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Exploring Alternative Protein Sources in Pet Food: Beyond Chicken and Beef

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The quality and diversity of protein sources in pet food have a major impact on the health and well-being of our beloved pets. While traditional options like chicken and beef have long been staples in pet diets, there is an increasing interest in exploring alternative protein sources to address concerns such as sustainability, food allergies and nutritional variety.

Alternative protein sources can produce healthy dry food for dogs and cats, giving your pet the necessary nutrients for their health. Understanding your options for alternative protein sources in your pet’s food can help you make the right choice.

Concerns With Conventional Protein Sources

Proteins are vital for pets’ health, providing essential amino acids that contribute to various bodily functions, including tissue growth and repair, immune function and energy production. For example, there are numerous benefits of bone broth for dogs, which is made from cows' connective tissues and ligaments and contains amino acids. 

Traditionally, pet foods have been formulated with chicken and beef. This is due to their high-quality protein content and palatability. However, concerns surrounding sustainability, animal welfare and common allergies and food sensitivities have propelled the search for more eco-friendly, novel protein alternatives.


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Alternative Protein Sources for Pet Food

Many pet food manufacturers now offer products that contain alternative protein sources. These include plant-based proteins like peas, lentils and chickpeas and insect and novel animal proteins. These differing protein sources can help your cat or dog get the protein and nutrients they need without consuming beef or chicken.

  • Insect Protein

There has been a growing interest in incorporating insect-based protein into pet diets. Insects are a highly sustainable and eco-friendly source of protein, requiring very little land, water and feed compared to traditional livestock. They have a low carbon footprint and can be produced in large quantities with minimal environmental impact.

For example, Black Soldier Fly Larvae are an excellent insect protein source for dogs. A 2021 study found that dog food made with Black Soldier Fly Larvae as a protein source presented a similar nutritional value to a meat-based diet.

Kind Earth Premium Insect Kibble is an excellent choice for your dog if you want to switch to insect protein-based food. This kibble contains dried Black Soldier Fly Larvae, which provide digestible lipids and essential amino acids to power your dog’s energy for hours.

It also contains non-GMO whole brown rice, oats and barley, along with pumpkin and carrots for a nutritious and sustainable dog food.

  • Plant-Based Protein

Plant-based protein is emerging as a sustainable choice for both dogs and cats. With carefully formulated recipes, these plant-based options can provide pets with a balanced source of protein, vitamins and minerals. However, cats have specific dietary requirements, including taurine, an amino acid primarily found in animal-based sources. It’s best to consult with your vet and give your cat food that incorporates both animal and plant protein so they get the best of both sources.

When searching for pet food with plant proteins, look for the following ingredients:

  • Chickpeas: Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are an excellent plant-based protein source for pets. Found in pet food like this Homestead Turkey & Chicken Dry Cat Food, chickpeas offer a good amount of protein, dietary fiber and essential minerals like magnesium and iron. Chickpeas also contain vitamins such as A and C, making them valuable for a well-rounded and nutritious pet diet.
  • Peas: Peas are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins A and C and minerals like potassium and iron. Pea protein is easily digestible and can provide essential amino acids, contributing to a balanced diet for pets. This Open Prairie Grain-Free RawMix for cats includes peas as a protein source.
  • Lentils: Lentils are legumes that provide significant protein content, along with dietary fiber, folate, iron and other essential nutrients. They are considered a nutritious plant-based protein source for pets, supporting their muscle development, energy levels and health. This Wild Ocean Grain-Free RawMix for cats contains fish and lentils for an extra protein boost for your feline companion.


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  • Novel Animal Protein

Novel animal protein sources, such as lamb, turkey and fish, are increasingly incorporated into pet food to provide nutritionally diverse options. Lamb, known for its rich flavor, is a good source of protein, along with B vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 and is easily digestible for dogs and cats.

Turkey, lean and packed with protein, offers an alternative to common poultry sources like chicken, catering to pets with specific dietary sensitivities. Fish, like salmon or whitefish, is an excellent source of protein and provides omega-3 fatty acids, promoting healthy skin and a shiny coat for furry companions.

To give your pup a taste of different types of novel protein, consider RawMix dog food. Flavors like Wild Ocean Grain-Free RawMix or Wild Ocean Ancient Grains RawMix contain ocean whitefish and Menhaden fish meal to provide healthy omega-3s for your dog. You can also choose food like this Pasture-Raised Lamb Freeze Dried Raw Dog Food, which contains 100% animal welfare-certified lamb as the primary source of protein.

Try a turkey-based protein alternative to chicken for your cat, such as this Homestead Turkey Rustic Blend. This delicious blend contains humanely raised animal welfare-certified turkey in a free-range environment. The turkeys are also given a vegetarian diet and are antibiotic-free, giving your furry friend a clean source of alternative protein.


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A World Beyond Chicken and Beef

Concerns about traditional proteins like beef and chicken have sparked a wave of exploration and innovation, leading to a diverse range of alternative protein sources beyond conventional chicken and beef. Embracing these alternatives can help pet owners address concerns related to sustainability, potential allergies and nutritional variety to promote the health and well-being of their furry companions.

By exploring and embracing the expanding range of protein sources in pet food, you can contribute to a more sustainable and diverse food system while ensuring your pet receives a balanced and nourishing diet. As the pet food industry continues to evolve, the availability and acceptance of alternative protein sources will continue to grow, enabling you to provide your pet with optimal nutrition and a variety of protein options.