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What are dog food ingredients

Updated on January 6, 2018

There is a great deal of confusion and rumor as to what is actually contained within the meat ingredients that go into pet foods. All ingredients that are contained within pet foods must meet strict feed ingredient definitions as established by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). These regulations define exactly what parts of meat products can and cannot be included within the particular ingredient. Unfortunately, misinformed individuals, and some pet food manufacturers have used mistruths to promote their own products. This technical bulletin will review the definitions of some major meat ingredients, and dispel some of the fears associated with these products.

Poultry By-Product Meal

The AAFCO Definition:
"Poultry By-Product Meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices. The label shall include guarantees for minimum crude protein, minimum crude fat, maximum crude fiber, minimum Phosphorus (P), and minimum and maximum calcium (Ca). The Calcium (Ca) level shall not exceed the actual level of phosphorus (P) by more than 2.2 times."

According to the definition, poultry must be clean, it can not contain dirt or fecal material. Poultry is to be slaughtered, and thus poultry by-product meal does not include birds that are brought in dead, rotting, or have died from disease. Diseased birds (by USDA inspection laws) are eliminated before slaughtering. By definition, poultry by-product meal does not include heads. It does contain the bones associated with the neck and feet, and this contributes to the natural calcium and phosphorus content of the ingredient. However, there are strict regulations governing the levels of calcium and phosphorus, so that the quantity of bone cannot be excessive. Muscle, intestines, livers, gizzards, and unlayed eggs are included in this ingredient, and contribute to the natural vitamin and mineral content. Poultry by-product meal does NOT include feathers. The only feathers allowed are the very few that remain after the cleaning and plucking process. Poultry by-product meal is a highly digestible source of protein, so cannot include high levels of bone or feathers which would greatly decrease the digestibility.

Poultry (Chicken)

The AAFCO Definition:
"Poultry is the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails." Note, this ingredient is referred to as Chicken, if chicken is the only poultry source.

According to the definition, poultry is clean, and cannot contain dirt or fecal material. This ingredient does not contain the stipulation that birds must be slaughtered, so dead animals could be included. It can include flesh and skin WITH the bone, so the bone content of poultry can potentially be high. There is no restriction on this ingredient regarding calcium or phosphorus, so bone levels can be excessive, reducing the digestibility. By definition, heads, feet, feathers, and entrails are not included, however necks and bone can be included. Also, poultry is a wet ingredient, since it is not dried down into meal form. It contains a high amount of moisture, so on a weight basis, provides less protein than does an ingredient in meal form.

Meat and Bone Meal

The AAFCO Definition:
"Meat and Bone Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain added extraneous materials not provided for in this definition. It shall contain a minimum of 4% Phosphorus and the Calcium level shall not be more than 2.2 times the actual Phosphorus level. The label shall include guarantees for Phosphorus and minimum and maximum Calcium."

This ingredient does not include any stipulation as to only using animals to be slaughtered, so dead animals may be included. Fecal material, rumen and intestinal contents, hair and hooves are not included. Meat and bone meal can contain varying amounts of bone. However, there is a requirement for a minimum phosphorus requirement (found in high concentration in muscle tissue), and the calcium content (from bone) is limited depending on the phosphorus content. This ensures that calcium from bone is not present at very high levels, with little contribution from muscle meat. Meat and bone meal can, by law, include tissue from any mammal. There have been many rumors regarding the use of euthanized pets in meat and bone meal. Reputable renderers do not use euthanized pets in the production of meat and bone meal. Major pet food companies are not going to risk their reputation by dealing with unreputable renderers. Pet food companies that produce premium products need to have a continual supply of high quality ingredients that are consistent in analysis. This is not possible if using unreputable renderers that continue to change the composition of their ingredients.


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