What Does Byproducts in Dog Food Mean?

by Carlye Jones
    Some byproducts can provide a lot of protein for your dog.

    Some byproducts can provide a lot of protein for your dog.

    Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

    Byproducts pack a lot of nutrients and protein into your dog's food, which is great for keeping him healthy. They can also pack other things like chemicals and bacteria, which are not so good for your furry friend. You can help protect him by avoiding the worst types of byproducts.

    Simply put, byproducts in dog food are the leftovers from the human food industry. All the parts of animals that either unhealthy, distasteful or unusable for people are labeled byproducts and put to use in other products, including dog food. Usually this includes parts like backs, feet, stomachs, lungs, brains and livers. In some cases it can also include whole animals that can't be used in human food production because the animals were sick or died before slaughter.

    Higher quality dog food will often specify what kind of byproduct it includes. For example, beef byproduct means that it must come from cattle and chicken by-product must come from chickens. Whenever an animal is specified, that is the animal used for the byproduct. Meat byproduct, although not quite as specific, must come from cattle, pigs, goats or sheep. It is usually a combination of beef and swine byproduct.

    When an animal is not specified, it's impossible to know the source of the byproduct. Animal byproduct means that it could come from any animal, even ones not normally processed for human food. Some critics of byproducts note that there is no prohibition against including euthanized dogs and cats in dog food. Pet food industry representatives from many major companies have stated that they do not use dogs and cats in their food. Other labels that seem to indicate an origin, like poultry or fish byproduct, are also considered generic since they can include any type of bird or fish, even though most consumers probably equate the word poultry with chicken or turkey.

    Byproduct meal is any byproduct that has been rendered or boiled into a solution. In other words, the byproduct is not used fresh, it is cooked before being used in the dog food. On one hand, any dangerous bacteria is killed in the rendering process. On the other hand, however, nutrients and vitamins can be cooked right out of the food. Like other byproducts, meal might be labeled, such as chicken meal, or it might be generic, like bone meal. There are two grades of byproduct meal: pet grade and food grade. Pet grade is healthier for your dog.

    There is a lot of controversy over the use of byproducts in dog food. Most byproducts do not contain any actual meat, and there is no way of knowing exactly what they do contain. On the positive side, they contain a lot of protein, are easily digested, make use of parts that might otherwise go to waste and help keep dog food affordable. Safely processed and handled byproducts can be healthy for your dog. It's important to note though, that improperly handled byproducts can contain bacteria that could make your dog sick. Since it's difficult to find dog foods that don't contain any byproducts, and the few available are expensive, most animal nutritionists recommend choosing a food that contains labeled byproducts.

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    About the Author

    Carlye Jones is a journalist, writer, photographer, novelist and artisan jeweler with more than 20 years of experience. She enjoys sharing her expertise on home improvements, photography, crafting, business and travel. Her work has appeared both in print and on numerous websites.

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