There isn't a simple answer to whether red meat is good for dogs. It's a matter of proportion. Your furry friend needs a complete and balanced diet, and red meat can be a part of this diet -- or can throw the balance dangerously off, depending on how much you feed him in proportion to other foods.
Red Meat in Commercial Foods
Chances are your pup already eats a significant amount of red meat in the form of his packaged chow. Dog foods that carry AAFCO nutrient profiles must meet minimums for protein and fat content, and these are usually provided by meat. Some brands use a specific type of meat in every batch. Others list generic "animal" products, which simply means the brand uses red meat or poultry-derived ingredients, or both, depending on availability; the specific formulation may vary between batches.
The Short Answer
Red meat isn't bad for dogs in and of itself. Dogs are members of the order Carnivora. While they're actually facultative carnivores -- AKA omnivores -- most animal specialists agree that a healthy dog diet includes significant amounts of animal-derived ingredients. Dogs evolved from ancestors whose diets contained large amounts of red meat in the form of hoofed prey animals. However, these diets also contained a great deal of plant matter and many small animals, most of which aren't considered red meat.
Red meat isn't dangerous to dogs the way it is to humans. Your furry friend is not at risk of heart attack or stroke from overindulgence in animal products. However, red meat can be bad for dogs when it's fed as the main source of calories and protein. Contrary to what you might expect, diets based on muscle meat can be deadly to carnivores. Wild carnivores don't stick to gourmet cuts when dining on their prey: they eat organs, bones, even skin. This whole-food approach provides them a balanced diet. When they only eat muscle meat, they quickly become deficient in essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D. This leads to an often fatal and very painful degenerative condition called metabolic bone disease. This disease has ravaged zoo animals and exotic pets for hundreds of years. It's only recently begun to affect pet dogs with the advent of homemade meat-based diets.
A Balanced Diet
As long as your pup is eating a balanced diet, red meat treats won't hurt him. You need to take your particular pooch's size and overall daily food intake into consideration when judging how much is too much -- your Chihuahua should get a much smaller treat than your husky, for instance. In general, almost all your pup's calories should come from a commercial food that meets the AAFCO profile for "adult maintenance" for adult dogs, "growth and reproduction" for puppies and mama dogs, or "all life stages" for pooches of any age and reproductive condition. Your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist can give you guidance about your particular pet's case.
- Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: Public Health Concerns Associated With Feeding Raw Meat Diets to Dogs
- Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: Evaluation of Bacterial and Protozoal Contamination of Commercially Available Raw Meat Diets for Dogs
- Science Based Medicine: Raw Meat and Bones Diets for Dogs - It's Enough to Make You BARF
- Dog Food Advisor: AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.