About 30,000 years ago, dogs evolved to become man’s best friend. They developed the ability to eat a varied diet that includes meats, veggies, fruits and grains. And while dogs can be classified as omnivores, they lean more toward the carnivore end of the spectrum, eating a diet high in meat. Dr. Gary Richter, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, says dogs have a very high protein requirement from an evolutionary perspective; it’s what their bodies are designed to thrive on. So what is the best meat for your dog? It depends on your dog’s weight, age, breed and health and which protein source best meets his need. So basically, your dog is the answer to what is the best protein for him.

Protein is the most important ingredient in dog food

The nutritional value of food is the amount of essential nutrients it contains — amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. Proteins contain a greater variety of these key nutrients and they are the only source of amino acids.

Amino acids are very important for health and well-being. They form new cells and repair and build muscle tissue. They assist in creating hormones and enzymes the body needs to function and keep the immune system strong. Amino acids generate the energy your dog needs to chase those tennis balls.

Essential amino acids are not stored in the body and must come from daily protein sources. Protein is found in meats, eggs, dairy, and some vegetables, grains and legumes. However, animal sources contain a greater variety than plants of the essential amino acids a dog needs.

The amount of protein a dog needs depends on his life stage, breed and any health conditions or ailments. In general, the National Research Council guidelines suggest healthy adult dogs require a minimum of 2.62 grams of quality protein per kilogram of weight.

What is the best protein for dogs?

Really, there is no “best protein” for dogs. When choosing a protein source, it’s about all the key nutrients it contains, its digestibility and what your dog’s individual needs are.

Many nutrients are needed to support a healthy dog at any stage of life. However, with any food, you need to look at its nutrient profile as each food contains varying amounts of those key nutrients. A dog requires different amounts of those nutrients, whether he’s an English Mastiff recovering from surgery or she’s a pregnant Chihuahua.

Choosing a healthy meat for your dog

Dr. Richter states there is no best meat for dogs other than to say that some dogs do better on some proteins versus others but recommends the meat be “clean,” organic or grass-fed if possible. Quality does matter. Animals raised in humane conditions have better nutrient profiles than factory-farmed meats.

We explored the nutrients in some of the most popular meats for dogs and some less common meats you may have noticed on the pet store shelves.

Can dogs eat beef?

Dogs can eat beef, which comes from cattle (cows, bulls and ox). Beef has good fat content, and it’s rich in minerals like zinc and iron. It’s a great source of B vitamins. The iron found in beef is already bound to a protein called myoglobin, which makes it more easily absorbed by the body.

Can dogs eat bison?

Yes, bison is a great alternative to beef for dogs. It’s high in protein, B vitamins and selenium. Bison has linoleic acid, omega 3 fatty acids, and high iron and zinc. These are all great things for cognitive support, immune support and skin and coat benefits.

Can dogs eat venison?

Venison, which comes from deer, has less fat and cholesterol than beef. It’s a good source of B vitamins and minerals such as zinc, phosphorus and iron. Venison can be a good option for dogs with food sensitivities, allergies and skin irritations.

Can dogs eat rabbit?

Dogs can eat rabbit as it is lower in sodium and calories compared to other proteins and is rich in B vitamins. Rabbit also makes a good option for dogs with food sensitivities, allergies and skin irritations.

Can dogs eat alligator?

Yes, dogs can eat alligator, another protein showing up in dog food. It has almost twice the protein as beef plus it’s considerably lower in fat with little-to-no cholesterol. Alligator is high in phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B12 and niacin. Like fish, alligator meat can also contain high amounts of mercury.

Can dogs eat chicken?

Chicken is a great lean protein for dogs and so is the chicken egg. The egg is considered the most complete. It contains more amino acids than any other protein and is completely digestible. Almost nothing is unused by the body. Chicken is a good source of omega 6 fatty acids, which are important to healthy skin and coat. It also contains choline, zinc, iron and copper.

Can dogs eat duck?

Yes, dogs can eat duck — a lean protein, rich in iron and B vitamins. Duck is a great source for amino acids and a healthy alternative for dogs with protein allergies.

Can dogs eat turkey?

Yes, dogs can eat turkey, which is protein-dense and rich in potassium, B vitamins, riboflavin and selenium. Turkey is a good alternative for dogs with beef or chicken allergies.

Can dogs eat pork?

Yes, dogs can eat pork but it should be cooked. Pork contains all essential amino acids and is rich in thiamine. Thiamine is an essential vitamin for cell and nervous system functions. It also plays a part in carbohydrate metabolism. Pork can be high in fats, so don’t feed it to a dog on a low-fat diet. Be mindful of the types of cuts you get and feed to a dog only in moderation.

Can dogs eat boar?

Yes, dogs can eat lean boar meat, especially as an alternative to chicken. It contains many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B6, zinc, iron, niacin, thiamine and selenium. These are essential for a dog’s healthy cardiovascular, immune system and metabolism. Lean boar meat is a great source of energy and is low in cholesterol.

Can dogs eat fish?

Yes, dogs can eat fish, but with caution. High mercury contamination is a problem when consuming fish, so consider the source (see chart here). In general, fish is beneficial for dogs. It’s easily digestible and contains many fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Some fish can be high in sodium, so talk to your vet about feeding your dog fish if your dog is on a low-sodium diet.

Can dogs eat lamb?

Dogs can eat lamb — a high-quality protein with many vitamins and minerals, lamb is richer in iron than chicken or fish. For dogs, lamb can be a great addition to a healthy diet. It is a good source of healthy fats and is beneficial to their gut biome. A healthy gut biome supports a strong immune system. Lamb contains omega 3 and 6 fatty acids that support healthy brain functions and boost kidney and heart health.

Can dogs eat kangaroo?

And, dogs can eat kangaroo. It has a high protein content and is said to be the leanest animal protein available. It’s rich in B vitamins, omega 3, zinc and iron. All of which support a dog’s immune system and benefit his overall health. Kangaroo is a great alternative for dogs with food allergies and those suffering from pancreatitis.

Choosing the best meat for your dog

Whether you feed commercial or homemade, there are things to consider when you build a diet for your dog. Experts at The Pet Food Institute , say a “complete and balanced” pet food recipe contains the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and proteins and amino acids considered essential to supporting a healthy dog.

Just like people, dogs can suffer from ailments caused by a lack of or an overabundance of key nutrients. There is no “best meat” to give a dog simply because no one meat contains all the nutrients a dog needs.

Hanna Mandelbaum, the co-CEO and fairy dog-mother of Evermore Pet Food, says to get creative. A protein variety gives dogs the amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals they need to thrive. Switching things up can help picky eaters, too. Dogs also can develop food sensitivities if they eat the same thing too long. This is why Dr. Richter prefers to rotate proteins a few times a year.

Your dog’s specific nutritional needs are the key to what is the best protein. Your dog’s life stage, health conditions and breed all play a role in what he needs to stay healthy. Talk with your vet about your dog’s individual nutritional requirements and provide a balanced diet that keeps him healthy.