At some point during your raw feeding journey, you might come across people who have very specific ideas about what types of proteins you should feed your dog. In the raw feeding community, people especially seem to hold strong views about feeding red meat versus white meat to dogs. There’s a lot of debate and confusion about this topic, so I wanted to take a minute to break it down from a common sense, species-appropriate perspective.

White meat and red meat?

Like literally everything else in the raw feeding world (seriously—spend some time on Facebook watching raw feeding discussions, and you’ll see what I mean), there are people with very strong opinions about red meat and white meat for dogs. Why? Some people are adamant dogs should eat a diet almost exclusively comprised of red meat. Their rationale is wolves adapted to eat deer, elk, caribou, bison, and so on, and we should mimic that with our domestic dogs. They also point to the nutrient profiles of red meat versus white meat, saying red meat contains more nutrients vital for dogs. Finally, they also frequently argue that many dogs (if they’re going to have trouble with a protein) seem to have adverse reactions to poultry.

While some of these arguments have some truth to them, they don’t really hold up when you look at them from a holistic, common-sense perspective. Let’s take the first argument—that wolves adapted to eat deer and other large four-legged mammals, and we should feed our domestic dogs the same thing. Wolves do eat deer and other large mammals, no question about it. However, without taking away from the truth of that statement, what’s really important—for all canids, wild or not—is variety. Wild canids such as wolves (which have virtually identical digestive systems to the domestic dog) did adapt to eat diets of primarily red meat when it was available, but they will eat white meat as well when they catch it. Feeding a variety of red meat, white meat, and the occasional fish (or if not feeding fish, supplementing with quality fish oil) mimics what happens in nature far more closely than feeding a diet of red meat exclusively.

Variety is the spice of (raw) life

Additionally, different meats have different amino acid and nutrient profiles, and by feeding variety, you help ensure your dog gets all the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals they need. Different meats also contain different types of fat: poultry is high in polyunsaturated fats (especially linoleic acid) and low in saturated fats and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), ruminants are high in saturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats and DHA, and fish is, typically, rich in DHA. Feeding your dog a variety of different protein sources will help balance the fats in her diet. It’s important dogs consume a balanced spectrum of fats; to do this, they should consume a variety of red meats and poultry supplemented with fatty fish or fish oil.

Chicken and your dog

Finally, while it’s true many dogs seemingly have problems with poultry (especially chicken), what they’re often reacting to are the hormones and antibiotics in the poultry. When those same dogs are fed antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken that was free range and raised on organic feed (and allowed to roam and supplement their feed with bugs and other species-appropriate food), the problems the dogs were presenting with often disappear.

What makes meat “red”?

According to nutritional science, red meat is meat that is higher in myoglobin than white meat from chicken or fish. For example, according to the USDA, chicken breast (which is white meat) is 0.005% myoglobin, while beef (which is red meat) ranges from 0.40–2.00% myoglobin, depending on the age of the beef. In general, we tend to classify red meat as meat from mammals and white meat as meat from fowl, but there are exceptions to this (aren’t there always?).

Red meat has lots of iron, phosphorous, zinc, and B vitamins, all of which are important for our dogs. It’s also a good source of lipoic acid, which is important in aerobic metabolism/cellular respiration.

When looking at meat for the purposes of raw feeding, it’s generally safe to assume meat from mammals, whether livestock or wild game, is red meat. Alternately, poultry and fish are generally considered white meat. However, there are some exceptions to this: goose and duck, for example, are considered red meat. If you want to get complicated, you can also find definitions that look at the cut of meat or the age of the animal when slaughtered to determine if it’s white meat or red meat. For example, many consider pork to be red meat if the animal was slaughtered as an adult, but white meat if the animal was slaughtered when it was young. Sometimes people classify wild game as “dark meat” that’s in a category all its own. And some people consider chicken breast, for example, to be white meat, but chicken thigh to be red meat.

Making it work for you

I share all this to show you that, if you really want to get into it, even a simple question like “Is this meat considered white or red?” can get extremely convoluted. But it doesn’t have to be this difficult. If you feed a variety of meats, and make sure to include mammals, poultry, and fish in your dog’s diet, you go a long way towards ensuring your dog receives all the nutrients he or she needs to thrive.

To make things easier, I’ve included lists of some red meat and white meat proteins (of course, these lists don’t cover every single type of protein, but they’re a good starting point) you can feed your dog. You may find these lists useful if you need some inspiration for what to feed your dog so they get some variety in their diet. Or, maybe you’re looking to substitute one protein for another–maybe because you’re looking to use one of our holiday “recipes” for your dog: these lists may come in handy for you there too.

You have tons of options when it comes to both white and red meats you can feed your dog. Aim for variety, and experiment with different proteins. As long as you do that, your dog will get all the nutrients they need, and the variety will also help keep mealtime a fun and novel experience for them.

Red meat proteins

  • Alpaca (very lean)
  • Antelope
  • Beef
  • Bison (leaner than most beef)
  • Caribou
  • Deer
  • Duck (red meat, even though it’s poultry. Relatively fatty)
  • Elk
  • Goat
  • Goose (red meat, even though it’s poultry. Very fatty)
  • Kangaroo
  • Llama
  • Moose
  • Pork (depending on age and cut)
  • Sheep (depending on age and cut)
  • Squirrel

White meat proteins

  • Chicken
  • Emu
  • Fish, such as sardines, herring, mackerel, trout, and anchovy
  • Ostrich
  • Pigeon
  • Pheasant
  • Pork (depending on age and cut)
  • Rabbit
  • Sheep (depending on age and cut)
  • Quail
  • Turkey

So there you have it–proteins you can feed your dog so that mealtime stays fun and nutritious!

What’s your dog’s favorite protein? Any proteins they refuse to eat? Let us know in the comments below!