I’ll start this article by telling why you why should always feed your dog food without by-products.
I’ll explain why and hope it’s not a stretch.
Millions of pets are killed every year in the United States because they are not wanted or their owners can’t afford to take care of them. The tragedy doesn’t end there as some of these animals are turned into pet food. That means dog diets formulated from by-product materials may have once been someone’s cherished companion.
There is a better way, though. You can buy dog food that doesn’t contain by-products.
Table of Contents
What are by-products in dog food?
By-products are rendered animal parts that come from slaughterhouses. They can include anything from eyeballs to intestines to spinal cords. Yuck!
AAFCO defines by-products as secondary products produced in addition to the principal product. It’s a safe assumption that by-products are not the parts of the animal you would normally think of eating, such as the meat, bones, or organs.
The FDA has classified by-products as “adulterated” because they are not fit for human consumption. So why are they in pet food? It’s simple economics. By-products are a lot cheaper than meat, so they help keep the cost of pet food down.
According to AAFCO, unprocessed or raw by-products are not allowed in pet foods. On its website, AAFCO states that;
“Raw, unprocessed byproducts are prohibited from use in finished animal feed unless the products are heat-treated to kill any microbial contamination. In commercial pet food manufacturing, both canned and kibbled products are heat-treated during manufacturing and packaging. Additionally, many animal protein products are heat-treated at rendering plants and made into dry meals before shipment to a pet food manufacturer. “AAFCO definition of unprocessed raw by-products
AAFCO went further to state that in commercial pet food diets, correct heat treatment of commercially-manufactured pet foods should eliminate any microbial contamination. However, it’s important to note that by-products are still not fit for human consumption.
4-D Animals in By-Product Diets
The main problem with by-products is that you don’t know what parts of the animal are included. For example, 4-D animals (dead, dying, disabled, or diseased) may be used in pet food. These animals may have been put down because they were sick or injured and not fit for human consumption.
In 2007, the FDA issued a recall of pet food made with 4-D meat from China. The pet food was contaminated with melamine, which is used to make plastics. Pets who ate the contaminated food became sick, and some died.
The FDA does not require pet food companies to list the source of by-products on the label. So, unless the company voluntarily discloses this information, you won’t know where the by-products in your pet’s food come from.
Definition of by-products by AAFCO
Some common by-product diets in dog and cat food products include;
- Meat by-products: Lamb, Venison, beef, or Pork
- Poultry by-products: Turkey, chicken, or duck by-products
AAFCO defines meat by-products as
“non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low-temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed.”AAFCO Defintion of Meat By-products
In contrast, this is the definition of meat by AAFCO:
“Clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that part which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh.”AAFCO Defintion of Meat
AAFCO defines poultry by-products as
“non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice”AAFCO Defintion of Poultry By-products
In contrast, below is how AAFCO defines poultry;
“Clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. “AAFCO Defintion of Poultry
Meat By-products vs Meat Meals:
The main difference between meat by-products and meat meals is that meat by-products are not as heavily processed as meat meals. Meat by-products can include organs, bones, and blood, while meat meals are usually just the muscle tissue.
Meat by-products are often used in pet food because they are a cheaper source of protein than meat meals. However, some pet food companies are now starting to use more meat meals in their products because they are seen as a more premium ingredient.
Meat meals are rendered which means that they are cooked down at high temperatures to remove all the water and fat. This process concentrates the protein and makes it easier to digest.
Examples of meat meals are;
- Meat Meal
- Meat and Bone Meal
- Poultry Meal
- Animal By-Product Meal
- Poultry By-Product Meal
Benefits of By-products:
By-products can be a good source of protein and other nutrients for pets. They can also be a cheaper alternative to meat meals.
With limited processing, some proponents claim that its protein is not denatured and is more biologically available to pets.
Drawbacks of By-products:
The main drawback of by-products is that they are not as heavily regulated as meat meals. This means that there is no guarantee of the quality or safety of the ingredients.
Another concern is that by-products may contain harmful chemicals, such as melamine. In 2009, the FDA issued a recall of pet food made with 4-D meat from China. The pet food was contaminated with melamine, which is used to make plastics. Pets who ate the contaminated food became sick, and some died.
Alternatives to By-products:
If you are concerned about the quality or safety of by-products, you can look for pet food that is made without by-products such as meat meals. Also make sure not to confuse animal by-products and animal by-product meals.
21 Dog food without by-products:
American Journey Duck & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
First, on our list of by-products, free dog food is the American Journey Duck & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Dry Dog Food. This food is made with real deboned duck as the first ingredient followed by chicken meal and chickpeas. There are no grain, corn, wheat, or soy in this formula and it is also free of artificial colors and preservatives.
It is made with high-quality, nutrient rich ingredients that are carefully selected to provide the right balance of proteins and carbohydrates for your pet. This grain-free dog food is also free of corn, wheat and soy which can be common allergens for pets. The protein in this dog food comes from real duck meat, not rendered meals or by-products.
This grain-free dog food also contains a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help support your pet’s immune system.
It is also packed with salmon oil, flaxseed, and fiber-rich chickpeas and sweet potatoes. This recipe provides your dog with omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, including long-chain DHA, which helps support your dog’s skin and coat health as well as brain and eye development.
- Made with real deboned duck and no by-products
- No grains or any common dog allergens
- Contains variety of antioxidants
- Packed with salmon oil and flaxseed which are great for skin and coat
- Some dogs may not do well with chickpeas
- A more expensive option compared to other brands such as Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Adult Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Dry Dog FoodN
- Grain-free diets have been linked to cases of DCM in dogs.
The American Journey Duck & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Dry Dog Food is a good choice for dogs who are allergic to grains or common dog allergens. It is made with high quality, nutrient rich ingredients and doesn’t contain any by-products. However, being a grain-free diet, it may not be the best choice for all dogs as some dogs were shown to be more susceptible to developing DCM when fed grain-free diets.
- Large, satisfying cuts of real organic free-range chicken and potatoes
- USDA certified organic formula includes minimally processed fruits and vegetables that provide a source of antioxidants and vitamins
- Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids contribute to healthy skin and luxurious coat, and calcium and phosphorus ratio helps support healthy bones and teeth
Castor & Pollux Organix Grain-Free Butcher & Bushel Organic Shredded Chicken
Castor & Pollux Organix Butcher & Bushel Grain-Free Organic Shredded Chicken Formula for Dogs is made with fresh, cage-free chicken that contains no added hormones or antibiotics or any meat by-products.
The shredded pieces of real organic free range chicken are complemented by the addition of potatoes and fruits and vegetables to provide a source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids important for your dog’s overall health. This USDA-certified organic formula also includes minimally processed fruits and vegetables that provide a source of antioxidants and vitamins. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids contribute to healthy skin and luxurious coat, and calcium and phosphorus ratio helps support healthy bones and teeth.
Castor & Pollux’s Butcher & Bushel line of organic chicken provides all the benefits of hand-crafted, small-batch chicken with added soluble fiber to help maintain a healthy digestive system. The chickens are made in a certified organic kitchen without corn, wheat, soy, artificial colors or preservatives, and also include probiotics to support digestion.
- No by-products as it uses cage-free chicken
- Formula is certified organic
- Minimally processed fruits and vegetables provide a source of antioxidants and vitamins
- Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids contribute to healthy skin and coat
- Probiotics support digestion
- It uses xanthan gum which has been shown to have similar negative impacts on your dog’s health as other food-thicken agents such as carrageenan. Studies have shown that xanthan gum can cause inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive issues in dogs.
In the next section, I have not provided links to the products on Chewy and request that you search using the dog food brand names I have used below;
Other 5 Adult Dog Food without By-products:
- Wellness Complete Health Lamb & Sweet Potato Formula Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
- Merrick Grain-Free Wet Dog Food Wilderness Blend, 12.7-oz can, case of 12
- Essence Ocean & Freshwater Recipe Wet Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
- Nutro Grain-Free Savory Lamb & Vegetables Stew Cuts in Gravy Adult Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
- Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Gentle Snackers Crunchy Dog Treats, 8-oz bag
6 Puppy Dog Foods without By-Products:
- Eukanuba Puppy Mixed Grill Chicken & Beef Dinner in Gravy Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
- Tiki Dog Raw Duck, Turkey Bone Broth & Pumpkin Grain-Free Puree Frozen Dog Food, 24-oz tub, case of 3
- Tiki Dog Raw Chicken, Chicken Liver & Chicken Bone Broth, Grain-Free Puree Frozen Dog Food, 24-oz tub, case of 3
- Nulo Freestyle Lamb & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Small Breed & Puppy Canned Dog Food, 5.5-oz, case of 24
- Eukanuba Puppy with Lamb & Rice Canned Dog Food, 13.2-oz, case of 12
- Hill’s Science Diet Small Paws Puppy Chicken & Barley Entree Canned Dog Food, 5.8-oz, case of 24
3 Senior Dog Food without By-Products
- Lotus Oven-Baked Senior Small Bites Recipe Dry Dog Food
- Hill’s Science Diet Variety Pack Senior 7+ Canned Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
- Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ Turkey & Barley Entree Canned Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
Q: Are animal by-products safe in dog food?
A: Animal by-products may be adultered and can contain disease-causing microbial contamination such as Salmonella, Ecoli, or Melamine. They may also contain high concentrations of unhealthy fats, chemicals, and undigestible bone fragments.
Q: What is the best alternative to dog food with by-products?
A: The best alternative is a dog food without by-products. There are many brands that make safe, healthy, and nutritious dog foods without by-products. Royal Canin, Lotus, HIll’s Science Diet , Tiki, Eukanuba, American Journey and Castor & Pollux are some of the brands that make by-products-free dog food.
Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates.
Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org