Byproducts in pet food? Demand transparency in what else goes in

Q: Can you help me find an affordable brand of dog food that doesn’t use byproducts? All the ones that show no byproducts on the label seem to be the most expensive brands.

A: Implicit in your question is the notion that all byproducts are bad. Which is not the case. So let’s break down the language here:

Strictly speaking, a byproduct is a secondary product derived from a specific industrial animal agriculture process. By definition, it’s not the primary product that’s produced. Hence, the term byproducts in the context of pet foods refers to anything that’s not the prized muscle meat itself. (Which isn’t so pleasant a concept either.)

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Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami.

According to one of the world’s largest-scale pet food manufacturers’ websites, “Byproducts … are simply parts of the animal that remain after meat is removed. They may include lungs, spleen, liver, and kidneys. …” And we non-vegetarians eat those too, right?

The whole idea behind so-called meat “byproducts” isn’t a “nice” one. But then, neither is the truth behind sausages. Even the “best” most “natural” sausages contain by-products. That’s, in fact, the definition of sausage. Which most of us meat eaters also enjoy.

Indeed, the entire concept of animal consumption — not to mention animal slaughter — is a “not-so-nice” one. But I’m not here to talk about the touchy politics of veganism. What I’m more concerned with here is that so many pet owners seem unjustly alarmed by the concept of byproducts.

The reality is that, whether they’re expressly defined as such on the label, most of the fanciest, most expensive, “all-natural” brands includes byproducts. Typically, however, these ingredients enjoy a more exalted definition on the label. They’re included as “beef organ meat,” “deboned lamb” (meaning anything but bone) or some other term.

Other expensive super-premium brands further bend the truth on byproducts they include in their diets. Though they may proudly claim to include “no poultry byproducts meals,” these proclamations don’t preclude the use of poultry byproducts in other forms.

But here’s the thing: None of these ingredients is inherently bad. Our blanket bias against byproducts is largely unjustified.

What you should be objecting to, rather, is a lack of transparency about what goes in your pets’ food. Which we should all demand from our manufacturers … but don’t. Instead, we seek out “natural,” “no byproduct” foods. Which, ultimately, tells us precious little about their quality.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to