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Healthy Pet Food: Which Ingredients Are Best?

By Optimeal Team


Whether you own a dog, a cat, a rabbit, or a little spotted leopard gecko, your pet is your best friend. As a pet parent, you naturally want what’s best for your fur baby. This includes knowing the best activities to stimulate their minds, support mental wellness, and support physical health through proper diet and exercise.

What better way to take care of your best friend than to feed them the most nutrition-packed food available? In order to find healthy pet food for your four-legged friend, you must first understand what healthy pet food is made up of.

Let’s take a closer look at the best ingredients to look for in healthy pet food, some ingredient red flags, and everything else you need to know about taking care of your pup’s health.

Real Meat as the First Ingredient

If you’re looking for healthy pet food, the first ingredient you should see on the pet food label is real meat. While dogs and cats both need a range of other ingredients, real meat should always be the first ingredient listed.

What does meat do for our furry friends? Here are some of the reasons why our pups and kittens need meat to thrive.

Dogs and cats need meat in their diet to provide them with a rich variety of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. These provide energy, support immune system health, support strength, and promote overall wellness for the mind and body.

Fish meat is also a rich source of healthy fats. Fish like salmon, cod, and mackerel are packed with fatty acids that are excellent for overall health and wellness. Fatty acids are essential for forming healthy cell membranes, supporting nervous system function and cognitive development, producing hormones, and supporting normal blood pressure. Our dogs and cats need healthy fats to perform a range of physical processes and the production of energy.

When you think of vitamins and minerals, meat probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. However, many different types of animal protein are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential for health. While veggies are important for these nutrients, too, companion animals who are fed vegan diets without meat are missing out on key nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.

What kind of meat can your furry friend enjoy? Let’s take a look below.


Poultry like chicken and turkey are excellent types of meat to look for on the pet food label. Chicken is packed with vitamin B12, choline, zinc, iron, copper, and more. Plus, chicken and turkey alike are an excellent, lean source of protein for your furry friend to enjoy.


Salmon, sardines, tuna, and other types of fish are commonly included in premium dog food formulas. These foods are rich sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Plus, they’re a delicious and nutritious way to support your pet’s health.


Beef is another great meat to find in pet food. Beef is full of iron, zinc, selenium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, phosphorus, pantothenate, potassium, and magnesium. These are critical for your pet’s health, and beef is a great source of these minerals and vitamins.

Organ Meats

While poultry, fish, and beef are the most common meat options to find on the dog food label, you may also run into organ meats. This may include beef liver, beef heart, and more. Organ meats are often even richer in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and nutrients than other parts of the animal.

Organ meats are especially rich in B vitamins, which are essential for your pet’s health. They help transport nutrients throughout the body, support metabolic function, help the breakdown of carbohydrates, and more.

The Dangers of Meat By-Product Meals

When skimming the dog food label, pay close attention to any meats listed as “meat by-product meals.” This may look like “turkey by-product meal,” “chicken by-product meal,” or even just “meat by-product meal.”

These ingredients often include the leftover unwanted parts of an animal.

In short, any meat known as a “meat by-product meal” on the dog food label is not real meat. Instead, these are the leftover products on the farms that can be unknown and void of the nutrition your furry friend needs.

How Much Protein Do Dogs Need?

Meat is the most important ingredient in your dog’s food, and it should always be the first ingredient. Ingredients are listed in order of the percentage they take up in the food, so the first ingredient is always the largest quantity.

When it comes to meat, however, how much meat does your pet need? What’s the correct percentage of protein dogs and cats need to thrive? Here’s what you should know.

It may come as a surprise, but cats actually have higher protein needs than dogs. Cats need around 6.5 g/100 kcal, and 7.5g/100kcal for pregnant or nursing cats. Wet cat foods tend to be higher in protein than dry cat foods, but this varies with each pet food brand. Similarly, dogs require 4.5 g/100kcal of protein, and 5.6g/100kcal for pregnant or nursing dogs.

Whole Fruits & Veggies

In addition to real meat, our dogs and cats also require a variety of whole fruits and vegetables to support health. Fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that are essential for our furry friends, especially when it comes to immune health.

One of the most significant benefits of fruits and veggies in your pet’s diet is their support for immune health. Because fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, they contain helpful compounds that support immune system health and function.

Antioxidants are compounds that help combat free radicals, substances in the body that arise from toxins, pollution, smoke, stress, and even everyday biological processes. Free radicals can lead to oxidative stress if unaddressed, which can cause serious health problems.

Luckily, antioxidants from food help fight free radicals and combat oxidative stress in the body. Fruits, vegetables, and grains are rich in antioxidants to help support our four legged friends and their immune health.

Whole Grains, Hold the Gluten

While dogs and cats need meat, whole fruits, and whole vegetables to thrive, they also need grains. Many dog parents assume grains are harmful for their pets because a small percentage of dogs cannot tolerate grains digestion-wise or sometimes even allergy-wise, but this isn’t true for all pets.

While some pets may have a harder time digesting grains, there are some excellent nutritional benefits of including whole grains in your pet’s diet.

The key is to avoid grains with gluten, which is difficult in general for your pet’s body to process and can lead to stomach upset.

Alternative Grains

When looking for healthy pet food, look for whole grains that are gluten-free. Two excellent options are oatmeal and natural rice (think brown rice and wild rice), both of which are rich in fiber and antioxidants.

Food Your Pet Will Love, Made With All-Natural, Premium Ingredients

Here at Optimeal®, we know how important it is to make sure your pet gets healthy pet food. That’s why we formulate a variety of dog and cat food options that are created by scientists and approved by veterinarians. Packed with fruits, veggies, real meat, whole grains, and added vitamins and minerals, you can enjoy giving your pet the best for many years to come.

Explore here to see why Optimeal® is a healthy pet food worth trying.



Pondering Pet Protein: How much protein should my pet get? | Vet Nutrition

7 Things To Know About Omega-3 Fatty Acids | NCCIH

Vegan versus meat-based pet foods: Owner-reported palatability behaviours and implications for canine and feline welfare | NIH



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