Talk Dog Food - 'Dog Food 101'
The pet food industry is a 15 billion dollar year money maker for the manufacturers. Their commercials and tag
lines tell you you’re getting products made with such wonderful ingredients as plump chicken, fresh beef, whole
grains, and vegetables. But what are you really getting? And what are you really feeding your dog?
If you look at the ingredient list on your average bag or can of dog food, you’ll find of list that include things
that may sound like they might be good and you’ll also find quite a number of incompressible ingredients that you
have no clue what they are or what they’re for.
Let’s take a few minutes to break some of these down so you know what you’re really feeding your beloved canine
First let’s take a look at protein sources. If you read Part 1 of this, you’ll remember that protein “is
essential because it is utilized as the building blocks for tissues, organs, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, etc.
and a body cannot manufacture the necessary amino acids without protein.” Protein, specifically digestible protein,
should be the primary basis of your dog’s diet.
Here’s some of the protein/meat sources you may find in the food you’re feeding you dog, and what they really
Protein/Meat - Sort of - Not Really
When animals are slaughtered, cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goat, etc., only about 50% of the animal is used for
human consumption. What remains, including heads, feet, bones, blood, intestines, lungs, spleens, livers,
ligaments, fat trimmings, unborn babies, and other parts not generally consumed by humans, is considered
‘by-products.’ These ‘by-products’ have many uses, including use in pet food.
Beef, Chicken, Pork, etc.
AAFCO - Beef/Pork is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered
cattle/pig, and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that 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
the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh.
AAFCO - Chicken is the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the
parts or whole carcasses of chicken or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.
What you’re really getting though is mainly scraps. Pieces that are left over after what is used for human
consumption is removed. In the case of chicken, this can include bones, so backs, ribs, less the breast meat, and
scraps are what is considered ‘chicken meat’ in pet foods. As for beef or pork or lamb, etc., it’s the scraps that
are left on the carcass after the meat for human consumption is removed.
When you see the higher grade pet foods listed as ‘premium’ and ‘super premium,’ ‘organic’ and ‘natural,’ these
cannot contain any by-products so this is the ‘meat’ you are actually getting.
Poultry/Chicken/Turkey by-products and By-Product Meal
AAFCO - Chicken/Turkey/Poultry
By-Products consist of the rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken/turkey, such as necks,
beaks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines -- exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur
unavoidably in good processing practices. Meal consists of these same products that are rendered and ground.
First off, by-product consists of any other part of the animal then meat. You are getting no actual poultry ‘meat,’
pretty much anything and everything else though. By-products are less expensive and less-digestible with varying
and questionable nutritional value. It is basically the left over, not fit for human consumption product.
AAFCO: The clean combination of poultry flesh and skin with or
without bone. Does not contain feathers, heads, feet or entrails.
This first thing you want to notice here is that this requirement does not specify ‘slaughtered poultry,’ meaning
that it can from any source, including what is called, 4-D animals, dead, diseased, disabled or dying. Since it can
be obtained from any source there is no control over quality or contamination and if it is just listed as poultry,
it can be any type of fowl; turkey, chicken, geese, buzzard, seagulls, road kill, even birds euthanized at
You have basically the same thing with ‘meat by-products’ and ‘meat bone and meal.’
Meat/Beef/Pork Bone and Meal
AAFCO: The rendered product from mammal/beef/pork tissues, with or
without bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents
except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.
With beef and pork, you are talking about the left-overs, not fit for human consumption and it can basically
include the whole cow or pig, including the bones. It’s just a low quality, inexpensive ingredient which is used to
When it just says ‘meat’ then it can be really scary. The ‘meat’ is animal parts obtained from any source, again so
there is no control over quality or contamination. Any kind of animal can be included: "4-D animals," dead,
diseased, disabled, or dying including; goats, pigs, horses, rats, road kill and even animals euthanized at
shelters. It can also include pus, cancerous tissue, and decomposed (spoiled) tissue.
Did you notice ‘animals euthanized at shelters?’ Most animals killed at shelters are euthanized with Phenobarbital
which is the most common euthanasia drug. The FDA actually did tests looking for Phenobarbital due to persistent
rumors that rendered by-products used for pet food contained dead dogs and cats. It did find it too. The also did
tests looking for canine and feline DNA which they did not find. So the study says. In the past the use of road
kill and rendered shelter animals was an open ‘secret’ in the pet food industry. Of course pet food manufacturers
deny the use of road-kill and shelter euthanized animals but since it’s not against the law, who knows? I have come
across many, many sources in my research that says they are still used. I’ll leave that up to you to think
Then you also have something called “Digests’ which is a cooked down broth of tissues from most any animal source,
unless specified, and can also include 4-D animals.
Blood meal is basically just a cheap protein booster and there is nothing specifying what animal the blood matter
comes from and there is no way of knowing if it contained any kind of hormones, medication or anything else.
And that last ingredient I am going to touch on is fats, oils, tallow and lard. These are used mostly for
‘flavoring.’ Their nutritional value is questionable at best. Animal fats, like many other ingredients, can come
from most any source without regard to contamination or quality. Often these fats are sprayed directly on the
processed ‘kibble’ to enhance the scent and palatability for out pets. Ever stuck your hand in a bag of dog food
and felt how ‘greasy’ it felt afterwards? There ya go!
As you can easily see, just in the category of meats/proteins, there are many things included that you would really
have no clue of when you read the label. In theory, not all of this is bad; organ meat is fantastic but wouldn’t
you like to know that the organ meal is coming from a ‘clean’ animal rather a something that falls under the 4-D
And this is actually just a rather general overview or some of the ingredients. There are many others that I’ll go
into next time.
by Deanna Raeke