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Even though dogs are built to take in more than just meat, the meats that go into regular commercial dog food are something that should be considered. Read on to find out more!

A Quick Guide to Dog Food (Especially Protein)

PETS & ANIMALS — Dog food protein is essential to your dog and dogs require more protein than humans. Interestingly enough, protein hasn’t always been the focus of dog food. Wikipedia has several examples from the 1800s that show a focus on cheese, milk, buttermilk, oats, barley-meal, potatoes, and animal fat in dog food.

Image of a dog in a red Hawaiian shirt.

Image by Karsten Winegeart.

Dog food has come a significantly long way. Now, dog food companies are greatly concerned with the many different ingredients that are needed to come up with a pet food product that matches the amino acids that a dog requires.

These can all be synergized by using various different food combinations. Some feel that because dogs are direct descendants of wolves, that their protein requirement is one hundred percent meat-based. Another argument is that dogs are natural scavengers and will eat basically anything, whether it is a protein or not.

Image of two corgis smiling for the camera.

Image by gotdaflow.

Still, others feel that with the domestication of dogs, and the fact that they have been living with humans for thousands of years, that they have evolved into incomplete carnivores. And there are more opinions beyond those as well. This subject is extremely broad and there is an incredible wealth of information on this topic and some of it is rather frightening.

Commercial dog foods tend to be comprised of one meat product and several other items that are generally carbs or meat by-products. The first five ingredients listed on the side of a bag of dog food tend to be a basic summary of 95% of its contents. This is fine, but the issue is when pet food companies embellish the value of the product within the bag. It is a no-brainer that any dog owner should pay close attention to these items, and the way the items are placed and worded on the package.

Image of two dogs dressed up in fancy shirts.

Image by Karsten Winegeart.

When dealing with meat in general, the first 50% of a slaughtered animal that can be used is considered to be “human grade.” Some people have felt that serving their dogs “human grade” food is a proper solution to all of their dog food needs.

A lot of pet food companies use the words “human-grade” as a catch-all phrase to make some of their food sound better than it really is. While the idea of a “human grade” food is a great one, but it isn’t absolute.

Image of the American Association of Feed Control Officials logo. To say that a food is human-grade is relatively misleading. What the term means is that the food is good enough to be consumed by humans. This has little to do with the processing of the product. The term “made with human-grade ingredients” doesn’t mean that the end product is human grade.

In short, the processing of human-grade meat could in fact be something that wouldn’t be healthy for human consumption at all. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) doesn’t even have a definition of “human grade” ingredients.

Image of a dog with its head out of a car window.

Image by Andrew Pons.

Some of the key items that are found in commercial pet food are animal leftovers that can’t be sold at the local grocery store. These items of the animal are usually the brains, bones, eyeballs, blood, intestines, lungs, spleens, livers, ligaments, membranes, and fat trimmings.

These leftovers are called “by-products” and tend to get used in pet foods. A good thing to know about animal by-products is that hair, horns, hooves, beaks, and feathers aren’t a part of the equation. As a general rule of thumb, higher-end pet foods don’t even use meat by-products.

If one registers at the AAFCO website and looks into animal by-products, the results could be considered encouraging. An example of this would be 4D meat (dead, diseased, dying, or disabled) is considered “adulterated” and shouldn’t be included in pet food unless it has been treated to a point where all dangerous microorganisms have been destroyed.

Obviously, dog food with meat by-products as the main ingredient is inferior to one that has specific meat and then a by-product listed afterward.

Image of three pug dogs.

Image by Sneaky Elbow.

The next level of meat is the meal. Various meat meals are extremely common ingredients in pet food. The reason the word “meal” is used is that the food is not necessarily fresh. It is also meat that has been rendered.

Rendering means that the meat has been pulled apart in such a way that oil and fat are separated from the flesh through boiling in a cauldron or vat. 4D foods are used much more readily with meals. Once again, they are cooked in such a way that all dangerous microorganisms are destroyed.

The next point is the fact that dog food is broken into single and multiple protein products. What this means is that a single protein is one form of meat. Multiple proteins (such as beef and turkey) would be considered to be two or more meats. Some feel that there is no sensible reason to give an animal a single-protein food.

Image of a pit bull looking into the camera.

Image by Mike Burke.

With multiple protein sources, the dog gets several different amino acids from each meat product. By running two proteins in tandem in dog food, the right amino acid mix is easier to make. Furthermore, multiple proteins mean that fewer fillers are required, fewer fillers mean less bulk on your animal and an easier product to digest.

One of the arguments for grain within dog food is that a dog’s required amino acids can be achieved through various mixes and matches of meat and grain products. The argument is usually about the quality of the meat and grain products used. One shouldn’t forget that there is a slight protein ranking within grains such as corn, soy, and oats.

There is a high percentage of dogs that have food allergies. Corn is such a common additive, that some feel its constant inclusion with dog food has made it a regular culprit for dog food allergies. Soy is another culprit. Some feel that the number of dogs with food allergies may be as high as twenty percent, others ground the figure somewhere well below ten percent.

Image of an funny looking angry dog.

Image by Isabel Vittrup-Pallier.

Whatever the case may be, dog food companies have created hundreds — if not thousands — of different foods for dogs that should meet your dog’s needs, even if it does have allergies. Obviously, a well-balanced, meat-only diet would hit all of the required amino acid marks and avoid potential grain allergies. Meat allergies however are another reality that makes the whole idea of dog food protein that much more complex.

Some standard meat allergies that dogs have are chicken and beef, which are two of the main meats in most dog foods. There are solutions available though. Lamb, duck, venison, and turkey are other relatively safe alternatives. Lamb used to be the hypoallergenic cure-all, but dogs of late have been showing up with allergies towards this meat product as well. Bringing in these new ingredients might be what your dog needs and chances are that if the newer food has venison or lamb in it, your dog will be just fine with it.

Image of a dog.

“Anybody who doesn’t know what soap tastes like never washed a dog.” — Franklin P. Jones

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