Protein Sources for Dogs

Kelly Roper
Eggs, fish, meat and cheese

What are the best protein sources for dogs? In a word, they are protein rich foods that are the most digestible. Dogs may be omnivores, but some foods provide more usable protein for them than others. Learn the difference.

What Does Protein Do for Dogs?

Dogs may be omnivores, but they rely heavily on protein to help them survive and thrive. Protein contains essential amino acids that are crucial to the process of cell production. Without enough protein in their diet, dogs can develop a host a health problems. They'll lose energy, their coats will become dull and lifeless, and their immune systems become less capable of fighting off disease.

Biological Value

"Biological value" is a term used to describe how easily dogs can render the available protein from a particular food source and absorb it into their systems. Foods that have a high biological value are the best protein sources for dogs because they are the easiest to digest. When the food is thoroughly digested, the dog gains as much of the available protein as possible. Foods that contain a lot of protein yet have a low biological value are not easily digested by dogs, and so they aren't a good source of protein.

Protein in Commercial Dog Food

There are hundreds of dog food formulas available on the market, including a number of high protein dog food options. The best brands use protein sources with a high biological value, while the worst base their formulas on low biological value foods. There are also a range foods in between that include both high and low biological value foods. Why such a difference? High value protein sources often cost more, while low value proteins are cheaper, more cost effective and still meet pet food guidelines for minimum protein content even though a dog can't digest the food well enough to absorb the protein that is in it.

Superior Protein Sources for Dogs

With this in mind, compare the following protein sources commonly found in a wide variety of commercial dog foods.


Eggs may not immediately come to mind when considering the best protein sources for dogs, but they are an excellent source of protein and are included in some dog food formulas and many homemade diets. You may even be surprised to learn that eggs are a better source of protein than meat since a dog can render more protein from them as long as they are cooked.


When it comes to feeding fish to a pet, most people tend to think of cats. However, fish also provides an excellent source of protein for dogs as long as it is cooked. Many prominent dog food brands offer formulas that contain fish or fish meal, and salmon is usually the fish of choice since it is high in omega-3 fatty acid.

Real Meat

You'll see numerous ingredients listed on a dog food label, and it's sometimes difficult to determine exactly what some of those terms really mean. However, there's no mistaking a real, named meat when you read it. Real meat is the most natural source of protein a dog can consume; it's what his digestive system was designed to eat as evidenced by his wild ancestors.

Some of the most common meats included in dog diets are:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Liver
  • Duck
  • Venison

Meat Meal

There seems to be a bit of confusion over whether meat meal is a good source of protein for dogs. To be clear, meat meal is not the same thing as a meat by-product.

Meat meal is real meat that has been dried and pulverized into a gritty powder. Removing both the water and fat from the meat leaves a very concentrated source of protein that is added to a dog food formula to boost the protein content. Meat meal is actually very digestible, and this means a dog can render more nutrition from it than from an inferior source of protein. The more efficiently a dog can digest his food, the less waste he produces.


Although you won't find an overwhelming number of dog food brands that include cheese in their formulas, it is a very viable source of protein for canines. While regular cheese and cottage cheese both contain protein, they contain different amounts of fat. If you have a dog that could use a lower fat diet, cottage cheese is the better choice.

Inferior Protein Sources

Meat By-Products

Meat by-products are what's left of a carcass after the main meat has been stripped from an animal. Although there is some protein to be found in these leftovers, they are generally much less digestible for a dog. He can consume them, but the protein will pass through his system largely undigested and simply contribute to a larger volume of stool.

Some examples of meat by-products include:

  • Beaks
  • Feathers
  • Claws
  • Hair
  • Horns
  • Hooves

Corn and Wheat

It's true that you can feed a dog corn or wheat and he'll render a little protein from these foods, but the protein in these grains are very difficult for dogs to digest. This means brands that use corn, corn meal, wheat and wheat gluten as main protein sources technically meet industry standards for protein content. However, they cannot actually deliver all the protein promised because dogs can't digest these foods efficiently. A good deal of the protein passes right through the dog's system unused.

Now Check Your Dog's Food

With a clear understanding of just how digestible and, therefore, more nutritionally valuable a particular source of protein can be, check the ingredients label on your own dog's food. Those ingredients are listed by volume from highest to lowest, and those first five ingredients are often the most important because they list the type of protein used as the main component of the formula. Regardless of its reputation or marketing, does your current brand use high value or low value protein sources? Depending on what you see, you can either continue to feed your dog that brand with confidence or decide it's time to look for a healthier brand.

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Protein Sources for Dogs