So in the previous installment of canine cuisine, we reviewed the 4 rules of pet food labelling as pertains to the name of the pet food itself. This time around, I want to give as succinct a description I can of pet food ingredients.
I say, “as succinct as I can,” because it’s a hard topic to be brief on. The rules are nebulous and sometimes ill-defined, and even amongst veterinarians there are some discrepancies and things open to interpretation. There are some great resources on the web if there are specific ingredients you are concerned about and I will post them at the end of this blog for those who are interested.
The fundamentals, the stuff everyone freaks out about, are meats, by-products, meals, and digests. So here are some AAFCO definitions, simplified:
BEEF: Refers to striated muscle tissue from cows. May contain some other bits and parts that got stuck on.
BEEF BY-PRODUCTS: Parts that aren’t horns, hair, teeth, and hooves. Examples: lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, cleaned-out guts.
CHICKEN: Can refer to just about any part of the chicken that is not feathers, feet, heads, and guts. Can include bone.
CHICKEN BY-PRODUCTS: Anything that doesn’t count as regular “chicken”, except feathers. Read: heads, feet, guts, etc.
MEAL: Dried and ground down whatever. So it is the same as the non-meal form, just dehydrated and ground up.
DIGEST: Something that has been chemically or enzymatically hydrolyzed to break down the chemical bonds. I.e. it has been digested. Scrumptious.
I’m limiting the discussion to common ingredients because this blog is brief, and this is the area people seem to be most confused by or interested in. There is a much more complete list of ingredients here, and I encourage you all to look it over just to get a feel for what goes into these products. Their list leaves out one of my personal favorites, cellulose, which can and has been interpreted by some manufacturers as sawdust. Fiber!
A couple of things to keep in mind:
By-products aren’t necessarily a bad thing. By-products sound bad, but really, if you go to any Michelin rated French restaurant you’ll see them served up for $400 a plate. Organ meats are a good dense nutrient source. If you watch nature shows on Animal Planet, when the lion takes the gazelle down, they don’t peel off the muscle parts and leave the organs behind, do they? They gut them. So some foods that tout “no by-products” may just be trying to appeal to our own human squeamishness, since by products are themselves really not inherently evil.
Final note: Does pet food actually contain pets? It’s a persistent rumor that dogs, cats, and roadkill end up in kibble by the ton. All over the internet you’ll find “Joe’s friend Frank who worked at a plant said this happens”, but not one person, not one persistent PETA undercover agent, has been able to show proof this happens. Pet food manufacturers aren’t stupid enough to take that kind of PR risk. From the AAFCO manual: “The ingredient “Meat” and “Meat by-products” shall be qualified to designate the animal from which the meat or meat by-products are derived unless the meat or meat by-products are derived from cattle, swine, sheep, goats or any combination thereof. For example, ingredients derived from horses shall be listed as horsemeat” or horsemeat by-products.”
In a nutshell ‘meat’ does not mean ‘roadkill’- it usually means ‘livestock’, and unless your food specifically has “dog by-products” on the label it can’t contain Fido.
For more information:
The Dog Food Project– I have this site bookmarked. It’s a great and very comprehensive resource.
The FDA Pet Food Labelling page– straight from the regulatory source.
Snik Snak– list of pet food ingredient definitions from the AAFCO manual.