Thursday, January 17, 2013

The dreaded "by-product"

With the New Year upon us I have once again made a resolution to focus on my heath, specifically my eating habits.  This inspired me to write a few posts about healthy food choices for our pets.  Last summer I had the great opportunity to visit the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Center in Kansas, my first post about my time there can be read by clicking here.  As a follow up let us focus on the ingredient list and the misunderstood phrase “by product”.

Many pet food companies will make a big deal of stating on their label, in big letters “No by-products”!  When you look at what a by-product actually is I don’t really mind my pets eating them.  The exact definition of a by-product is “anything produced in the course of making another thing.”  I feel that using by-products actually honors the animal that gave its life to feed us since we make use of the entire animal and not just its skeletal meat.

So in regards to a chicken, the by-products are feet, undeveloped eggs, necks, and organs; feathers and beaks are excluded.  This sounds really gross and I certainly wouldn’t want to eat anything with those ingredients but I am quite sure my dogs would have no problem.  In reality organ meat is a source of high quality protein and actually more nutrient dense than skeletal meat. 

When you see “chicken is the #1 ingredient” this is also a clever ploy by pet food marketing teams.  Chicken is listed first because it is 80% water and the heaviest of all the components that make up the diet.  This doesn’t equate to a diet that is mostly chicken skeletal meat that one would pick up from the grocery store.  If something is listed as “meal” on the label that just means whatever it was has had the water removed.  So “chicken meal” is dehydrated chicken backbone, skin and bits of muscle – basically whatever is left over after the chicken has been processed for human consumption.

That is not to say all by-products are equal, as with any product there are varying degrees of quality.  One must know the other aspects of their pet’s food in order to ensure they are feeding a high quality diet. 

For example:

  • ·      Is there a veterinary nutritionist consulting on the makeup of the food
  • ·      What other safe guards has the company put in place to make sure the diet is safe
  • ·      Have feeding trials been done to see how the food affects actual animals
  • ·      Is the company willing to give out their exact nutrient profile (they should be!)
  • ·      Where are the meat and other ingredients sourced from
  • ·      Where is the product made

There is so much that goes into making a quality pet food, it can be amazingly overwhelming to choose one.  I encourage you to speak with your veterinarian and use the above information to research the available diets out there.  I hope knowing the right questions to ask will help you sift through all of the clever labels and marketing tools pet food companies throw at you.