On a dog food label, what’s the proper definition for poultry byproducts?

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It’s important to note that in the AAFCO’s eyes (The American Association of Feed Control Officials), there is chicken and turkey meat, or a chicken and turkey byproduct or a chicken or turkey by-producst meal. There is no “poultry” meal that exists in dog food.

Chicken byproducts and chicken byproduct meal essentially contain the same ingredients. The only difference is one is fresh and one if ground-up and dried. This is the same with  turkey.

Chicken (or turkey, beef, fish, etc.) byproducts are a high-protein ingredient used as a major component in some pet foods. The AAFCO defines it as being made from grinding clean, rendered parts of poultry carcasses and can contain bones, offal and undeveloped eggs but only contains feathers that are unavoidable in the processing of the poultry parts.

Chicken by-product meal—which is basically the same thing, only dry– is defined by AAFCO as “dry, ground, rendered clean parts of the chicken carcass and may contain the same ingredients as poultry by-product.

Chicken byproducts can vary in quality from batch to batch.

Chicken byproduct costs less than chicken muscle meat and some pet food experts (including veterinarians) say that, since they include organ meats, they can be much more nutritious. Chicken by-product can sometimes lack the digestibility of chicken muscle meat, though.

We may be repulsed at the thought of eating things like chicken feet, which are often found in byproducts. However, chicken feet are really bone (with a small amount of muscle covering them)—and bone is important in dog food for calcium and phosphorous.

Like anything, byproducts can vary in quality, but a reputable food company will screen their chicken byproduct and chicken meal and only accept those ingredients that are high quality. Most reputable food companies will want a particular level of protein to be present in the product which means that there needs to be much more meat than bone.

Although these products may not be used in the human market, it doesn’t mean that they are unsafe or unclean. Many companies will do regular testing for salmonella and other contaminants when using byproducts.

Sometimes, a dog food manufacturer will boast that their food contains “fresh boneless chicken.” This is often a marketing ploy, because the boneless chicken may not be the breast or thigh meat, but something else entirely. And to repeat—boneless isn’t necessarily a good thing!

Be an educated consumer, and make sure the dog food label always includes the acronym AAFCO, to ensure quality checks.

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