Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
When you read the word "chicken or poultry" on the label of dog food, you may think about juicy, white breast meat with nice wings and thighs. However, if the word chicken or poultry is followed by the term "byproduct" or "byproduct meal," things may be a tad bit different. This is important to know because nowadays lots of dog foods are loaded with chicken byproducts, especially those that are on the cheaper side. Yes, byproducts make dog foods less expensive, but they're really not that good for Rover.
That bag of dog food containing chicken byproducts may look quite appetizing from your dog's perspective. Indeed, Rover will gulp it down like there's no tomorrow. However, you owe it to your pal to learn what those byproducts really mean. For starters, byproducts are not types of meat you would normally eat yourself. Which is fine, since Rover is a dog and you are a human, but there's more to that.
What Are Chicken Byproducts in Dog Food?
The official definition of byproducts comes from the Association of American Feed Control Officials, an organization that sets the standards for the quality and safety of the pet-food industry in the United States. According to AAFCO, "chicken byproduct meal consists of the ground rendered parts of a slaughtered chicken's carcass including necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines along with the occasional feather."
In simpler words, those chicken byproducts are simply anything "other than the meat". Once the breasts, thighs, wings and all the other goodies are removed and used for human consumption, all the rest is tossed together for Rover's delight. You may think "yuck!" after you read this. However, as disgusting as chicken byproduct meal may sound, consider though that Scruffy evolved to hunt and eat animal carcasses including cartilage and entrails. In the old days before commercial dog food arrived in our homes, this is what likely dogs were fed, and as scavengers, they eagerly ate all of this. Yet, it's important to point out there a big difference between surviving and thriving.
The Problems With Chicken Byproducts in Dog Food
With a past as a scavenger, you assume it won't hurt if Rover eats chicken byproducts. Unfortunately, the label won't do much in telling you what you're actually getting. Let's take a look at some problems with dog foods containing chicken byproducts.
Chicken byproducts are most likely not very nutritious, and they're also less digestible than chicken muscle meat, explains Dr. Karen Becker. Yes, the occasional heart, liver, kidney and gizzard may be rich in nutrients, but don't expect much of that in that bag of cheap dog food. Most likely you'll be getting more feet and other nutrient-poor parts such as wattles, beaks and combs than anything else. Yes, the bones and cartilage are a good source of glucosamine and chondroitin, calcium and phosphorus, but rest assured that if there were really loads of good stuff in there, they wouldn't be labeled under byproducts according to the Dog Food Project.
This explains why Rover will wolf down that cheap bag of dog food like there's no tomorrow; it's because his dietary needs are not being met. This explains why you need to feed much more of that food compared to a wholesome premium food that is rich in nutrients. And while in the end, you do seem to save some money with a cheap bag of store-bought dog food, you're most likely feeding twice as much.
So what happens when you feed a bag of food loaded with undigested components and with little digestible protein? The food goes literally down the drain and directly into Rover's waste. If you ever wondered why some dogs have large poops almost requiring an elephant-sized pooper scooper, blame the food. What you're seeing with those large poops is a physical representation of money tossed down the drain.
Let's precise though that there are some exceptions to the rule though. You may occasionally stumble on a pet food company that uses only high-quality byproducts. These companies screen their chicken byproducts in search of high-quality stuff. They make sure there's more meat than bones by measuring the ash content and check for sufficient protein levels, explains veterinarian Marie Haynes. Expect a significantly higher price tag, though.
So yes, with chicken byproducts, you're most likely wasting your money. When I worked for a pet store, we were told to explain to customers that cheap dog food most likely results in a poor coat, large poops and little nutrients for the dog.
Dog Foods With No Chicken Byproducts
By now, you should be wondering what dogs foods are on the market that don't contain chicken byproducts. Well, gladly there are many. Here are a few. Please notice that this is only a list of dog foods free of chicken byproducts. For nutritional advice tailored to your dog, please seek the advice of a veterinary nutritionist.
Blue Buffalo contains real chicken, fish, or lamb as the first ingredients. Add on top of that there are also some healthy garden veggies, whole grains and fruit. Best of all, not only doesn't the Life Protection Formula contain no chicken or poultry byproduct meals, but it's also free of corn, wheat, soy and artificial ingredients.
Nutro produces a line of lip-smacking dog food made of high-quality, natural ingredients evaluated by a team of experts including researchers, veterinarians and animal nutritionists. If dog food made of U.S. farm-raised chicken and pasture-fed lamb sounds attractive, you and your dog will both love Natural Choice dog food. Forget about chicken byproduct meals, corn, corn gluten meal, wheat, rice flour soy protein, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives; these are all not part of the deal.
Flint River Ranch
When you see the word "byproduct" on your dog's bag of food, you're basically dealing with all the odds and ends remaining after all the good stuff has been harvested from the chicken and used for the human food industry. When you purchase a dog food with no rendered byproducts, you may assume you're feeding Scruffy human-grade* meats fit for human consumption.
*Note: While Flint River Ranch makes claims of its food being "human grade", consider that the Association of American Feed Control Officials considers the term misleading, unless all the ingredients along with the processing methods, meet the strict FDA and USDA requirements. For more on this read " Natural, Human Grade, Organic Dog Food: Really?"
IVET Dog Food
If you're feeding your dog food containing chicken byproduct meal, most likely your dog is getting less digestible sources of protein. Ivet Healthy Gourmet Canine Formulas promises to use only whole chicken meat that is free of any chicken or poultry byproducts. Feeding better digestible proteins often translates into less cleaning up after Scruffy since those proteins are no longer going down the drain and directly into the dog's waste. This means you can finally give up that industrial size pooper scooper used to clean up those bulky stools.
Several other foods are free of chicken byproduct meals. Orijen, for instance, contains fresh meats such as chicken, fish and turkey meals obtained from animals certified fit for human consumption by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Acana also fits the bill, but the company specifies that even though certain meats can be truly human-grade, they automatically lose their human-grade classification once they enter the pet-food processing plant. However, if you're really looking for humane-grade food free of byproducts consider The Honest Kitchen, the only pet food company that claims to use 100 percent human-grade meats.
Dr. Karen Becker Explains How to Read Dog Food Labels
This is just a list of dog foods without chicken byproducts. Always check product labels as ingredients in dog food may change. In no way is this information a recommendation or a replacement for the advice of a dog veterinary nutritionist. A dog food free of chicken byproducts doesn't necessarily make it a healthy, safe food for your dog. There's more into that and you should do more research.
Each dog is an individual and as such, some may do well on one food and others may do better with another food. Always switch foods gradually to prevent a doggy upset stomach. For nutritional advice, consult with a veterinary nutritionist. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is there a dog food for adult labradors without any chicken?
Answer: There are many novel, limited-ingredient diets nowadays that contain meats from other animals.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 08, 2013:
Thanks for the votes up and sharing, vocalcoach! I'm happy it turned out helpful to you.
Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on February 08, 2013:
Great information! Funny - I've been thinking about my dog's food today. So glad I found your hub. Voted Up, useful, awesome and will share. Great job and thanks!
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on February 08, 2013:
alexadry--I've been avoiding dog food with chicken byproducts for a while now. Thanks for the list of foods without it. Great hub!
Mae Williams from USA on February 08, 2013:
Thanks! I give my dog eukanuba! Her poop is firm not mushy! You are right about dogs with giant mushy poop!
It's inferior food.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 08, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by Midget38, there are so many dog foods with them you can almost count on your fingers the good ones without.
Michelle Liew from Singapore on February 08, 2013:
Chicken byproducts are to be avoided, Alexandry!! Full supporter of this belief too. I will keep this hub for reference as I order my dog food. Thanks for sharing!!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 07, 2013:
Hi Pamela, thanks for stopping by, luckily we get to eat the premium parts of chicken. Of course, that is, unless you eat chicken nuggets made of mechanically separated chicken!
Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on February 07, 2013:
I can't say after reading this hub I feel like eating any chicken for awhile; but great info well researched thanks for sharing my dog will be happy about the info too!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 07, 2013:
Yes, those chicken treats from China are definitively scary! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Jmillis2006 from North Carolina on February 07, 2013:
Great article, Chicken by prouduct is not something I would like to feed my pet. another not to consider some dog chicken jerkey dog treats that are made with chicken from china have been voluntarily recalled due to antibotic residues.