Recently, pet food manufacturers have begun creating recipes containing exotic species and game meats.
Some manufacturers incorporate these exotic meats solely for marketing purposes, but others use them to address a few common problems dog owners experience at dinner time – most notably, protein allergies that don’t allow dogs to enjoy more common dog food proteins like beef, lamb, and chicken.
Foods containing kangaroo, bison, and other obscure meats have become more common in pet stores and other retail channels as owners seek to offer their furry family members only the best.
We’ve written about a few of these exotic proteins before, like kangaroo or bison meat, but today we wanted to turn our attention to one of the most unusual proteins that has begun showing up on dog food ingredient lists: alligator meat.
While they are not always easy to find, alligator-based foods have proven to be very helpful for some pet owners, so you may want to consider offering one to your pooch.
We’ll talk about alligator-based dog foods below, examine the reasons they may be a great choice for some dogs, and discuss some of the things you’ll want to consider when picking the best one for your pup.
Quick Picks: Best Alligator Dog Food
What Is Alligator Meat Like?
In many respects, alligator meat is a fantastic protein source that deserves serious consideration by dog owners.
Unlike beef and many other types of meat derived from domestic animals, alligator meat is pretty lean. It is also packed with protein and contains high levels of niacin and Vitamin B12, which are both important for canine health. To top it off, alligator meat is also low in cholesterol (assuming you don’t order it deep-fried and slather it with some kind of fatty dipping sauce).
Alligator meat can be harvested from the ribs and arms, but the highest quality meat is obtained from the tail (note that arm meat is typically labeled as “wings”). Ribs and wings contain relatively dark, rich meat, but tail meat is usually firm and white, with a relatively delicate taste and texture. And yes, many people do find it quite similar to chicken.
However, no protein source is perfect. The primary nutritional drawback to alligator meat (we’ll discuss a few other potential drawbacks in a moment) is that it often contains elevated levels of mercury. And although rare, dogs can suffer serious health problems from exposure to high levels of the element.
There isn’t a ton of research available regarding the way mercury affects dogs, but, as far as humans are concerned, mercury is considered most problematic for young children and pregnant women.
So, you may want to think twice before feeding alligator meat to puppies or reproductively active females. It’s also a good idea to talk to your vet about making the switch first (as you should do anytime you decide to make a substantive change to your dog’s diet).
|Alligator||Beef (ground 85% lean)||Chicken (breast)||Pork (boneless chop)|
|Calories||72.5 Calories||61 Calories||31 Calories||33 Calories|
|Protein||14.3 grams||5.3 grams||6.5 grams||6.4 grams|
|Fat||1.25 grams||4.3 grams||0.4 grams||0.7 grams|
All values provided refer to a 1-ounce serving and refer to raw meat.
Why Should You Consider Alligator Meat for Your Dog?
Owners switch to alligator-based dog foods for a couple of different reasons. Some of the most common include:
Tempting Finicky Dogs
Many dogs seem to find alligator meat delicious, making it a great option for picky canines. In fact, many owners have reported that their dog seems to find alligator meat very palatable, despite their refusal to eat most conventional proteins, such as chicken or beef.
Food Allergies or Intolerances
Just like their owners, dogs can develop food allergies. This can lead to itchy skin and coat problems, or, less commonly, intestinal distress. Such dogs will require a food that is made without their allergic trigger, and it is often helpful to switch to a “novel” protein, to which your dog has never been exposed. Because alligator meat is relatively rare in dog foods, it excels in this role.
Additionally, some dogs simply have trouble digesting different ingredients.
So, if chicken, beef, and pork-based foods upset your dog’s stomach, you may want to try other protein sources – such as alligator – until you find something your dog’s body can handle. Because it is quite lean, alligator may be a great choice for dogs who can’t tolerate fatty foods well.
Geographic or Cultural Reasons
Alligator farming is big business in Florida, Louisiana and other parts of the south, so owners living in these areas may find alligator meat to be easy to obtain and very affordable. And while this doesn’t matter very much for those purchasing mass-produced foods from national brands, owners who feed their dog home-made foods or supplement their dog’s diet with additional protein may find that alligator fits the bill perfectly.
Why Are Alligator-Based Dog Foods So Hard to Find?
If you’ve ever tried to purchase some alligator-based dog food for your pooch, you’ve surely noticed that it isn’t especially easy to find. In fact, there are only a few brands that produce foods containing alligator as the primary protein source.
The rarity of alligator-based food sources can be attributed to a few different factors:
1. Alligator population levels have fluctuated significantly throughout recent history.
When Europeans first reached North America, alligators inhabited just about every major river, lake and swamp in the southeastern coastal plain, from east Texas to the Virginia border. However, persecution caused alligator populations to plummet.
Fortunately, officials designated the American alligator as an endangered species in 1967. This conferred considerable protection on the animals and allowed their populations to rebound. Officials were even able to de-list them about 20 years later.
This allowed hunters and trappers to resume their activities, and alligator farms also began popping up around the South. But, while alligator meat is easier to obtain than it ever has been, it hasn’t been as readily available as chicken and other meats have over time. Additionally, there’s no guarantee that populations won’t fall again in the future, rendering the meat unavailable.
This has led many manufacturers to avoid using it for fear of sourcing problems.
2. Alligator meat isn’t produced in similar quantities to beef, chicken, pork or other common proteins.
Despite loosened legal restrictions on alligator harvesting, the amount of alligator meat produced in the US pales in comparison to most other meats. Note that alligator meat production is essentially a byproduct of the hide industry– gators are harvested and bred for their skins; the meat is just a convenient and profitable byproduct.
Consider, for example, that Florida-based farmers and ranchers only produce about 300,000 pounds of alligator meat annually. However, more than 4 million pounds of pork is produced in the state each year – and Florida isn’t exactly a leader in pork production (they rank 34th in the country).
3. Relatively few owners are interested in alligator-based dog foods.
Simply put, there aren’t many dog owners pounding the alligator-meat drum. And despite the benefits alligator meat may provide, manufacturers have little incentive to make foods based around ingredients for which there isn’t much demand.
Of course, this could change if enough owners share their thoughts with manufacturers, so head over to your favorite manufacturer’s social media accounts and let them know you want them to produce alligator-based recipes.
4. Alligators are at the top of the food chain.
Chickens, turkeys, cows and most other animals commonly incorporated in dog foods (as well as human diets) are herbivores. And because plants more-or-less subsist on sunlight, they’re easy to grow, which means herbivores are very cheap to feed.
By contrast, alligators eat the things that eat plants; in fact, their food isn’t that different than conventional dog food! Most alligators are either fed chicken and fish or commercial pellets made from these proteins.
This makes them very expensive to raise, which increases the cost of their meat. The same principle holds true for most other meats derived from predators, although in some cases (such as wild-caught salmon and other predatory fish), Mother Nature takes care of the food bill, so these costs aren’t borne by the farmer or manufacturer.
Things to Look for When Selecting an Alligator-Based Dog Food
It’s always important to compare competing products carefully when picking a food for your dog. We’ll discuss some of the general characteristics you want to seek in a moment, but first, let’s talk about two things you’ll want to think about that specifically relate to alligator-based foods.
If You Are Using Alligator as a Novel Protein, Try to Avoid Recipes with Other Meats
The entire point purchasing a food with a novel protein source is to avoid proteins to which your dog has already become exposed.
Alligator works very well in this context, as few dogs have had the opportunity to gnaw on gator meat. However, if you select a food that also contains chicken, turkey meal or some other ingredient that is problematic for your dog, it may trigger your dog’s allergies anyway.
Unfortunately, all three of the alligator-based recipes we review below contain additional protein sources — specifically fish- and poultry-based ingredients.
However, as we note below, Blue Wilderness Bayou Blend Kibble contains relatively small amounts of chicken-based ingredients, and it may still work well for some dogs who battle chicken allergies. None of these recipes would be a great choice for dogs with fish allergies, but Magic Marsh Alligator & Turkey Dog Food is probably the best of the three, as it contains relatively little fish compared to the Blue Wilderness products.
Also, it is important to remember that chicken and poultry products aren’t the only common allergic triggers. Things like beef, pork, and wheat are common allergic triggers, yet none are present in any of the alligator foods we discuss below.
If You Want to Tempt a Picky Pooch, Look for One Comprised Primarily of Tail Meat.
Most dogs who get the chance to try an alligator-based food find it very tasty. This includes dogs with difficult-to-please palates. So, many owners seek out alligator-based foods to specifically address this issue. But it is important to understand that not all alligator meat is created equally. Some cuts – most notably the tail — are tastier than others.
As you may suspect, tail meat, being in greater demand, often costs more than rib or wing (arm) meat does. This can lead cost-conscious manufacturers to opt for the cheaper cuts. Your dog may still find these cuts palatable, but whenever possible, you’ll want to opt for products that are comprised of tail meat.
Unfortunately, none of the foods we cover below indicate the composition of the alligator meat in their foods. Hopefully, with increased demand and consumer interest, they’ll begin doing so.
General Dog Food Considerations
In addition to the issues discussed above, which specifically relate to alligator-based foods, you’ll also want to make sure you pick a food that meets the same criteria you’d expect any dog food to satisfy. This includes:
Sticking to Foods Produced in Countries with High Safety and Food-Quality Standards
You don’t want to take any chances with your four-footer’s health, so it is important to select a food made in countries that take safety and quality seriously. This means selecting a food made in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Western Europe.
Looking for Foods with a Whole Protein as the First Listed Ingredient
Dogs are omnivores, but the bulk of their calories should come from protein sources. Accordingly, you’ll want to stick to foods that list a whole protein (in this case, alligator) at the top of the ingredient list. Foods that contain multiple whole proteins at the top of the list are even better.
Trying to Avoid Foods Full of Artificial Additives
Artificial additives may trigger food allergies or other problems, so they’re best avoided whenever possible. Foods made with high-quality ingredients don’t require artificial colors or flavors, and foods can be preserved with naturally occurring tocopherols, so artificial preservatives aren’t required either.
Avoiding Foods with Poorly Labelled Meat Meals or Byproducts
Although meat meals and byproducts may not sound very appetizing, they’re actually very nutritious ingredients that most dogs love. However, it is important to avoid foods containing unlabeled or poorly identified meat meals and byproducts – you never know what they may contain.
In other words, look for foods that contain “chicken meal” or “turkey byproducts,” rather than those containing “meat meal” or “meat byproducts.”
The Best Alligator-Based Foods
Despite our best efforts, we could only find three commercially produced dog foods that featured alligator. Fortunately, all three products appear to be of very high quality and well worth your dog-food dollar.
About: One of the leading dog food manufacturers, Blue Wilderness, produces a number of recipes based around wild game, including Bayou Blend, which features alligator and catfish. Like most other Blue Wilderness foods, Bayou Blend features an impressive ingredient list, and it is made in the USA.
- PACKED WITH REAL ALLIGATOR: A recipe inspired by our nation’s rugged bayous, this high protein dog...
- GRAIN FREE DOG FOOD: BLUE Wilderness grain free adult dog food is made with healthy carbohydrates...
- WITH LIFESOURCE BITS: This formula contains BLUE’s exclusive LifeSource Bits – a precise blend...
Features: Many Blue Wilderness recipes are based around featured ingredients that hail from a single geographic region. In the case of Bayou Blend, they focus on ingredients common to the southeastern United States – specifically alligator and catfish. However, Bayou Blend contains a number of other impressive ingredients, which can help keep your dog in tip-top shape.
For example, menhaden fish meal and flaxseed are both included for their omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid content, respectively. Additionally, Bayou Blend contains a number of nutritious fruits and vegetables, including kelp, blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate, and pumpkin, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Bayou Blend is also fortified with five different probiotic strains, which may help promote proper intestinal function.
Most dogs love the taste of Bayou Blend, and it is made from very high-quality ingredients that will help keep your dog healthy and happy. It is made without any artificial additives, and it is fortified with probiotics and omega-3-rich ingredients.
While Bayou Blend is a great option for dogs with picky palates, it may not be very helpful for those who are allergic to chicken, as chicken meal and chicken fat are included in the recipe. However, the quantities involved may be minute enough to avoid triggering your dog’s allergies
Deboned Alligator, Menhaden Fish Meal, Tapioca Starch, Peas...,
About: Magic Marsh Alligator & Turkey Dog Food is a US-made, all-natural dog food that is designed to taste great and provide your dog with the kind of nutrition he needs to live a long and healthy life.
- Zoic Magic Marsh Alligator And Turkey 25Lb Dog Food
- Made In The Usa
- Contains Nothing Artificial
Features: Magic Marsh Alligator & Turkey Dog Food is made with plenty of tasty and nutritious ingredients. Alligator meat is the first listed ingredient, but turkey meal, chicken meal, and menhaden fish meal are included as supplemental protein sources. Sweet potatoes are the primary carbohydrate, but peas and lentils are included too.
Dried blueberries, pumpkin and spinach are all included to provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, which will help keep your dog’s body (including, importantly, his immune system) operating at peak efficiency. Four different probiotic strains are also included to help keep your dog’s digestive tract operating smoothly.
Magic Marsh Alligator & Turkey Dog Food is formulated for all life stages, including puppies and pregnant or lactating females.
Alligator, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Sweet Potato, Peas...,
Magic Marsh Alligator & Turkey Dog Food contains an impressive ingredient list, and it is made with a number of items that dogs usually enjoy. It is also nice to see multiple probiotic strains appear on the ingredient list, while the artificial additives that are often included in many other dog foods are left out.
Unfortunately, Magic Marsh Alligator & Turkey Dog Food hasn’t yet been reviewed by many owners. And while we’d normally restrict our reviews to only those products with plenty of customer comments, there aren’t many alligator-based options on the market, so we have little choice. However, on paper, this certainly appears to be an excellent option.
About: Bayou Blend is a grain-free canned food made with alligator and catfish. Like most other Blue Wilderness regional recipes, Bayou Blend is designed to provide a more convenient and affordable alternative to homemade or raw diets, while reflecting the food sources that are common to a given geographic area (the southeastern US, in this case).
- PACKED WITH REAL ALLIGATOR: This grain free dog food is packed with an exotic blend of alligator and...
- FEED THREE WAYS: High protein BLUE Wilderness Bayou Blend adult dog food makes a delicious treat,...
- NATURAL DOG FOOD: All BLUE canned dog foods are made with the finest natural ingredients enhanced...
- WHOLESOME INGREDIENTS: BLUE wet dog food contains NO chicken (or poultry) by-product meals, NO corn,...
Features: Most Blue Wilderness foods have pretty impressive ingredient lists, and Bayou Blend is certainly no exception. Alligator is the first item listed, and it’s followed by things like potatoes, whitefish, chicken liver, turkey, and catfish. It even features sunflower oil, which provides additional omega-3 fatty acids.
Bayou Blend is made in the USA, and it doesn’t contain any artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Additionally, it contains enough protein to make it suitable for all life stages.
Alligator, Chicken Broth, Chicken, Potatoes, Water...,
Bayou Blend Wet Food is, like most other wet foods, a great choice for dogs who cannot or will not eat kibble. Most dogs love wet foods, and this alligator- and catfish- based formula appears especially appealing to most canines. It’s also a good option for owners who want to provide their dog with a grain-free diet.
As is common among canned foods, this recipe contains no probiotics, so you may want to consider picking up a good probiotic supplement. Additionally, Bayou Blend contains poultry-based ingredients, which make it a poor choice for dogs who are allergic to chicken or turkey.
Homemade Alligator Food
If you can’t find a commercially produced alligator food that works for you and your pup, you can always head into the kitchen and whip up a homemade dinner.
Home-cooking for dogs is a challenging feat that is not to be undertaken lightly, but if you have enough gumption, desire, time, and a great dog cookbook, it may be worth trying.
Essentially, you’ll need to cook up the protein (alligator in this case) and a canine-friendly carb, such as rice or sweet potatoes. You’ll then mix them in with some fruits and vegetables and a good vitamin and mineral supplement. Work with your vet when devising the recipe to make sure you’re addressing your dog’s nutritional needs and providing a proper mix of ingredients.
This approach may work really well for dogs with allergies that are frustrating to resolve or for owners who simply want to spoil their dog with some home cooking. Just realize that making an alligator-based home diet may be even trickier than making a typical, chicken-and-rice recipe is, as you may have trouble sourcing alligator meat.
If you live in the Deep South, you can find alligator meat just about anywhere – even grocery store chains (I’ve even seen alligator meat for sale in truck stops throughout backwoods portions of Georgia, Florida, Alabama and South Carolina, and it is presumably easy to find in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas too).
But if you live elsewhere, you’ll want to start by inquiring with local butchers or exotic meat dealers. Alligator isn’t as exotic as some of the other things such shops carry, and most will probably stock it throughout the year.
If you can’t find any locally, you can always purchase frozen or vacuum-sealed alligator meat over the internet. As you may expect, it’s a bit tricky (read: expensive) to ship frozen foods, so you’ll pay a bit more when shopping this way. However, you can often reduce your costs a bit by buying in bulk.
Riceland Crawfish sells 1-pound bags of frozen tail meat for a relatively reasonable price (about on par with mid-tier steaks). Most of the customers who’ve tried it have found it to be tasty and of high quality, and the shipping costs associated with it are pretty reasonable.
Alligator-Based Dog Treats
Because it’s tasty and lean, alligator meat makes a great protein for dog treats. There aren’t many alligator-based treats on the market, but at least one manufacturer – Blue Buffalo / Blue Wilderness – makes a very high-quality treat that features alligator meat at the beginning of the ingredient list.
Blue Wilderness Bayou Stix are made with both alligator and catfish, so they taste great and they have a relatively soft texture, which makes them easy to chew. These US-made treats don’t contain any grains, chicken by-products, or artificial additives, making them a safe and healthy option for most canines. Most owners did report that they are pretty stinky, but if you ask me, most dog treats smell pretty bad, so that’s not really a big issue.
These are a great choice for owners who would just like to give their dog a tasty treat, but they provide exceptional value for owners of dogs with chicken allergies.
A company called Caru also makes alligator-based dog treats. The information provided by the manufacturer seems promising – they’re made in small batches at US-based facilities, contain no wheat or soy, and include blueberries and cranberries to provide fiber and antioxidants – but it hasn’t yet received many reviews from dog owners.
So, while we find this product intriguing and worthy of consideration, we hesitate to recommend any product with so few customer reviews.
Have you ever experimented with alligator-based dog foods for your pooch? How did it go? Did your dog appear to like the taste? Have you noticed any health changes since making the switch?
Let us know all about your experiences (including any other commercial options we may have missed) in the comments below.