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The days of simply choosing between beef or chicken for dinner are long gone, even for your dog. With more alternative protein sources available than ever before — not just turkey dog food, but salmon dog food and even duck dog food — navigating your pup's meal selection can seem daunting. Read on for a concise breakdown of why, when and which alternative protein sources may make sense for your pet.
Protein Sources for Dogs: Why Go Alternative?
Protein is an essential nutrient for dogs. Its amino acids lay the foundation for muscles, tissue repair and a healthy coat and skin, among many other benefits. But why has there been an increased variety of protein sources lining stores' pet food shelves in recent years?
Contrary to popular belief, it's not prudent to rotate flavors for your dog's meals. Some pet parents are simply following a fad, but others are changing up what they feed their dog to accommodate a food allergy. Some dogs can develop a food sensitivity, even after having eaten an ingredient for years. This can involve a range of signs:
- Licking or chewing irritated skin
- Skin infections and/or hot spots
- Paw pad infections
- Recurrent ear infections
- Belching or flatulence
- Frequent bowel movements
While a true food allergy test takes up to 16 weeks of patiently following a dietary food trial, beef and chicken are two of the most commonly identified sources of food sensitivities in dogs. A recent trend toward grain-free diets for dogs would have you believe that grains pose a threat or are responsible for the majority of allergies in dogs, but this is rarely the case. When a dog has a food allergy, it's typically to an animal-based protein in their diet.
Another growing concern that can push pet parents to consider alternative protein sources is meat's environmental impact. Beef, for example, is resource-intensive: It requires a lot of land, water and animal feed to produce. Avoiding environmentally taxing protein sources, such as beef and lamb, and seeking out more sustainable ones can help reduce the burden on our planet's resources —while still ensuring top-notch nutrition and health for your dog.
Types of Alternative Protein Sources in Dog Food
Examples of protein sources currently used in dog food include:
- Brewer's yeast
- Corn gluten meal
- Fish meal
- Pea protein
- Potato protein
- Rice protein
- Wheat gluten
This list isn't comprehensive. Commercially available protein sources are continually being revised. It's also important to realize that while organ meats and byproducts may not be on your dinner plate, they are a normal part of your pet's diet. Utilizing all parts of an animal not only resembles how animals evolved to eat, it's also the most sustainable way of incorporating animal proteins in dog food.
Choosing Alternative Proteins
If you want to try an alternative source of protein in your dog's diet, it should be under the direct guidance of your veterinarian. Your vet can also help you select which protein to try, and transition to the new food gradually over 7 days. Here are some of the more common alternative protein sources vets recommend.
Turkey Dog Food
While not a newcomer to alternative proteins, turkey is an excellent base for dog foods. Turkey is lean and high in protein, and turkey is an uncommon food allergen in dogs. Poultry overall has a smaller carbon footprint than beef, making this a step toward eco-friendly dog food protein sources.
Salmon Dog Food
You may have heard about the health benefits of fish oil for humans, but did you know salmon's omega-3 fatty acids provide the same anti-inflammatory benefits to dogs? If your dog struggles with a dull coat or itchy skin, salmon dog food may be an easy answer. Salmon also usually has a lower environmental impact than beef.
Duck Dog Food
Somewhat more exotic and new to the dog food aisle, duck-meat-based kibble offers another source of protein. Duck is also higher in fatty acids than competing poultry-based diets and offers a different flavor profile for pooches who turn up their snout at salmon dog food or other alternative proteins.
The Bottom Line
We have seen an explosion in dog food trends that model human diet trends — whether that's grain-free, raw, vegan, farm-to-table, plant-based or homemade. It's important, though, to recognize that what is best for people is not always best for our four-legged friends (and some of these trends can even pose health risks to dogs). Though many of these trends often do not provide any nutritional benefit and are geared more toward satisfying human desires than canine nutrition, there are sound reasons a dog owner may seek out alternative protein sources, including diagnosed allergies. Just remember to talk to your vet first.
Dr. Laci Schaible
Dr. Laci Schaible is a small-animal veterinarian and entrepreneur living in Sarasota, Florida.