On a cat food label, what is the proper definition for byproducts?

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Byproducts are what is left of a slaughtered animal after the edible parts have been removed; they often include organ meats such as liver and kidney, bone, blood, brains, GI tract, brains, lungs, head. Commonly, byproducts are taken from chicken and turkey.

Pet experts disagree on the value of byproducts in a commercial cat (or dog) food. Some say byproducts are excellent sources of protein and essential vitamins. They argue that while muscle meat is a good source of amino acids and protein, byproducts includes a combination of ingredients, thereby providing complete essential vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, including glucosamine and chondroitin, which are found in the bone and cartilage.

Others say no carnivore in the wild eats just muscle meat– after all, the feral cat (not to be mistaken as a stray cat)”) will devour an entire rodent or bird. Others disagree, however, claiming that many of the byproducts now used are taken from dead, dying, diseased and disabled animals and, hence, should be disposed of entirely. Although not intended for human consumption, these items can legally be used in pet food.

Moreover, opponents add, there is a big difference between a cat eating a wholesome mouse, and what is commonly found in byproducts.  Much of what is put in as byproducts are all of the things unfit for human consumption including the head, feet, spoiled and diseased meat. While nature did intend for cats to eat the entire prey, the word byproducts does not mean hearts, livers, and unspoiled muscle meat.

So what can pet owners do to protect their cat? Above all, read the label in detail and avoid any vague references, such as “meat byproducts” or “meat meal.” The label should be specific, saying whether it’s a chicken, turkey or beef byproduct.

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