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Meat and chicken byproducts for pets

Q: The young man in the pet supply store told me that byproducts are bad for dogs, so I should buy premium dog food. I can’t afford such expensive food, but I’m having trouble finding a reasonably priced dog food without byproducts. What do you recommend?

A: It’s unlikely the pet supply store employee has a degree in animal nutrition or veterinary medicine, so it’s understandable that he is misinformed. Byproducts are actually some of the most nutritious food ingredients you can offer your pet.

A byproduct is something left after human food is produced. In the U.S., where most people eat skeletal muscle meat, the animal’s internal organs are left over and therefore considered byproducts. These include the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, stomach and intestines (minus the partially digested food inside them), bone and blood. Note: Pet food byproducts cannot include hide, hair, hooves, teeth or feathers.

If the internal organs are added to the pet food as separate ingredients, they are listed by name. So, for instance, you may see liver included on a pet food label. Alternatively, if the organs are cooked to remove most of the fat and water, they become byproduct meal. Most byproducts are added in the form of meal.

Byproducts are excellent sources of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are lacking in skeletal muscle meat.

For example, byproduct meal contains high levels of taurine, while skeletal muscle has very little of this important amino acid. Inadequate taurine intake can cause a potentially fatal heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy.

So, embrace organ foods and other byproducts for their superior nutrient value.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at

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