How to Avoid Choosing Dog Food with Inferior Meat Content


Finding it… and finding enough of it… has to be your top priority.  Yet just recognizing it can be incredibly difficult to do.

I’m talking about meat.  Meat is… without a doubt… the single most important ingredient to look for on a dog food label.
Dog Food Detective
That’s because the protein found in meat is truly unique.  Unlike so many other protein sources, meat naturally contains all ten essential amino acids….. “life-or-death” nutrients dogs cannot make on their own.

What’s more… meat-based protein is especially easy for dogs to digest.

But here’s the problem…

Decoding the Mysterious Language
of Dog Food Ingredient Lists

Dog food labels are very difficult to understand.  Their ingredient lists are loaded with cryptic names for meat… names which disguise the true identity… and quantity… of the meat itself.

While scanning a product’s label it’s not unusual to come face-to-face with obscure names like “meat meal”… “animal digest”… and “poultry by-products”.

Some of these unfamiliar meat ingredients are surprisingly of very high quality.  Yet others are simply deplorable… and should never be fed to any dog.

For your dog’s sake… you really need to know the difference.

Here are three little-known secrets I’ve discovered that can help you avoid buying some pretty awful dog food…

Secret #1… Avoid Any Dog Food Made
with Animal By-Products

Now, to fully appreciate this first secret… it’s important to understand what I mean by the words “animal by-products”.

So, let’s take a look at the dog food industry’s official definition…

Meat by-products are… “the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals.  It includes, but is not limited to lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents.”1

Now, for the sake of simplicity… I’ve taken the liberty of assuming a broader definition of meat than just the muscles of mammals.  By using “animal by-products” in Secret #1… I’m also including poultry.

Here’s the industry’s official take on that definition…

Poultry by-products are… “the non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice.”2

Unfit for Human Consumption…
Nutritious Food for Dogs?

Are you beginning to get the picture?

Meat by-products are nothing more than slaughterhouse waste… waste that’s been banned for use in human food… and then sold to the pet food industry.

Basically, it’s what’s left over after slaughter… and classified as inedible waste… unfit for human consumption.

Think about it.  This is the stuff that’s so bad the FDA won’t even let you use it to make sausage!

Here’s my argument for avoiding animal by-products…

They are simply… inferior ingredients.

OK… I already know what you’re thinking.  Yes… in “the wild”… dogs would eat the entire animal… organs and all.

But when by-products are used in dog food… your pet is not eating the whole animal.  He’s eating a mixture which exaggerates the natural percentage of by-products.

I love my dog, Bailey… and I would never consider feeding him anything that was so vile it’s been forbidden from use in my own food.

If it’s not good enough for me… then it’s not good enough for my dog.

Needless to say… animal by-products are some of the lowest-quality dog food ingredients out there.  Do your dog a favor… and avoid them like the plague.

Secret #2… Avoid Any Dog Food Made
with Generic Animal Protein

Now, by “generic”… I’m referring to meat-based ingredients which do not specify the source animal.

So, instead of listing a specific protein source… like beef… chicken… or venison… generic ingredients disguise crucial details with words like…

  • Animal
  • Meat
  • Poultry

Here’s why that’s important…

According to the pet food industry, meat can come from virtually any kind of mammal3.  So, unlike “beef meal”… which must come from beef… generic “meat meal” can be legally made from…

  • Road kill
  • Euthanized cats and dogs
  • Dying, diseased or disabled farm animals
  • Dead zoo animals

Think I’m kidding?  Then, be sure to read my post… The Shocking Truth About Commercial Dog Food.

Secret #3… Favor a dog food when high
quality animal protein ranks near
the top of the ingredients list

Most dog food companies make no effort to let you know how much meat is actually in a product.  There’s nothing on the label to spell-out the exact ingredient break-down.

So… the only one way to get a reasonable idea for the amount of meat in a product is to pay attention to its list rank… its relative position on a product’s list of ingredients.

Remember… dog food manufacturers must follow the same “listing” regulation as human food manufacturers.  And that rule says…

All ingredients must be listed in descending order according to their before-processing weights.

That’s why the closer to the top of an ingredients list an animal protein is positioned… the higher that product’s likely meat content.

Now, a word of caution…

The Controversial Practice of Ingredient Splitting

In what many believe to be a deliberate attempt to deceive shoppers… to make the ingredients list look better than it really is… many companies use a controversial technique known as “splitting”.

Splitting is the process of subdividing a relatively abundant (yet inferior) ingredient into its smaller parts.  Doing this can artificially raise a lower quantity meat component… closer to the top of an ingredients list.

Now, to be fair… some companies defend the concept of splitting.  They claim the process is not intentional… but used because they are required by law to show as much detail as possible.

Deliberate or not… and if you’re not careful… you can be easily tricked into believing you’re buying a product with a higher meat content than is actually present.

To learn more about this misleading practice… read my article about ingredient splitting.

Now, before we leave the subject of pre-cooking weights… here’s one more thing to keep in mind…

Meat Meals Can Be Superior to Whole Meats

When I first heard this truth about high quality “species-specific” meat meals… I have to admit… I was surprised.

You see… meat meals are exceptionally concentrated dry forms of the corresponding whole meat.  Dog foods made with these protein “concentrates” contain more protein than the whole meats themselves.

That’s because whole meat… before it is cooked… contains about 70 percent water… and around 15 percent protein.  After cooking away the fat and water… the remaining protein weighs relatively little.

The actual “by-weight” nutrient content before cooking?  Whole meat, 15% protein… meat meal, 65% protein.  Pound-for-pound… that’s more than four times as much protein in meat meal… as in the whole meat itself.

So… don’t be turned off when you see an animal meal near the top of an ingredients list.  You should expect a high quality species-specific meat meal to contain significantly more digestible animal protein… than its corresponding whole meat counterpart.

To discover how to quickly spot dog foods made with inferior protein meal ingredients… read my article about meat concentrates.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a superior meat-based dog food… remember these three powerful secrets to help you find what you’re looking for…

  1. Avoid any dog food made with animal by-products
  2. Avoid any dog food made with generic animal protein
  3. Favor a dog food when high quality animal protein ranks near the top of the ingredients list

Whenever you come across a product that violates one (or more) of these important rules, do your dog a favor…  and take a pass.

Take my word for it… there’s certainly a better dog food out there.

  1. Official Publication, American Association of Feed Control Officials, 2008 Edition, Section 9.3, p. 259
  2. Official Publication, American Association of Feed Control Officials, 2008 Edition, Section 9.14, p. 260
  3. Official Publication, American Association of Feed Control Officials, 2008 Edition, Section 9.3, p. 259
  • Cyndi

    You are very welcome. I had always believed it was bad to change a dogs food too, but, when you really think about diet rotation, it does make sense. Good luck! :)

  • Karen Farmer

    Thankyou Cyndi, I’ll definitely read up on it,

  • Shawna

    I have eight toy breed dogs and have fostered some 30(ish) Boston Terriers and Papillons over the years. Like aquariangt, I change my dogs food with every new bag and change the raw food every other day or so and canned food about as often. Within any given week (7 days) my pups can have as much as eight or so different foods (not including treats and snacks). No diarrhea ever after they are used to a rotational diet.

  • aquariangt

    Changing dog food shouldn’t cause diarrhea, that just means that your dog doesn’t have a healthy stomach. I change kibble every bag, and change toppers every meal. If any of mine have gastro issues, that’s a clue that something is wrong, because for the most part, we don’t. 14 years is a long life, but that doesn’t mean much about his health levels, and in cases like this (food no longer available) you want your dog to be able to change foods seamlessly

  • Cyndi

    Once you get your dog used to rotating foods, it is actually very healthy for them. When your dog gets diarrhea from changing foods, that means his gut is not healthy. Read here for more info…

  • Betsy Greer

    I change foods for variety almost daily.

  • Karen Farmer

    Thankyou very much, I’ll check into it,

  • Karen Farmer

    Okay, I did say nothing but Field Trial, I left out the treats and occasional people food. If you check 14 yrs is a long life for a Chow, and he was very happy and healthy,

  • Cyndi

    14 years is way too long for a dog to be eating the same food every day. You should look for a few 4 or 5 star foods and rotate.

  • losul

    Is this what you are looking for?!field-trial-dog-food/c24qb

    Sportman’s Pride might be a comparable food made by same company.

  • Karen Farmer

    I just wanted to say, I am on here also because I’m looking for Field Trial, raised my Chow on nothing but Field Trial for 14 yrs, he also had a bowl down anytime he wanted to eat. Now I have a Shepard mix and I can’t find Field Trial, very frustrating,

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  • RyGuy

    My parents dog eats a strict vegetarian diet. She is a Doberman, super healthy and energetic at 13 years old. All of her dogs were vegetarians and had long healthy lives.

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  • Pattyvaughn

    I was right.

  • The grammar nazi (that fails)

    It was worth it just to point out the excessive amount of ellipsis.

  • Pattyvaughn

    Do people like that have any shame?

  • Betsy Greer

    The irony. ::shaking head:: How much you wanna bet we don’t hear from the “gramar nazi” again.

  • Pattyvaughn

    Or not capitalize in the middle of a sentence.

  • Betsy Greer

    …or grammar, for that matter.

  • crazy4cats

    It would be nice if you could spell ellipsis correctly.

  • LabsRawesome

    It’d be nice…If you…weren’t such a …

  • The gramar nazi

    It’d be nice … If you… Could use… Elipsis correctly…

  • Emma_grave
  • Zumasmom

    Thanks for the link on canned foods- i feel better! Ok I will mix both kibble and canned, then canned later. Since he’s a pup, how often can I change the brand? I would like to prevent diarrhea as he’s just learned to poop outside!!

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Zumasmom –

    If canned is the only thing that interests him and you can afford to feed only canned, I’d say go for it. Canned foods are actually much healthier (typically) than dry foods. They have a higher moisture content and generally much more protein. Here’s an article Dr. Mike has written about canned vs. dry:

    If you do want some dry in his diet try mixing the dry with the canned or look into green tripe as a mix-in for kibble – although it smells awful to us humans, most dogs go absolutely nuts for tripe. Tripett makes a good canned green tripe product. You can also sample some different dry foods and see what your pup likes, most companies will send samples if you email or call them and samples and trial sized bags of several high quality brands are available from and Switch up his food often too. Variety is healthier and it keeps dogs from getting bored.

  • Zumasmom

    My 18 week Shitzu/Bischon pup was started on Natures Choice kibble with a dash of warm water and I have switched him to Natures Instinct Beef kibble. So far so good, but for the past 2 days, he hasn’t been interested in his meals. I gave him a bit of the canned Natures Instinct Beef and boy did he wolf down the meal. My question is should i continue his meals this way? He cant be put on the chicken variety because he has a sensitive stomach.

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Mo –

    Any of the 5 star foods would be a good choice:

    I’d definitely go grain-free and if you go with a dry food, top with raw, canned or dehydrated.

  • Mo_40031

    What dog food (by name) would you recommend, especially for little dogs?

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  • BennyJoon

    I agree 

  • Bignatec

    What percentage of the average dog food has corn in it?

  • Sue Davis


  • Lilfeather

    I feed my large breed dogs 2 cups Diamond Naturals Lamb meal/rice for lg breed dogs (28% protein) topped with 1/2 pound Darwins natural (56% protein) are they getting too much protein? One dog is 8 yrs. and the other is 1 yr. and will be getting a new puppy next month. Can I feed the puppy kibble topped w/ Darwins?  Thank You!

  • ShamelessRawFoodie

    More info about APHIS EU Certification –
    Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) European Union (EU) Certification
    USDA International Animal Product Export Regulations

  • ShamelessRawFoodie

    Does your pet food contain 4D (diseased, dying, disabled, and dead) animals?
    Is your choice of pet food APHIS EU Certified? By Susan Thixton 8-31-2011
    Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) European Union (EU) Certification
    “A pet food manufactured in the US and sold in the US, thanks to FDA Compliance Policies, can include rendered ingredients sourced from 4D (diseased, dying, disabled, and dead) animals. However, a pet food manufactured in the US and exported to Europe must be made from ingredients “fit for human consumption” [to be in compliance with APHIS EU Certification]

    FDA CVM – Center for Veterinary Medicine
    CPG Sec. 690.500 Uncooked Meat for Animal Food
    CVM is aware of the sale of dead, dying, disabled, or diseased (4-D) animals to salvagers for use as animal food. Meat from these carcasses is boned and the meat is packaged or frozen without heat processing. The raw, frozen meat is shipped for use by several industries, including pet food manufacturers, zoos, greyhound kennels, and mink ranches. This meat may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it.#

  • anita

    My terrier mix has been put on a W/D diet for bladder stones. What would be the best food for him over the counter. The vet’s prices are outrageous.

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Ehany… Unfortunately, since 100% of the content used in your comment was a direct word-for-word copy of this article (and because Google deplores the pointless use of duplicate content. it was necessary for me to delete the majority of your comment here.

  • Jonathan

    Um, i like your enthusiasm, but was it necessary to re-post exactly what is at the top of this page? lol

  • Ehany

    wake up people and smell the coffee.


  • Ethany


  • Byron Shoffner

    Several years ago I lost at age 17 a Bluetick hound that had been raised and fed Field Trial hi-pro dog food exclusively. except for once when I bought a highly rated national brand. I had always fed him free choice, in that he had food available at all times, and he stayed at his prime hunting weight of 98 to 100 pounds. On the name brand food he started to get a belly, lost stamina, and ate half again as much food. I am now ready to get another dog, but am unable to find the Field Trial brand. Do you know where I can find it. I have searched the internet, and can’t find any information except that I keep getting information on field trials, but not the dog food.

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Keith… great question. But I’m not really sure I have a favorite. We feed Bailey a variety of canned meat “toppers” over a number of different four and five-star kibbles. I’m probably not a very good role model as I happen to like quite a few dog foods. Choosing one specific brand over all the others would be unfair to many of the better manufacturers out there… and probably misleading to you, too.

    Picking a good dog food is really a process of elimination. Just don’t choose a one or two-star dog food and you’ll already moving into the world of better dog foods for your pet.

    Suggestion… first decide whether you want to feed a kibble or a canned food (or even a combo of the two). Then look at our list of four and five-star products and pick a few. Start with only a small bag of your chosen dog food. That way, if things don ‘t work out, you can always go back to the store and choose another.

  • keith lusk

    what would be the best dog food you can buy