By Dr. Becker
Recently I read an article in a pet food industry journal extolling the virtues of organ meats in commercial pet food formulas. The article was titled “Organ meats: quality source of protein for pets.”
The author writes:
“As a group, organ meats are wholesome, quality sources of protein and other nutrients. The folks feeding raw food, home-prepared diets and the out-on-the edge extreme performance diets have recognized the value of organ meats in their dog and cat diets for years. The value brands have quietly been customers, too. But in many petfood marketing campaigns, organ meats are being shunned because they are categorized derisively as by-products. By-product or delicacy—it’s in the eye of the beholder. Maybe the critics just don’t understand what dogs and cats really want.”
The article author is absolutely correct about the superior nourishment dogs and cats can receive from fresh, unprocessed organ meats, which have high nutrient density, an excellent nutrient profile and high digestibility. In fact, if your dog or cat lived in the wild, many parts of her natural prey -- including smaller bones, all the internal organs, eyes, tongue, the thyroid and other glands – would provide essential nutrients.
The author’s point seems to be that while organ meats are indeed used in commercial pet food, marketing campaigns and promotional materials for the products avoid revealing that they are. And he believes the reason the presence of organ meats -- for example the glandular stomach, small intestine, large intestine, heart, liver, lung, spleen, kidney, bladder, udder and others – is not mentioned, is because they fall into the category of by-products, and by-products are not what informed pet owners want to feed their dogs and cats.
How Organ Meats Become By-Products
As the author of the article points out, organ meats sold to the pet food industry start out as “… fresh, chilled and frozen internal organs from animals and fish slaughtered under humane, sanitary and safe practices in our modern food processing facilities.”
He also makes the point that since most animal organs are channeled from the human food industry to the manufacturers of pet food ingredients, organ meats represent a substantial portion of the contents of dog and cat food.
But here’s the problem. As the author points out, “Today, much of the organ meats wind up in the various rendered protein meals such as poultry by-product meal, meat and bone meal, pork meal, lamb meal or fish meal.”
The rendering process involves combining “raw product” sourced from meat slaughtering and processing plants; dead animals from farms, ranches, feedlots, marketing barns, animal shelters, and other facilities; and fats, grease, and other food waste from restaurants and stores.
The “raw product” mixture is cooked at high temperatures, the moisture is removed, and then it’s pulverized into a powdery material known as meat and bone meal. Along the way, most of the grease is skimmed away, and excess hair and large bone chips are removed from the powder.
So while a given mix of rendered protein may contain organ meats (that were much more nutritious before being exposed to extremely high heat and other processing methods), it’s just as likely to contain bits and pieces of nasty items like beaks, feathers, feet, hooves, hair, tumors, and who knows what else.
That’s why I always recommend avoiding pet food containing any sort of by-product or unnamed protein meal. Unfortunately, originally nutritious animal muscle and organ meats are significantly compromised when they become part of the pet food rendering process.
What about Organ Meats in Canned Pet Food?
According to the article’s author, a number of commercially available wet pet foods contain viscera (intestines, guts) and other organ meats, and the less expensive brands also use a great deal of kidney, spleen, lung and udder.
Inexpensive pet food often also contains filler ingredients, additives, preservatives and other chemicals. So my recommendation, if you’re looking for organ meats in a canned pet food, is to find a high quality, human-grade formula that includes one or more organ meats in the list of ingredients.
Organ Meats in Commercial Pet Treats
Organ meats are used in many commercial pet treats.
Unfortunately, most commercial pet treats contain inappropriate ingredients like grains, unnecessary fillers, rendered animal by-products, added sugar (sometimes hidden in molasses and honey), chemicals, artificial preservatives, and allergenic ingredients.
It’s possible to find high quality treats containing organ meats (including our all-natural Beef & Bison Bites, made with USDA-inspected beef and bison liver), but your best bet shopping locally is to visit small, independent pet stores with knowledgeable staff.
Also, most excellent quality, human-grade pet food producers – typically smaller companies – also make a few types of treats. So if you're already feeding your dog or cat a high-quality commercial pet food you trust, see if the manufacturer also makes treats, or make your own.
Organ Meats in Commercial Raw and Homemade Pet Food
High quality, balanced commercial raw pet foods (made with all human grade ingredients) contain organ meats, so if you’re feeding your dog or cat a commercial raw pet food, chances are he’s getting the benefit of these nutritious ingredients.
If you make your pet’s food at home, I recommend using recipes from knowledgeable pet nutrition experts that include the best way to include organ meats in your homemade pet meals.