Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who
partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Dogs love chickens—but are they good for them?
Photo by Daniel Tuttle on Unsplash
When you read the word “chicken or poultry” on the label of dog food, you may
think about juicy, white breast meat with nice wings and thighs. However, if
the word chicken or poultry is followed by the term “byproduct” or “byproduct
meal,” things may be a tad bit different. This is important to know because
nowadays lots of dog foods are loaded with chicken byproducts, especially
those that are on the cheaper side. Yes, byproducts make dog foods less
expensive, but they’re really not that good for Rover.
Yes, byproducts make dog foods less expensive, but they’re really not that
good for Rover.
What dog doesn’t love chicken?
That bag of dog food containing chicken byproducts may look quite appetizing
from your dog’s perspective. Indeed, Rover will gulp it down like there’s no
tomorrow. However, you owe it to your pal to learn what those byproducts
really mean. For starters, byproducts are not types of meat you would normally
eat yourself. This is fine, since Rover is a dog and you are a human, but
there’s more to that.
What Are Chicken Byproducts in Dog Food?
The official definition of byproducts comes from the Association of American
Feed Control Officials, an organization that sets the standards for the
quality and safety of the pet-food industry in the United States. According to
AAFCO, “chicken byproduct meal consists of the ground rendered parts of a
slaughtered chicken’s carcass including necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and
intestines along with the occasional feather.”
In simpler words, those chicken byproducts are simply anything “other than the
meat”. Once the breasts, thighs, wings, and all the other goodies are removed
and used for human consumption, all the rest is tossed together for Rover’s
delight. You may think “yuck!” after you read this. However, as disgusting as
chicken byproduct meal may sound, consider though that Scruffy evolved to hunt
and eat animal carcasses including cartilage and entrails. In the old days
before commercial dog food arrived in our homes, this is what likely dogs were
fed, and as scavengers, they eagerly ate all of this. Yet, it’s important to
point out there is a big difference between surviving and thriving.
The Problems With Chicken Byproducts in Dog Food
With a past as a scavenger, you assume it won’t hurt if Rover eats chicken
byproducts. Unfortunately, the label won’t do much in telling you what you’re
actually getting. Let’s take a look at some problems with dog foods containing
Chicken byproducts are most likely not very nutritious, and they’re also less
digestible than chicken muscle meat, explains Dr. Karen Becker. Yes, the
occasional heart, liver, kidney, and gizzard may be rich in nutrients, but
don’t expect much of that in that bag of cheap dog food. Most likely you’ll be
getting more feet and other nutrient-poor parts such as wattles, beaks, and
combs than anything else. Yes, the bones and cartilage are a good source of
glucosamine and chondroitin, calcium, and phosphorus, but rest assured that if
there were really loads of good stuff in there, they wouldn’t be labeled under
byproducts according to the Dog Food Project.
This explains why Rover will wolf down that cheap bag of dog food like there’s
no tomorrow; it’s because his dietary needs are not being met. This explains
why you need to feed much more of that food compared to wholesome premium food
that is rich in nutrients. And while in the end, you do seem to save some
money with a cheap bag of store-bought dog food, you’re most likely feeding
twice as much.
So what happens when you feed a bag of food loaded with undigested components
and with little digestible protein? The food goes literally down the drain and
directly into Rover’s waste. If you ever wondered why some dogs have large
poops almost requiring an elephant-sized pooper scooper, blame the food. What
you’re seeing with those large poops is a physical representation of money
tossed down the drain.
Let’s precise though that there are some exceptions to the rule though. You
may occasionally stumble on a pet food company that uses only high-quality
byproducts. These companies screen their chicken byproducts in search of high-
quality stuff. They make sure there’s more meat than bones by measuring the
ash content and checking for sufficient protein levels, explains veterinarian
Marie Haynes. Expect a significantly higher price tag, though.
So yes, with chicken byproducts, you’re most likely wasting your money. When I
worked for a pet store, we were told to explain to customers that cheap dog
food most likely results in a poor coat, large poops, and little nutrients for
Dog Foods With No Chicken Byproducts
By now, you should be wondering what dogs foods are on the market that don’t
contain chicken byproducts. Well, gladly there are many. Here are a few.
Please notice that this is only a list of dog foods free of chicken
byproducts. For nutritional advice tailored to your dog, please seek the
advice of a veterinary nutritionist.
Blue Buffalo contains real chicken, fish, or lamb as the first ingredients.
Add on top of that there are also some healthy garden veggies, whole grains,
and fruit. Best of all, not only doesn’t the Life Protection Formula contain
no chicken or poultry byproduct meals, but it’s also free of corn, wheat, soy,
and artificial ingredients. ****
Scroll to Continue
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Nutro produces a line of lip-smacking dog food made of high-quality, natural
ingredients evaluated by a team of experts including researchers,
veterinarians, and animal nutritionists. If dog food made of U.S. farm-raised
chicken and pasture-fed lamb sounds attractive, you and your dog will both
love Natural Choice dog food. Forget about chicken byproduct meals, corn, corn
gluten meal, wheat, rice flour soy protein, artificial colors, flavors, or
preservatives; these are all not part of the deal.
Flint River Ranch
When you see the word “byproduct” on your dog’s bag of food, you’re basically
dealing with all the odds and ends remaining after all the good stuff has been
harvested from the chicken and used for the human food industry. When you
purchase a dog food with no rendered byproducts, you may assume you’re feeding
Scruffy human-grade* meats fit for human consumption.
*Note: While Flint River Ranch makes claims of its food being “human
grade”, consider that the Association of American Feed Control Officials
considers the term misleading, unless all the ingredients along with the
processing methods, meet the strict FDA and USDA requirements. For more on
this read ” Natural, Human Grade, Organic Dog Food: Really?”
IVET Dog Food
If you’re feeding your dog food containing chicken byproduct meal, most likely
your dog is getting less digestible sources of protein. Ivet Healthy Gourmet
Canine Formulas promises to use only whole chicken meat that is free of any
chicken or poultry byproducts. Feeding better digestible proteins often
translates into less cleaning up after Scruffy since those proteins are no
longer going down the drain and directly into the dog’s waste. This means you
can finally give up that industrial size pooper scooper used to clean up those
Several other foods are free of chicken byproduct meals. Orijen , for
instance, contains fresh meats such as chicken, fish, and turkey meals
obtained from animals certified fit for human consumption by the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency. Acana also fits the bill, but the company specifies
that even though certain meats can be truly human-grade, they automatically
lose their human-grade classification once they enter the pet-food processing
plant. However, if you’re really looking for humane-grade food free of
byproducts consider The Honest Kitchen , the only pet food company that
claims to use 100 percent human-grade meats.
Dr. Karen Becker Explains How to Read Dog Food Labels
This is just a list of dog foods without chicken byproducts. Always check
product labels as ingredients in dog food may change. In no way is this
information a recommendation or a replacement for the advice of a dog
veterinary nutritionist. A dog food free of chicken byproducts doesn’t
necessarily make it a healthy, safe food for your dog. There’s more to that,
and you should do more research.
Each dog is an individual and as such, some may do well on one food and others
may do better with another food. Always switch foods gradually to prevent a
doggy upset stomach. For nutritional advice, consult with a veterinary
nutritionist. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
Questions & Answers
Question: Is there a dog food for adult labradors without any chicken?
Answer: There are many novel, limited-ingredient diets nowadays that
contain meats from other animals.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 08, 2013:
Thanks for the votes up and sharing, vocalcoach! I’m happy it turned out
helpful to you.
Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on February 08, 2013:
Great information! Funny – I’ve been thinking about my dog’s food today. So
glad I found your hub. Voted Up, useful, awesome and will share. Great job and
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on February 08, 2013:
alexadry–I’ve been avoiding dog food with chicken byproducts for a while now.
Thanks for the list of foods without it. Great hub!
Mae Williams from USA on February 08, 2013:
Thanks! I give my dog eukanuba! Her poop is firm not mushy! You are right
about dogs with giant mushy poop!
It’s inferior food.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 08, 2013:
Thanks for stopping by Midget38, there are so many dog foods with them you can
almost count on your fingers the good ones without.
Michelle Liew from Singapore on February 08, 2013:
Chicken byproducts are to be avoided, Alexandry!! Full supporter of this
belief too. I will keep this hub for reference as I order my dog food. Thanks
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 07, 2013:
Hi Pamela, thanks for stopping by, luckily we get to eat the premium parts of
chicken. Of course, that is, unless you eat chicken nuggets made of
mechanically separated chicken!
Pamela-anne from Miller Lake on February 07, 2013:
I can’t say after reading this hub I feel like eating any chicken for awhile;
but great info well researched thanks for sharing my dog will be happy about
the info too!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 07, 2013:
Yes, those chicken treats from China are definitively scary! Thanks for
stopping by and commenting!
Jmillis2006 from North Carolina on February 07, 2013:
Great article, Chicken by prouduct is not something I would like to feed my
pet. another not to consider some dog chicken jerkey dog treats that are made
with chicken from china have been voluntarily recalled due to antibotic