9 Best Meats for Dogs -
Healthiest Canine Proteins
If you have any interest in dog food, you probably know this by now: the most important part of a canine diet is the protein (or, in other words - the meat). But, no matter if you are trying to set up a homemade meal plan or buying ready-made dog food of any kind, there are still a lot of options to choose from.
And this brings along more questions. What kind of meat is best for my dog? Is one type better than the other, or should the price be the only guiding factor? How do I know the meat in question is safe to feed to my dog? Today, we’ll talk about all of these and more in order to help you find the best meat for dogs.
The Key Takeaways When Researching The Best Meats for Dogs
Protein is the most important part of a dog’s diet, meaning that any kind of quality meat will be good for your dog.
On a basic level, the main difference between different types of meat is the fat and protein levels. Fat is not necessarily bad for dogs, but if your dog is on a low-fat diet, it’s something to keep in mind.
The origin of meat might matter more than the type: free-range and grass-fed is better than farmed, but you also want to look for meat that’s additive-free, when possible
For a balanced diet, meat should be supplemented by offal and bones
What Is the Best Meat Protein for Dogs?
Below, we’ll list some of the best kinds of meat you give to your dog and reasons why you might choose one or the other. But actually, this is not a top list. Dogs need lots of meat in their diet, and most healthy dogs will benefit from any kind of quality meat. If you only want the best for your pup, what makes a difference is more the source where the meat comes from. Meat from free-range animals that’s free from antibiotics and preservatives is always the best option.
Related: How Much Protein Is In Dog Food?
But either way, let’s talk about different options you might have when it comes to giving your dog meat. The best meat for a dog to eat might also depend on various factors, including the dog's individual dietary needs and any specific health considerations. So let’s go over the options:
Chicken is definitely among the most common sources of protein in dog food. Pretty much every major brand has a chicken recipe, but what about feeding your dog straight-up chicken?
Well, most dogs will be quite happy with that proposition. Chicken is leaner than red meats, meaning it contains more protein and less fat. That makes it suitable for almost any dog, unless they have food sensitivities triggered by chicken (not very common, but it happens).
You can feed any part of a chicken to your dog, but it’s best to choose a boneless cut like chicken breast or boneless legs. Chicken bones are quite brittle, even when raw, and can easily split into dangerous splinters.
One common concern about feeding chicken to dogs is the increased risk of Salmonella contamination (especially when feeding raw). If that is a concern, you should know that Salmonella is not as dangerous for dogs as it is for humans - even though it can still cause problems (1) However, even dogs that don’t show any symptoms can spread the bacteria. It’s up to you to assess the risk, and cooking the meat is one way to avoid it.
Beef is another common option both in commercial dog foods and home-prepared meals. Nutritionally, beef is great for dogs because it contains lots of protein as well as iron and zinc.
One thing to remember about beef is that it is quite rich in saturated fats. Now, saturated fats are not necessarily bad for your dog. They provide energy to burn, which is especially important for active dogs.
However, too much fat (especially saturated fats) might be bad for certain dogs such as those at risk of obesity or those suffering from pancreatitis. Even in those cases, though, a bit of lean beef is probably fine, you just don’t want to overdo it with fatty cuts.
If you are open to feeding your dog bones, beef bones are a great and healthy option.
Pork is not as common as chicken or beef when it comes to dog food recipes, but it’s still definitely a viable option. Price-wise and nutrition-wise, it’s somewhere between chicken and beef. And, lots of picky eaters seem to go crazy about pork.
But there are a few things to keep in mind. Plain pieces of pork meat are good for your dog, but avoid feeding things like bacon or fat trimmings (unless you use it as a high-value treat, in small amounts). Also avoid any cured, smoked, or spiced meats - this is not what your dog needs. With products made from processed pork meat, be careful about additives that might be hiding in there.
It is often recommended not to give pork raw to your dog, due to the risk of trichinosis (pork roundworm infection) and other parasite infections (2). Cooked pork is completely fine, though.
While it’s less likely to find lamb at your local supermarket than chicken or beef, it’s also a great option for dogs if you happen to have some on hand. Lamb is rich in protein and most dogs love the smell of it.
Lamb & rice is a typical option in dog food formulas for dogs with food allergies, because both of these ingredients are considered very unlikely to be allergens or cause intestinal upset.
Turkey, Duck, and Other Poultry
Turkey, duck, and other kinds of poultry are all viable options for your dog. Again, canines will benefit from eating any kind of meat!
One of the reasons why you’d want to feed your dog some of these more unusual meats is that they can represent a novel protein in a dog’s diet. Sometimes canines develop food sensitivities during life, and need to go on elimination diets. Duck, for example, is a common choice for novel protein commercial dog foods.
Nutritionally, turkey is pretty lean and fairly similar to chicken, but duck is very fatty. This is why most dogs love it and picky eaters go crazy for it, but keep the fat content in mind if your pooch needs to watch their weight.
In any case, if you have some poultry meat on hand (any kind), go ahead and give it to your dog. Having it cooked beforehand is the safest method.
When we think about meat, we don’t usually think about fish, but it definitely counts as meat, at least in the doggy world. In fact, fish can be a wonderful, nutritious source of protein for dogs. And depending on what kind of fish you choose (and where you live), it can also be fairly cheap as well as local.
Dogs can eat almost all types of fish, but some precautions should be taken, especially when feeding fresh fish.
That is to say, smaller fish are less likely to have prickly bones that might hurt your dog. Larger fish is fine too, but it’s important that it’s properly deboned. If you wouldn’t eat it yourself, don’t give it to your dog - unlike cats, dogs can’t really deal with fish bones.
Fish is relatively low in saturated fats, but rich in healthy fatty acids, which, among other things, can make your dog’s coat more smooth and shiny. The same effect can be achieved with fish oil, though, if you are feeding other types of protein to your dog.
Kangaroo meat is one of the best options to feed your dog, if you live somewhere where it’s easily available (in other words, Australia). While for the rest of the world it’s an exotic option that’s appearing in some specialty dog foods, if you can get it from your local butcher, it’s a great option. Local, wild harvested, and affordable. Roo meat is also one of the leanest options, with lots of protein and not too much fat.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to source other types of wild meat, like venison or bison. These are all good options for a dog.
Related: What Is A Hydrolyzed Protein Dog Food?
Related: Are Dogs Carnivores or Omnivores?
But It’s Not Just About the Meat!
If you are making your dog’s food at home, you should know that meat only is not the healthiest option for dogs. Yes, we want to see meat as the first ingredient in commercially produced formulas, but the best case scenario is actually combining meat with (raw) bones and a healthy dose of organ meat.
Bones are super rich in calcium and phosphorous, essential minerals that your dog needs to thrive. Pet parents disagree on whether raw bones are safe to feed to dogs (cooked bones definitely aren’t), but many dogs do enjoy gnawing on a nice large bone. Alternatively, finely ground bone can be added as a nutritional booster (4).
Related: The Best Raw Dog Food Australia.
But even more important than bones are the organ meats. Offal is the often forgotten powerhouse of nutrients and the perfect booster for every dog’s diet.
“Try all of the organ meats, including lung, kidney, pancreas – anything you can get your hands on! You and your dog will get over the ickiness factor once you see the great health benefits!” - Dana Scott, Dogs Naturally (5)
Heart, liver, lung, kidney, tripe… these are all great options for your dog, and you can often get them for quite cheap. Try them all and see what your dog likes best.
What to Consider When Buying Meat for Your Dog
As you can see, there are many options when it comes to getting meat for your dog. The good news is, whatever you choose, a piece of real meat is better than any low-grade dog food formula. But here are the things to think about when choosing the best dog meat.
As mentioned already, the quality of the meat you buy might be more important than the type. Meat coming from free-range or wild animals is the best option, but it’s not always available or might be too expensive. In any case, it’s best to try and avoid meat that’s filled with hormones, antibiotics, and chemical additives as much as you can.
Related: Real Meat vs Meat Meal in Dog Food.
Related: What is AAFCO? The Association of American Feed Control Officials
Related: What Is the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA)?
Related: AAFCO vs PFIAA: Dog Food Standards Comparison Australia
The price point is an important factor, of course, especially if your dog is large or you live in a multi-dog household. The good news is, you can often find good deals if you keep an open mind. Organ and offal meats are most often sold at low prices, which are actually a delicacy for canines!
Related: The Best Cheap Dog Food.
Dog’s Specific Needs
As already mentioned, healthy, active dogs will thrive on most types of meat, but that’s not the case for every dog. If your dog has any special requirements, that might be the most important factor in your meat search. Dogs with known allergic reactions to certain types of meat will certainly need to stay away from those. Additionally, for dogs that aren’t very active and might need to lose a bit of weight, leaner meats like kangaroo or turkey will always be the better option.
Related: The Best Single Protein Dog Food.
There is also a range of health conditions which might limit your choice. For example, dogs suffering from renal disease need to keep phosphorus intake in check, while those suffering from pancreatitis might benefit from a low-fat diet. In any case, if your dog has any serious ongoing health issues, dietary choices are best discussed with your vet.
My Final Thoughts
The best meat for dogs? There is no definitive answer. But you might have expected that would be the case. Each dog is different and they might have different preferences or requirements, but they all certainly enjoy meat in their diet. The truth is, for healthy dogs, it’s best to keep things simple.
There is no need to go out and search for exotic types of meat for your pooch, unless you have a reason too. Easily available classics like chicken (or even kangaroo, depending on where you are) will certainly do the job!
Yes, raw meat is good for dogs, but it’s also a controversial topic. While there are more and more pet parents these days switching to feeding raw, it does come with some downsides. The main reason some vets advise against feeding raw is the increased risk of spreading harmful bacteria and parasites.
One of the evergreen tips for dogs with upset stomachs is to feed a cooked chicken breast mixed with rice - “a bland diet”. And that really is a good tip, but like with almost everything, it does not work for every dog. Leaner meat is generally easier to digest, but some dogs might actually have a hard time digesting chicken and might prefer something else.
Any kind of good quality meat is generally good for dogs, but there are some things to keep in mind, especially if you are giving your pooch leftovers from your food. Cooked meat is fine (and great actually), but cooked bones aren’t - they break off into sharp fragments and can harm your dog. Also, some forms of meat, like deli products, can be full of salt and various spices which are not good for dogs.
- Flaim, D. April 14, 2016. “Raw Dog Food and Salmonella Risks”. Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved May 22, 2023. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/raw-dog-food-and-salmonella-risks/
- “Pork Roundworm Infection in Dogs”. PetMD Editorial. November 12, 2010. Retrieved May 23, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_dg_trichinosis
- Gillette, L. June 30, 2020. “Can Dogs Eat Fish?”. PetMD. Retrieved May 23, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_can-dogs-eat-fish
- Dunn, T.J. March 7, 2011. “The Nutritional Aspects of Bone Composition”. PetMD. Retrieved May 23, 2023. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_nutritional_aspects_of_bone_composition
- Scott, D. December 16, 2021. “Why Organ Meat Is Important For The Raw Fed Dog”. Dogs Naturally. Retrieved May 23, 2023. https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/why-organ-meat-is-important-for-the-raw-fed-dog/