What is in dog food?

Ingredients like “chicken byproduct meal” and “beef byproduct” are common ingredients in dog and cat food. Animal byproducts provide necessary nutrients, yet some pet owners worry that byproducts are unhealthy. Search “ingredients in pet foods” online, and websites reveal consumer fears. On NaturalNews.com, a veterinarian selling “holistic” pet food writes that venison byproduct contains “diseased organs,” “tumors” and “promotes premature aging.”

In fact, said Kelly Swanson, an associate professor and animal and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, byproducts are nutritious and safe. Swanson said byproducts are just as safe as meat meant for human consumption.

“The cuts of meat are different, but they are coming from the same animal,” Swanson said.

To make sure byproducts are safe, said Swanson, pet food producers use high temperatures to kill any bacteria or viruses. Though heat treatments kill pathogens, some pet owners online worry that the process kills beneficial enzymes in meat.

“To my knowledge, however, there are no data to suggest that the denaturation of enzymes in meat is harmful. The GI [gastrointestinal] tract has plenty of enzymes to digest the food consumed, so that is not a problem for the pet,” Swanson said.

Swanson said he has seen no studies showing that feeding byproducts leads to unhealthy pets. Swanson said pet owners would see health problems in their dogs or cats if common byproducts were unhealthy. Yet the average lifespans of pets continue to increase. He pointed out that popular pet treats like pig ears and rawhide are also kinds of byproducts.

“From a sustainability standpoint, the use of these ingredients is great because many of them would be dumped in landfills if not used by this industry,” said Swanson.

If pet owners really want to improve pet health they should think about portion control, said Swanson. He said many pet owners do not follow the guidelines on food packages and they end up over-feeding their animals.

“The fact that up to 40 percent of the pets in the U.S are considered overweight or obese suggests that most pets enjoy their food way too much,” Swanson said.

Swanson suggested customers go to FDA or USDA sites for more information.