There's a lot of information circulating out there on whether or not certain meats are okay for your dog to eat or what protein-sources are best for your dog or which meats cause allergies. We're going to break this down by meat source and demystify some of the stress around feeding your dog, but on the whole, as long as you're feeding your dog the highest quality meat you can afford and that fits your lifestyle...then you're doing it right. Simple as that.
Overall, your dog is able to digest protein from all-natural, whole food sources, regardless of the ultimate animal source. All whole, meat sources contain complex chains of amino acids, which are the essential building blocks to a healthy life. Unless your dog has a specific or known allergy, the main difference across these sources is in the exact breakdown of the various types of amino acids. Beyond that, similar to how we shop for our own meats, there are a couple of factors you'll want to consider for your dog: price, nutritional profile, farming practices, availability and processing.
On the whole though...
- Almost all meat sources are great for your dog as long as you are choosing natural, unprocessed, whole food sources of protein. That is the most important part in choosing your dog's protein sources - the intersection of what you can afford with the highest quality, natural sources.
- Most meats differ in their fat content, amino acid profile (which differ mostly on the fringes) and general availability (how common and affordable they are.)
- Rotating your dog's protein and meat sources is a good way to avoid food boredom and ensure your dog gets the full spectrum of amino acids available in animal proteins.
- The more unprocessed the protein source, the better. We're evangelical raw food feeders. We've seen massive changes for the better in our own dogs on a variety of levels, and when it comes to the meat itself, keeping the meat in its raw, natural state keeps the amino acid chains in complex links. Cooking the meat breaks down the amino acids into single acids that are far less complex, less nutrient dense and less beneficial for your dog.
Chicken - Chicken is one of the most common sources of meat used in dog food, and also one of the most common allergies seen in dogs. The allergy issue often isn't in chicken itself, but rather in the quality of the chicken being used that causes the allergies. The low quality, highly processed types of meat found in kibble often cause leaky gut syndrome, where the integrity of your dog's gut lining decays, toxins seep into their bloodstream causing inflammation and allergies then appear on the surface. If you're looking to prevent allergies, choosing high-quality chicken (not processed nor made with chicken byproduct) along with rotating your dog's meat sources. This makes chicken a great option and minimizes potential for allergies. An added bonus is that chicken is lean, affordable and comes in a variety of cuts if you choose to DIY your own dog food.
Turkey - Similar to chicken, turkey is a great, lean protein source for your dog. Turkey has a similar nutritional profile to chicken with slightly less fat. It's used less frequently in commercial dog food and is less abundant. Another thing to consider if you're making your own food, turkey is slightly more expensive than chicken. On the plus side, turkey also contains high levels of tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid in the production of serotonin (the feel good chemical) in dogs that keeps them calm and happy.
Beef - This is probably the most widely available source of protein for your dog and one of the most commonly used meats in commercial dog food. You'll want to be conscious of farming practices when purchasing beef products. You should also keep in mind that most commercial dog foods use beef byproduct, not actual beef sources, so your dog ends up eating non-useable beef that's essentially waste product.
We'd recommend paying a lot of attention to sourcing. If you're making your dog's own food and buying the beef yourself, you have a lot of great options. Beef can sometimes be a little too fatty, so choosing leaner cuts of beef or leaner percentages of ground beef is a great way to go. Overall though, we love it as an option.
Fish - Fish another great option for your dog and has added benefits if your dog is prone to sensitive or dry skin. The oils and omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids found in fish keep your dog's skin moisturized and can help prevent shedding. Fish can contain high levels of mercury, however, so it's important to rotate your dog's protein source so as not to over-index on fish. But incorporating salmon or tuna a few times a week is a great option for your dogs' health on the inside and out.
Pork - Pork often has a bad reputation because when we think of pork, we think of ultra cured or processed cuts of pork like bacon or sausage. Pork is also much harder to find in typical commercial dog food sources. There are some myths circulating that pork's high fat content can cause pancreatitis in dogs, but like with any other meat source, there are leaner options. Choosing lean cuts like tenderloin or loin chops can mitigate those concerns, so it's another great protein to rotate into your dog's diet.
Lamb - Lamb is an amazing source of zinc, which improves immune function, heals wounds, encourages coat growth and helps stabilize blood sugar and metabolic rate. Lamb can get pricey, however, so if it's out of your budget, you can think about incorporating it once in a while as a splurge or treat for your dog.