Is meat by products good for your dog? A Complete Guide

What are meat by-products in dog food?

Meat by-products in dog food are the ingredients left over from human food production after the meat is removed. They can include things like meat trimmings, lungs, spleen, liver, and kidneys from the non-rendered, clean parts of an animal. Purina dog foods never include parts like feathers, hide, hooves, or intestinal contents.

The 2 Ways to Describe Animal By-Product Meals

Based upon the source of their raw materials, there are two ways to identify by-product meals.

  • Named by-product meals
  • Generic (anonymous) by-product meals
  • Named by-product meals have one thing in common. They all clearly identify the source species of the by-products that was used to make the meal.

    So, on a pet food label…

    You’ll find named by-product ingredients like…

  • Chicken by-product meal
  • Turkey by-product meal
  • Poultry by-product meal
  • Beef by-product meal
  • And although named by-product meals may not be considered the highest quality ingredients, they can be considered acceptable.

    Turning Inedible Waste into Pet Food

    Rejected waste such as dead farm and zoo animals that have been declared unfit for human consumption can first be rendered into meal ingredients…

    And then be used to make pet food.

    Rendering is a process similar to making stew… except that the stew is intentionally over-cooked.

    With rendering, the idea is to start with a stew of by-products and cook away the water.

    Then, skim away the fat and bake the residue.

    What you end up with is a concentrated protein powder known as by-product meal.

    In the specific cases of chicken and poultry, there are 2 grades of by-product meals…

  • Feed grade by-product meal
  • Pet food grade by-product meal
  • In an important 2003 study , pet food grade by-product meal was compared to feed grade by-product meal.

    The result?

    Pet food grade by-product meal was found to be…

  • Higher in protein
  • Lower in ash
  • More digestible
  • More consistent
  • All things considered, pet food grade by-product meals are superior to feed grade by-product meals.

    Unfortunately, without contacting the manufacturer, there’s no way to know which type of by-product meal is in any dog food.


    By-products: They’re what’s for dinner. At least if you’re a dog or cat, although my wife, Teresa, and I have been to some pretty fancy restaurants that served what many people would consider by-products. Thymus gland, anyone? (Better known as sweetbreads.)

    Pet food ingredients and pet nutrition in general can be confusing for many, but by-products get a bad rap that’s not always deserved. Let’s chew on the subject to find out more about them.

    First, what are the by-products that are used in pet food? They’re not feathers and beaks. By-products are the co-product of food ingredients, including portions of an animal that are less commonly used in the U.S. human food supply but can provide essential nutritional benefits. Some examples of by-products include clean animal parts like the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, spleen, corn gluten meal and tallow. Doesn’t sound that different from what you’d see African wild dogs eating on Nat Geo WILD.

    I’ll be the first to say that some of those things don’t seem appetizing to the human palate. However, by-products are incredibly nutrient-dense and highly palatable to animals. In fact, cats and dogs in the wild instinctively eat these organs first because they include a wealth of nutrients such as protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. So it’s not a bad thing to feed by-products in your pet food so long as it is part of a complete and balanced diet.

    I asked my colleague Dr. Tony Buffington, a veterinary nutritionist, if by-products have any benefits for pets. Here’s what he had to say.

    “Properly produced by-products can provide a wide range of essential nutrients for pets and can be a safe and economical use of biological material.”

    Now, depending on the source and the processing, the nutrient content of by-products isn’t always reliable. Poor processing can allow by-products to become contaminated. Improper processing can also result in less availability of nutrients. That’s why it’s important to know the manufacturer’s reputation.

    Pet owners can ensure their pet’s food is safe and healthy, whether it includes by-products or not, by checking to make sure manufacturers meet or exceed FDA and AAFCO standards. For example, go directly to a manufacturer’s website to learn more about what safety and quality standards a company employs, such as testing raw materials for impurities and nutrient content, or working with food scientists, veterinary professions and nutritionists to develop products. Any meat and poultry by-products from farm animals should originate at facilities certified by the USDA or an equivalent authority.

    “Avoiding all these potential problems is the responsibility of pet food manufacturers using by-products,” Dr. Buffington says. “Their success depends on the vigilance and integrity of the company.”

    In general, pet owners should research the quality and safety standards of the company that makes their pet food. It’s important to know who makes your pet’s food, where it’s made and what steps the manufacturer takes to ensure the quality and safety of the food. Here are a few tips on how to do exactly that:

    About the author: Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian,” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. He is the founder of Fear FreeSM and was the resident veterinary contributor on Good Morning America for 17 years. He is a founding member of Core Team Oz for The Dr. Oz Show, and a member of the Dr. Oz Medical Advisory Panel. He has written 25 books that have sold almost 8 million copies, including three New York Times best-sellers — one of which is the fastest-selling pet book of all time, Chicken Soup for the Pet-Lovers Soul. He has been a contributor to Parade magazine, Reader’s Digest and Animal Radio hosts him monthly as their Chief Veterinary Correspondent. Dr. Becker is an adjunct professor at his alma mater, the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and also at the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine at both Colorado State University and the University of Missouri. Additionally, he has lectured at every veterinary school in the United States, and is on the advisory board of World Vets, an international veterinary and disaster relief programs to help animals. He practices at North Idaho Animal Hospital because he loves veterinary medicine, pets and the people who care for them. Connect with him on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrMartyBecker.

    Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals. Email Let Dogster answer all of your most baffling canine questions!