Sources of Protein in Dog Food

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Most normally healthy dogs require a diet that is high in protein. Thus, the amount of protein in a dog food, as calculated on a dry matter basis, is important when evaluating a dog food. But it is only part of the protein story. The source of protein in dog food, the specific ingredients that are used to provide the dog with their protein, is also an important factor when choosing a dog food for your pet.


Overview of Proteins in Dog Food

There are many different ingredients that can provide the protein that is in a dog food. But not all proteins are created equal, at least as far as your dog is concerned. There are 3 main sources of proteins in dog food, 1) animal flesh, 2) grains, and 3) legumes and vegetables.


Animal Protein. This is the meat and flesh from sources such as livestock (e.g., beef, pork), poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey), fish (e.g. salmon, herring), and fowl (e.g. duck). This is the preferred protein for dogs as it is the protein that their bodies were meant to eat and process efficiently for maximum nutrition.   Feeding your dog foods that contain a majority of their protein from specifically named animal sources (e.g. beef, salmon) is the best way to ensure that your dog is getting and using the protein that it needs.


Some dog foods use unnamed animal proteins as ingredients and these are cheaper and lower quality sources of protein. Unnamed proteins include meat, poultry, and animal. The primary problems with these types of ingredients is that 1) you have no idea what is really included in them, and 2) they are generally the lowest quality scrap.


Grains. Grains, like rice, oats, and wheat, can contain a fair amount of protein and are usually cheaper than named animal proteins. The problem with grain protein is that a dog’s body is not meant to properly digest grains, and thus, the protein in grains is not able to be fully utilized by the body. As a result, the protein that you think you are providing your pet might actually be fertilizing the lawn instead.
Fresh Vegetables, Fruits and other foodstuffs. Isolated.
Legumes and Vegetables. Legumes, like chick peas and peas, and some vegetables, like potatoes and sweet potatoes, also contain protein and can be used in dog foods to increase the total protein in the food. Like with grains, legumes and vegetables are harder for a dog’s body to digest so these foods are not optimal as protein sources. Foods that include legumes and vegetables should do so as a natural source of vitamins and minerals and not as a primary protein source.


I am curious to know how common is the use of the various protein sources in commercially available dog food. Using the SlimDoggy dog food database, I am embarking on an analysis of the protein sources in dog food that can help shed some light on the most popularly used proteins. In the second part of this topic, I will examine the use of the lower quality, unnamed animal proteins to determine just how often they are used in our dog’s foods. I don’t think the news will be good.


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  1. Interesting, and I can’t wait till the second part too.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Husky fun on Labour Day weekendMy Profile

  2. I love all the nutrition info you share with us. Harley seems to enjoy tasting new fruits and veggies but now for the first time EVER – he watches what I eat BOL It’s as if he is trying to figure out whether or not I’m going to share. Love this guy!
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…THE SOUNDS OF SUMMER | MONDAY MISCHIEFMy Profile

  3. We’re considering raising meat rabbits (of course we are). Maybe I could start making my dogs’ food once we do.
    Flea recently posted…Boo Bucket, a Smorgasbord GiveawayMy Profile

  4. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story! So do you think grain free is a good option, since it wouldn’t have those harder to digest grains, so the protein is more likely to come from the meat sources? We’re feeding grain free now, but I’m just not sure if it’s really necessary.
    Jan K recently posted…Happy 10th Birthday to Our Little GirlMy Profile

  5. Looking forward to part two!
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  6. It is hard to believe that when I was a kid there must not have been but 3 or 4 types of dog food. I know dogs didn’t eat as well in those days, but it sure can be confusing now. I was intrigued with the information that I read on Bravo raw food. Still, that has been recalled before so it can be overwhelming!
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Bravo! Bravo! Make Good HappenMy Profile

    • It can be hard to figure it all out – just read the label, check our database and find something Pierre and Bentley like.
      mkob recently posted…Sources of Protein in Dog FoodMy Profile

  7. I am curious what comes from your search. I do have a pretty good guess, though.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Cookie’s Leaks Are Back: Garden Variety Incontinence Or Not?My Profile

  8. Hi Gang! The girls are still all on Fresh Pet Select as their primary food source; but the digestive issues are beginning to sort themselves out. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I DO appreciate ALL the research Steve did for me a couple of months ago, and am keeping it in a file for reference later on. First, I need to see how the probiotics and enzymes work for them. Steve\\\’s research gave me a great deal of insight and helped me figure a few things out on my own. I continue to check the database — and your nutrition blog posts — to make sure I\\\’m up to date on important info. Your database has been, and continues to be, immeasurably valuable to me as I work with our vet to find the best solutions for the girls. THANK YOU!!

    • I’m so glad that it has helped and glad to hear the girls are doing better. Keep us posted!
      mkob recently posted…SlimDoggy | Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  9. PS. Thanks to all the “Ingredients Ato Z” posts, I know what to steer clear of & not worry about. BTW, have you noticed that the very first ingredient listed for Purina’s FortiFlora probiotics supplement is “animal digest”? Gross!! I don’t even want to think about what garbage might be included in that!!
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky\\\\\\\’s Mom recently posted…Pedigree Dog Food Recall ExpandedMy Profile

  10. Good info. We have found that our dogs do better on higher protein/fat foods.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Training With BirdsMy Profile

  11. I’m kind of scared of what the general, unspecified “animal” proteins really are.

    I thought about picking up some of the Fresh Pet brand of food for Ace from time to time, so I was happy to read the comment that Callie’s mom approves of this food.
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  12. Looking forward to seeing the results of your protein analysis.

    I’d also like to see how many different proteins are used. Especially as I expect Honey’s future diet will contain more fish. How many commercial companies are using fish?
    Pamela recently posted…Honey’s In Love – Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  13. Great information once again, thanks for sharing.
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