Dog Nutrition: “Crude Protein” In Dry Dog Food

Understanding the Ingredients: Chicken vs Chicken Meal
Understanding the Ingredients: Chicken vs Chicken Meal
Understanding the Ingredients (Courtesy of

“Crude protein” is one of those measurements that can be especially slippery for us to figure out when choosing a dog food. I feel as though “crude protein” should have a yellow caution flag next to it because this pair of words on dog food labels is so misleading. Protein is the most expensive ingredient in any pet food. It’s also true of human nutrition — that protein, especially good quality protein, is the most costly part of a meal. Therefore, savvy pet owners have learned to seek out high protein pet foods, in the belief that those foods are best. But there is a huge difference in where that protein comes from!

Often, pet owners concerned with dog nutrition believe that the words “crude protein” and the number with a “%” sign next to it (as required by the regulatory body AAFCO) refers to how much animal protein there is in the food. Instead, “crude protein” is actually a chemical analysis of the food whereby the amount of nitrogen present is used to estimate the amount of protein in the food. While nitrogen does come from animal protein, it also comes from non-animal proteins like grains, as well as other non-protein nitrogen (NPN) sources. This obviously creates a gap between what you think you are buying and feeding your dog (especially thinking you are getting a food with a high percentage of animal protein) — and what has actually been used to determine that number.

In addition to this problem, for many dry food manufacturers, “crude protein” includes carcasses and other waste from slaughtered animals, and the word “meal” on a pet food bag may indicate the inclusion of such ingredients, along with meat not fit for people. This certainly helps clean up the slaughterhouse floor without having to call the garbage company! Unfortunately, inferior meals can also make a mediocre dog food high in protein — but not high in quality protein.

Since pet food can include a variety of questionable ingredients, and crude protein measurements will always include non-animal protein, I have included some tips on finding a high quality protein dog food:

  1. Choose a food that lists real whole meat on the bag as a primary ingredient — chicken, lamb, salmon, etc. — because then you are getting true quality protein, not ingredients used to manipulate the nitrogen levels. The same applies to whole vegetables, whole grains and real fruits — all hallmarks of a higher quality nutrition source.
  2. Read the entire label and make sure you understand all of the ingredients. Keep in mind that melamine was added to pet food as a non-protein nitrogen source to increase the protein content of pet foods.
  3. Call the pet food company and ask about their protein or any of the ingredients you have questions about. A company should have a well-trained customer service staff as well as a veterinarian or nutritionist that can answer your questions.

Personally, I choose HALO! They oversee their ingredient sources and other environmental variables and promptly answer phone calls from interested customers. I believe Halo kibble is a great foundation for the quality dry portion of your dog’s nutrition.

–Tracie Hotchner

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