How to Recognize Dog Food Made with Lower Quality Meat


Meat may just be the most important ingredient to look for on a dog food label.
Dog Food Detective
That’s because the protein found in meat is unique. So, unlike most plant-based protein sources, meat naturally contains all ten essential amino acids — nutrients dogs cannot live without.

What’s more, meat-based protein is easier for dogs to digest.

The Mysterious Language
of Ingredient Lists

Dog food labels can be difficult to understand. Their ingredient lists are loaded with cryptic names — names that can disguise the true identity of the meat itself.

While scanning a label, it’s not unusual to come across obscure names like meat meal, animal digest and poultry by-products.

Some of meat ingredients are of good quality — yet others can be questionable.

Here are three simple tips that can help you recognize dog foods made with inferior meat ingredients.

Tip #1:
Give Less Value to Any Dog Food
Made with Meat By-Products

Let’s take a look at the dog food industry’s definitions for a few meat by-product ingredients.

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

Let’s also assume a broader definition of “meat” than only the muscles of mammals. So, here’s the industry’s official description of poultry by-products:

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

Meat by-products are simply slaughterhouse waste. They’re what’s left of a slaughtered animal after all the striated muscle cuts have been removed.

So, with the exception of hair, horns, teeth and hooves, they can include almost any other part of the animal.3

Of course, animal by-products can provide satisfactory nutrition.

However, by-products are considerably cheaper. So, be sure you’re not overpaying for your dog’s food.

Tip #2:
Give Less Value to Dog Foods Made
with Generic Meat Ingredients

Generic meat ingredients are those ingredients that do not identify the source animal.

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

  • Animal
  • Meat
  • Poultry

Here’s why that’s important…

Especially when used to make rendered meals, meat can legally come from virtually any mammal4. 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

Tip #3:
Favor Dog Foods with Quality Meat
Near the Top of the List

Many dog food companies make little effort to disclose the actual amount of meat that’s in a product. So, one way to get a reasonable idea for the amount of meat in a product is to pay attention to its relative position on the ingredients list.

Dog food companies must follow the same ingredient listing guidelines as human food manufacturers:

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

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for better value when buying dog food, keep the following three tips in mind:

  1. Give more value to dog foods that contain no meat by-products
  2. Avoid dog foods made with generic animal protein
  3. Favor dog foods with high quality meat near the top of the ingredients list

Whenever you come across a dog food that violates one of these simple rules, you may want to look elsewhere for a better product.


  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. Association of American Feed Control Officials
  4. Official Publication, American Association of Feed Control Officials, 2014 Edition
  • haleycookie

    In the end all you can do is ask questions and look into the companies you want to feed. I feed all of my animals on rotation as to avoid any possible recalls, bad batches etc. you will eventually know what works for your animal and what doesn’t. And what companies you trust and choose to feed because of their history, qc, etc.

  • haleycookie

    You can tell a quality company apart from others by their reputation, how willing they are to tell you information you ask. You may email them back and ask what kinds of organs go into their foods. Having transparency is good quality for a pet food company to have. How thouroughly their foods are checked is another question you could ask and hopefully they will explain to you how they go about making sure everything is the safest and highest quality possible. I also believe company’s that exclusive make high quality dog food most likely use high quality ingredients (but not always the case i.e. Blue buffalo). Some company’s like mars and nestle purina I question simply because their main source of bringing in money is from their human products so to me the reason purinas products tend to be chock full of by products is because they simply use what is left over from their human products and cram it into pet foods to save money. Since they are a big business they also tend to use corn and other pointless fillers to further cheapen the cost of making it. However these kinds of companies tend to have more money for testing, quality control, etc.

  • Angie Rosado Ordoñez

    How to know if it is a quality company? It is hard for me to feed them canned venison and see what I saw because I am vegetarian!! LOL Imagine my face expression when I had to pick that out with a fork to see what it was.

  • haleycookie

    Yes organ meat is fine for them to eat. If it is a quality company they will only use the most nutrient dense organs and leave out unnecessary ones. For instance heart and liver are good organs to eat and full of nutrients. Even things like tripe which is the lining of a cows stomach is super healthy and full of great stuff.

  • Sweetnurse

    Me either. I use dry but I’d like to know as well.

  • Angie Rosado Ordoñez

    I just switched to Zignature Venison formula two weeks ago and they are
    doing great, but two days ago I opened a can and it had something really
    weird in it that I have never seen in any other canned dog food. I
    contacted Zignature and sent pictures of what I found. They got back to
    me really quick and told me it was Hard Offal, which comes from any
    organ that is considered meat, such as weasand, esophagus, heart. i
    didn’t know they put all that in dog food. Is it ok for them to eat it?

  • Sweetnurse

    Our dogs have food allergies so we had to go to learn how to read the ingredients and go through the lists carefully. They were on Lamb and brown rice and then ultimately ended up on Grainfree Zignature Duck formula. This is the list of ingredients copied. (Sorry its so long! ) It has No Potatoes, No Grain, No Chicken, No Eggs, No Corn.) It has Duck, Duck Meal, Chickpeas, Pea Flour, Peas, Sunflower Oil (Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols And Citric Acid), Flaxseed, Dehydrated Alfalfa Meal, Natural Flavors, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Choline Chloride, Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Cobalt Proteinate), Vitamins (Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Niacin, d-Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Blueberries, Carrots, Cranberries, Minerals (Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Calcium Carbonate, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Cobalt Carbonate).

  • riley hootman

    Really I found it at my gas station. I live in South Carolina I’ve been able to find some information but not much btw your dog is lucky as hell to live that long. It’s crazy how far good genetics can go.

  • riley hootman

    You can find it in bulk at your nearest dollar store

  • tricia connatser

    keeping your dog one 1 food for their wholes lives it like you eating the exact same meal your entire life. unless it was for health reasons, rotating your dogs food is a great thing to do. yes it can cause loose stool IF you don’t do it correctly.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • …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.

  • 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.

  • 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