms” of that function, one form that is healthy and one that is not so healthy.


I hope that this series will not only shed some light on why an ingredient is included in the recipe, but also help pet parents identify ingredients to avoid or look for when they are evaluating their pet’s food.


Because dogs are descendants of the carnivore wolf, the first ingredient function that I choose if protein. Dogs require ample protein and can actually thrive on high protein and fat diets.   The total amount of protein in a dog food is an important metric to look at when choosing a food. However, it is equally important to look at the specific ingredients that are used to supply the protein.


Feed This, Not That: Protein

When it comes to proteins, a simple rule of thumb is to choose real, named, whole food proteins over unnamed and processed forms.  With that in mind, a pet parent should:


Feed “chicken” or “turkey”, not “poultry”.

Poultry as an ingredient is just too vague. Does it mean chicken? Turkey? Something else? All of the above?  If a food manufacturer will not disclose the specific ingredient, then it is not worth the risk of serving it to your pet.  If you want to feed your dog a form of poultry as a source of protein, then choose a food that lists the specific type of protein, not a vague generalization. When it comes to dog food ingredients, generalizations are a sign of low quality food.


Feed “beef”, not “meat”.  Here again, we have a situation where a protein source is either specific or vague.  Beef is a known ingredient.  Meat is not.  Meat could refer to a wide range of proteins.  A pet food company that chooses to include generic “meat” in a food recipe is obviously doing so as a low cost way to add protein to the recipe. Why someone would actually choose a dog food that will not disclose which type of meat is used in the recipe is beyond me.

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  1. thanks for the advice… we often have no clue what some words really mean… and the manufacturers make it not easy …. I need more time to read the back side of the food bags than I need for my whole grocerie shopping :o)
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MO(A)NDAYMy Profile

  2. Great points. Reading food labels (for any species) is it’s own science, but this is a simple reminder to have a named protein at the top of the list.

  3. Interesting. I guess we have “accidentally” always chosen specific proteins like beef, chicken, lamb…never generalized proteins like poultry or meat. I guess Mom is curious and always wanted to know what exactly was in the food.
    Emma recently posted…Traveling My PathMy Profile

  4. Good call with the “meat” vs. “beef.” I know they put horsemeat in some dog foods……… I just cannot stomach that!

  5. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that (‘poultry’ vs. chicken/turkey), thanks for that suggestion. Luckily Sam’s food is specific. Seems like reading labels you often need a truth-o-meter from the manufacturer, since some companies are willing to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the truth on their ingredient lists to make them seem more healthy.

  6. That is just scary. I feed the boys homemade food so they eat fresh proteins from the grocer.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Lizard Hunting 101My Profile

  7. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from you and Steve about food in general and specific types/brands so I don’t buy any food for the girls that don’t disclose specific proteins. The ingredient type that always raises my eyebrows tho is “natural flavors”.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s Mom recently posted…Yummy, Healthy Treats!My Profile

  8. Good advice to feed named proteins when possible.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Ping-ponging To The BlindMy Profile

  9. Looking forward to the series! I feed turkey 🙂

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