What is the Best Meat to Feed Dogs?
Protein powers countless essential tasks in your dog’s body. From building and repairing cells, tissues, and muscles, to transporting oxygen, supporting digestion, and regulating vital processes, protein truly is the building block of life. So it’s no surprise that protein quality and quantity are critical to your dog’s overall health. But, with so many meats to choose from—including exotic options such as ostrich and kangaroo—it can be daunting to determine the best meat for dogs.
For a definitive answer, we took a closer look at protein’s role in the canine body, the most popular meat options for dogs, and daily protein requirements for each life stage.
Why Do Dogs Need Meat in Their Diets?
Although vegetarian dog foods exist, veterinary experts agree that a complete and balanced canine diet should be meat-based.
Meat provides incredible nutritional benefits for dogs that cannot be replicated with a plant-based diet. In addition to having a digestive tract that is biologically adapted for meat consumption (e.g., a highly-acidic stomach and short small intestine), reasons for feeding a meat-based diet include:
- Enhanced digestibility— Most meats are highly digestible which allows for maximum nutrient absorption and reduced waste. Exceptions include dogs with food allergies or particularly fatty meat cuts. For this reason, dog owners should be selective about the meat they offer their pups.
- Increased amino acids— Meat contains more essential amino acids than plants.
- High nutrient content— Meat naturally contains essential vitamins and minerals including zinc, selenium, iron, B vitamins, phosphorus, and taurine—an amino acid that may play a role in preventing dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
While these nutritional benefits go largely unseen to the naked eye, on a larger scale meat fuels your dog’s daily activities by providing easily digestible energy, improves their recovery by supporting muscle repair, and promotes a consistent internal balance by contributing to hormone, antibody, and enzyme production and regulation.
The Most Popular Meats for Dogs
Chicken is a popular protein for pups primarily because chicken is an affordable and readily available source of protein. At PAWUP, our Chicken Recipe combines chicken muscle and organ meat with rice, pumpkin, and carrots to create a nutritious and balanced meal for your dog.
While chicken is certainly one of the most popular proteins, it is a common cause of food allergies in dogs. If you notice your pup displaying food allergy symptoms, chat with your vet and discuss putting your pup on a chicken-free diet.
Beef is another high-quality protein source that is widely available for dogs. It’s used in many commercial dog foods, including PAWUP! We use cow-based muscle and organ meat to give your pup the best nutrition. Our Beef Recipe is an excellent choice for pups who are allergic to chicken or poultry or for pups who prefer the taste of beef.
It is important to know that companies can use a variety of different beef cuts. While most of these cuts are similar from a nutrient standpoint, they can vary widely in price.
If you decide to cook beef for your pup, choose a leaner cut or drain off the excess fat before sharing. If your pup is under the weather, you can use ground beef and rice for a bland diet. Just be sure to boil or brown the beef and skim off all of the fat. In this case, the meat should be a little dry.
Your pup can enjoy grilled or baked salmon with you. Even if you enjoy your salmon medium or medium-rare, you must cook your pup’s filet well done. While salmon’s nutritional facts don’t look as good on paper as beef or chicken, this popular pink fish has one key component that other meats lack—the super-nutrient omega-3 fatty acids.
Although it is modest in protein and high in fat, salmon is an incredible source of Omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help with everything from your pup’s coat and brain to their joints. Omega-3s are also natural anti-inflammatories, which can ease chronic conditions such as arthritis and allergies. While PAWUP doesn’t make a salmon recipe, you can certainly add some to your pup’s favorite food.
Lamb is another great meat choice for pups. While not as common as chicken, beef, or turkey, lamb can often be a suitable protein alternative for pups with food allergies. Since lamb’s water content is higher than beef or chicken, you will need to feed more lamb to reach the same level of protein. But if you feed your pup PAWUP’s Lamb Recipe, you won’t need to worry—our expert team does all the cooking and mixing for you so that you only have to open the package and let your pup chow down.
Turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving, your pup can enjoy this delightful poultry option all year. Leaner and slightly lower in fat than chicken, the taste of turkey delights many pups’ taste buds and is considered a gentle option for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Pups can even enjoy your holiday turkey, as long as it is plain, skinless, and free from toxic garlic and onions, and any rich sauces or gravies.
If you love to cook for your pup, you can roast a turkey breast in the oven. The internal temperature must reach at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure any pathogens are killed in the cooking process. But, if you don’t have time to roast a turkey breast for your pup, you’re in luck—PAWUP makes a delicious Turkey Recipe that your dog can enjoy without dirtying any dishes, besides their bowl, of course.
Alternative Meat Options for Dogs
While pork is a less common option for dogs, offering the other white meat to your pup is perfectly fine. Simply avoid the fattier cuts as well as cured products such as bacon, ham, and sausage as they can cause pancreatitis and make your pup gain weight. Excessive salt and nitrates found in cured products and deli items can also be harmful to your dog’s cardiovascular health.
Like any other protein source on this list, do not offer undercooked or raw pork to your pup, as improperly or uncooked pork can cause trichinosis. Instead, brown some plain lean ground pork in a pan and drain off the fat before serving your pup.
Unfortunately, when it comes to pork-based dog foods, there are only a few commercially made options—far fewer than most of the other proteins we’ve reviewed.
If your pup is a picky eater, duck might be just the temptation they need to devour their dinner. Sometimes blended into commercial diets, duck is probably one of the less popular proteins for pups—potentially because of its high-fat content or high cost. If your pup needs to lose a few pounds, look for a leaner protein or feed duck only in moderation.
Exotic Meat Used in Dog Foods
For some pups with food allergies or adventurous palates, the meats listed above might not be enough to satisfy their appetite or health needs. In recent years, exotic meats (i.e., novel or new proteins) such as crocodile, kangaroo, ostrich, and even pheasant have found their way into dog food recipes to accommodate food-sensitive and allergic pups.
If you are considering feeding exotic meat to your dog, first chat with your vet to ensure you understand the nutritional profile and any risks. Boutique, exotic, and grain-free (BEG) diets have come under scrutiny in recent years, so do your research before making a switch.
Raw Versus Cooked Meat for Dogs
Raw meat diets are an ongoing trend in the dog food industry that promises to deliver enhanced nutritional value by preserving the nutrient profile of fresh uncooked meat. Unfortunately, raw meat can also carry dangerous risks for pups and people such as food-borne illness (e.g., E. coli, listeriosis, Salmonella), nutrient deficiency, and digestive issues from consuming too much or too little bone (i.e., a necessary calcium and mineral source).
At PAWUP, we balance health and safety by gently cooking our proteins. This preserves optimal nutrient content while destroying harmful bacteria.
How Much Protein Should My Dog Consume?
Although protein is a crucial component of your dog’s diet, too much can be harmful to their health. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that healthy adult dogs receive maintenance dog food with a minimum of 18% protein. Growing, pregnant, and lactating dogs have increased protein needs, which is reflected in the AAFCO recommendation of 22%.
At PAWUP, meat is a key ingredient in all five of our recipes. We use human-grade muscle and organ meats and mix them with fruits, vegetables, and other superfoods to keep your pup healthy and interested in our food.
Although you can pick just one PAWUP recipe, we encourage you to try any of our recipes that are appropriate for your pup so they can enjoy a variety of proteins and flavors as well as the health benefits that come with them.