What KIND of protein is best for my dog? (Part 2)

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Here we are again, joining the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop. Tasty Tuesday is about celebrating ‘good food’ and to us good food alimageso means healthy food. We continue our discussion about Dog Food Proteins. Click here if you missed part 1.

Protein is the foundation for a quality dog food.  Today we will examine the common dog food proteins – real meat, meal, and by products.

Common Dog Food Proteins


To start off, below are the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) definitions of some commonly used dog food proteins.

  • Beef – is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered cattle, and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh.
  • Chicken – the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of chicken or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.
  • Lamb Meal – the rendered product from lamb tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.
  • Turkey Meal – the ground clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of turkey or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.
  • Meat By-Products – the non rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.
  • Poultry By-Product Meal – consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

I don’t know about you, but I think that list is scary and messy.  Let’s break it down.

 Named Meat and Fish Proteins

Real named proteins, like beef, salmon, and chicken NOT “meat”, “poultry”, or “fish” are the least processed of all the proteins and the ones that we recommend be the first ingredient in your dog’s food.  Here is a list of common named proteins (in no particular order).

  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Salmon
  • Lamb
  • Whitefish
  • Duck
  • Herring
  • Venison
  • Bison
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Anchovy
  • Sardine
  • Menhaden
  • Pheasant
  • Walleye
  • Trout
  • Kangaroo
  • Rabbit
  • Goat
  • Haddock
  • Whiting
  • Catfish


Meal is essentially product that has been ground up and had its water removed.  The result is a highly concentrated processed source of protein.  I liken meal to the condensed food that astronauts used to eat on space flights- a temporary solution to their nutrition problem when they had no access to whole foods.   For dog foods, meal can be used to increase the amount and percentage of protein in a food.  In our view, that is ‘acceptable’ especially if the meal is not the first ingredient.


‘By-product’ is essentially the scraps that are left on the animal carcass after all of the meat is stripped away.  This is the lowest quality protein choice available because you don’t know what you are actually feeding your dog.  Further, the by-product can be relatively indigestible, so the protein that your dog really needs simply passes through their digestive system and ends up as waste.  Avoid foods with by-products.

Unnamed Proteins

Unnamed proteins, like “meat”, “animal”, “poultry”, and “fish” are often used as meal, by product, or fat sources.  Does your dog food contain any of these?  If so, switch.  These designations are so vague you can have no idea what the ingredient actually is.  Even worse—unnamed protein by product!

Non Meat Sources of Protein

Some foods use non-meat sources of protein such as corn or wheat.  As we showed last week with the digestibility and biological values, these grains are very difficult for dogs to digest. Brands that use corn, corn meal, wheat and wheat gluten, etc. as main protein sources can technically meet industry standards for protein content but much of the protein passes right through the dog’s system unused.

Have you read your dog food ingredients? What did you find there?

We’re joining the Tasty Tuesday Blog Hop sponsored by Sugar, the Golden Retriever and Kolchak from Kol’s Notes:

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  1. This is all great info
    Urban hounds

  2. Good info! Mama reads everything and relies on Dog Food Advisor for their analysis. I eat mostly homemade but I like kibble. Right now I am loving Merrick.
    Kirby the Dorkie recently posted…Best Bully SticksMy Profile

    • We recently got some Merrick too! It scores pretty high, both in our analysis and with the pups!

  3. We feed raw. It has been so beneficial for our pups, mostly they get chicken or turkey but some days I just pick up ground beef or a roast on sale to spice it up. I need to figure out how to add in some fish.
    Jodi recently posted…Meet EMMAMy Profile

  4. As you said, it is definitely a scary mess – but SO important to understand! Thanks for walking through it all. Because Cooper has so many problems with protein (he can’t have chicken or beef) and stomach sensitivity in general, lists like this are super helpful to me to choose the highest quality food for his poor little belly!
    Maggie recently posted…Ch-ch-changes!My Profile

  5. When I was a new dog owner I fed Chester pretty much any dog food. When he developed an itching problem I went to a higher grade of “whatever” where the avocado oil was what mattered to me. His itching went away. Last year when I decided we were going to train to hike a huge mountain I started learning more about pet food ingredients and switched to grain-free kibble. Most of those contain real meat or meals. Now I feed them chicken pieces or prepared raw about 30% of the time.
    Jessica recently posted…Which Subscription Dog Goody Box is For You?My Profile

  6. Thanks for all the great information, I am really understanding all this better and better all the time, thanks to your posts. I’m sure I will be referring back a lot as we switch to new food!
    Jan K recently posted…Happy B&W Mother’s Day 2013My Profile

    • Great – glad to help!

  7. […] two Tasty Tuesday posts, we all know that protein is an important ingredient in a dog’s diet and what kinds of protein sources we should look for in our dog’s food.  Today we will focus on the macro-nutrient “Fat”. Just like with humans, not all fat is bad, […]

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