Given the marketing and label images of happy chefs preparing haute cuisine for your dog, it’s easy to believe all pet foods are quality products containing the best and freshest of ingredients. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all, and a lot of unsavory stuff that’s legally unfit for human consumption gets dumped into commercial pet foods.
Mostly, we’re talking about all the miscellaneous animal parts left over after the human food industry takes what it uses for people food, as well as so-called “4D” livestock—dead, dying, diseased, or disabled.
Below are common vague ingredient names that appear on dog food labels and what they represent. They can be divided into two basic categories: non-rendered and rendered.
Rendering refers to an industrial process that makes unusable animal waste usable (given a very forgiving definition of “usable”). Basically, animal carcasses and scraps are dumped into large vats, ground up, and cooked for hours. The process separates the fat for use as added animal fat and destroys bacteria, parasites, and other potentially harmful microorganisms.
There are two main non-rendered pet food ingredients that fall under our topic:
This is most of the leftover parts of animals other than the muscle meat people eat. As the American Association of Feed Control Officials cites, the official explanation is, “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.”
This is the same as meat by-products, but from chickens, turkeys, and other poultry. It represents most of the unused portions of birds used for food, including heads, beaks, feet, giblets, and just about anything else besides feathers.
These less-than-appetizing pet food ingredients are rendered:
Meat Meal or Meat and Bone Meal
This is a rendered collection of animal carcasses and scraps without “added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.” The former listing does include bone, but only as much as naturally occurs in carcasses, while the second option indicates there is also added bone.
This represents most rendered parts of chickens, turkeys, and other poultry, with or without added bone. Only feathers, heads, beaks, feet, and entrails must be omitted.
Meat By-Product Meal or Poultry By-Product Meal
These are essentially the rendered versions of meat by-products or poultry by-products; all the same parts are allowed in, with the same few exclusions.
Why Does This Matter?
These ingredients are classified unfit for human consumption. If they’re not good enough for us, why are they good enough for your assistance dog? They are just as unpalatable to dogs, which is why most commercial pet foods are enhanced with artificial flavors and other ingredients, as well as extra fat.
Even more concerning, though, is that rendering destroys some naturally occurring enzymes and degrades protein quality. While your dog food might have high enough protein quantity, it’s likely made up of low-grade protein that doesn’t provide equal nutritional value as high-quality protein from animal muscle tissue.
Because the makeup of these ingredients can vary wildly, as can the quality of their nutrients, the nutritional value of dog foods that contain them can also vary significantly.
The Main Take-Away
To ensure you’re providing adequate protein and other nutritional value to keep your service dog happy, healthy, and able to perform her tasks, don’t buy pet foods that contain by-products or meals.
Don’t get swayed by label terms like “premium” or “gourmet,” as there are no rules establishing any meaning for them; they’re just marketing ploys. Opt for foods that simply identify the protein source and the animal it’s intended for, as in “beef for dogs.” This means the labeled protein accounts for at least 95% of the food. If there are qualifying terms like “dinner,” “with,” or “flavor,” there can be far less of the ingredient.