Puppy looking at her dog food on the ground.

What Are Animal By-Products In Dog Food? Expert Guide

Written By Vedrana Nikolic | Canine Coach, B.A Ethnology & Anthropology, M.A Semiotics.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 10th January 2024

When browsing the food aisles of a pet store, you'll likely come across dog food labels mentioning "animal by-products." This term often raises concerns among pet owners, who wonder what these by-products actually are and whether they are suitable for their furry friends.

In this article, we'll delve deeper into the topic of animal by-products in dog food, dispel some common myths, and provide a comprehensive understanding of their role in canine nutrition.

What Are Animal By-Products?

Animal by-products, sometimes referred to as 'meat by-products', are ingredients derived from animal sources that are not commonly consumed by humans. These by-products can include various parts of animals, such as organs (liver, kidneys, heart), blood, bones, and other tissues.

Related: The Best Dog Food Australia.

It's important to note that not all animal by-products are of low quality or unhealthy for dogs. In fact, some by-products can be highly nutritious and provide valuable nutrients for dogs. For example, organ meats like liver are rich in vitamins and minerals (1).

However, the term "animal by-products" can be broad and may include less desirable components as well. This can include parts like beaks, feathers, hair, and hooves, which are less digestible and have lower nutritional value. These lower quality animal by-products are typically found in lower grade dog foods.

Related: How To Choose The Right Dog Food?

The exact  term “animal by-products" l might depend on where you are and who you ask. For example, the AAFCO standard specifically excludes “hair, horns, teeth and hoofs” (2), while the European Food Safety Authority specifically includes those things (and more) under the definition of animal by-products (3).

The Nutritional Value of Animal By-Products

Contrary to popular belief, many animal by-products are beneficial for dogs. Organ meats, for instance, are rich in nutrients that are vital for a dog's health. Liver, in particular, is a nutrient powerhouse, containing high levels of vitamin A, iron, and various B vitamins. Kidneys are another valuable source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc.

Additionally, animal by-products can provide essential amino acids that dogs need for optimal growth and development. These by-products often contain protein, which is a fundamental component of a balanced canine diet. However, it's crucial to consider the quality of the by-products used in dog food. While some are highly nutritious, others, such as beaks, feathers, and hooves, have lower digestibility and nutritional value.

Quality Considerations and Regulations

Pet food regulations vary across different countries, and they often set guidelines for the use of animal by-products. For instance, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) in the United States provides definitions and regulations for pet food ingredients, including by-products. Manufacturers are required to meet specific standards when using animal by-products to ensure their safety and suitability for consumption by pets. While Australia does have a standard for manufacturing dog food, adhering to it is voluntary, so it’s very difficult to say what exactly goes into by-products.

Related: What Is the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA)?
Related: AAFCO vs PFIAA: Dog Food Standards Comparison Australia

It's worth noting that the pet food industry has evolved over the years in response to consumer demands. Many manufacturers now prioritise transparency, using more specific labelling to indicate the type of by-products used. Instead of generic terms like "animal by-products," you may find labels that specify "chicken by-products" or "beef by-products”.

Organ meats also typically fall under the definition of by-products (1) as they are often considered “not intended for human consumption” (although there is nothing wrong with that). To avoid the vagueness, premium dog food manufacturers might choose to name specific organs they are using (like liver, kidney, or tripe), and that’s a good thing.

Making Informed Choices

When selecting dog food, it's important for pet owners to read and understand the ingredient list, but what exactly lies behind the words can be difficult to decipher. There is nothing inherently bad about animal by-products, but the term can (and often does) get used to hide low quality ingredients of suspicious origin.

Related: Understanding Guaranteed Analysis Levels in Dog Food

Naturally, we want to look for high quality brands that prioritise the use of nutritious animal by-products, such as organ meats, in their formulations. But the term “by-products” could also mean a concoction of terrible quality meat-related things.

Final Thoughts

Animal by-products in dog food encompass a wide range of ingredients derived from animal sources. While some by-products offer significant nutritional benefits, others may have lower quality and limited nutritional value.

By prioritising high quality brands and considering the overall nutritional balance, you can ensure that your furry friend receives a wholesome and nourishing diet to support their well being and longevity.


  1. Clinical Nutrition Team. May 31, 2016. “Don’t be bothered by by-products”. TUFTS Petfoodology. Retrieved June 6, 2023. https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2016/05/dont-be-bothered-by-by-products/
  2. “What’s in the Ingredients List?”. AAFCO. Retrieved June 5, 2023.
  3. “ Animal by-products”. EFSA. Retrieved June 6, 2023. https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/animal-by-products

Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer, Anthropologist & dog lover.

With a Masters Degree in Semiotics & Bachelors Degree in Anthropology, studying the communication between animals and humans, Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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