You think of chicken, you think of healthy white breast meat, and legs and wings and thighs. Chicken byproducts, meanwhile, you try not to think about at all. Poultry byproducts are a common component of many dog foods. Byproducts make dog food less expensive, but they're not good for Scruffy.
Feet and Feathers
Your dog's food may look relatively appetizing for a pooch, but in some cases it contains substances you'd never eat yourself and shouldn't feed him. If poultry byproduct" appears on the label of Scruffy's food, expect it to contain ground, rendered parts of a chicken's carcass including necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and the occasional feather, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, an organization responsible for setting the standards for the quality and safety of pet food in the United States.
Tastes Like Chicken
Your dog won't give a cluck about eating a batch of junk made of poultry byproducts, but consider this: The chicken byproducts are essentially everything other than the meat. Dog food with byproducts are less expensive. They're also less nutritious and less digestible than chicken muscle meat. While you may toss in the occasional beneficial heart or gizzard, you're generally better off avoiding byproducts altogether in your processed dog foods.
Don't be surprised if Scruffy acts more like a Hoover when you feed it byproducts-based foods. Like the vacuum, he'll suck up chow like there's no tomorrow if his dietary needs aren't being met. With less nutrition in inexpensive dog foods containing cheap byproducts, your dog appears to be always appear to be hungry. What may look like a bargain may actually turn up being costly, especially if you're feeding Hoover twice as much in hopes of finding a way to satisfy his big appetite.
Mix and Match
As disgusting as poultry byproducts may seem, dogs naturally ate them in the wild. Dogs evolved to hunt and eat animal carcasses including cartilage and organs. So the occasional chicken feet and entrails are not harmful per se. The main issue is that the concentration and quality of such byproducts can vary drastically from one batch to another. The question is: Will you be getting beneficial organs and occasional feet, or will you be getting oodles and oodles of feet? Rest assured that if better goodies were included, they wouldn't be labeled as byproducts.
You Can't Make Chicken Salad Out of Chicken Feet
A dog food containing a high percentage of poultry byproducts lacks sufficient digestible protein. This basically translates into undigested components literally going down the drain and directly into the dog's waste. This explains why dogs that are fed cheap retail dog foods poop in high quantities -- less of it is useful to the body, and the rest is waste. However, there are exceptions to the rule. Some reputable food companies screen their chicken byproducts and chicken meals, accepting only high-quality material. For these dog foods you'll pay more, but you'll be ultimately getting more a better deal on the meal.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.