More and more sources recommend avoiding meat byproducts in our pets’ food. They say we should check whether meat is the first ingredient and avoid grain and meat byproducts on the label. But is this true? Let’s talk about what byproducts are, whether byproducts are bad and whether you should avoid byproducts in your cat’s food.
To avoid confusion, let’s first make this clear: Cat food must contain byproducts, but you should avoid unidentified meat byproducts in cat food.
Why? Because unidentified meat byproducts can consist of many things, both good and bad.
So, what are meat byproducts? Meat byproducts are any products of animal origin that are not meat. Those include livers, hearts, bones, skin and necks, as well as bladders, stomachs, intestines and more. Literally, if you slaughter an animal, everything that is not plain meat is a byproduct. Therefore, “meat byproduct” shouldn’t be treated as a bad term, as it is today.
Meat byproducts are neither bad nor good. They just are.
If you look at how cats eat in the wild, you’ll know they consume their prey whole. That includes bones, skin, feathers, intestines, kidneys and even stomach contents. Leftovers are rare. Therefore, cats need not only meat, but byproducts too. (By the way, feeding your cat meat only is as bad as not feeding it meat at all.)
However, we would certainly advise you to avoid unidentified byproducts. For example, if you buy a commercial cat food containing chicken, you would certainly want chicken hearts, liver, bones and skin in it.
It’s not even about figuring out which ingredients cats do or don’t need. Many things that cats need are thought to be gross by humans. The point is, if the package does not identify byproducts, you don’t know what you’re feeding your cat. It could be heart; it could be bladder or a crippled limb. It may also be roadkill or expired products from a grocery store. It could also be a ground material mixed from almost anything.
Think about it this way. If you owned a pet food company, and you put chicken hearts into your product, would you write “meat byproducts” on the label? We bet you wouldn’t. We bet you’d clearly state “chicken hearts.” So, why would you believe “meat byproducts” indicates something good? It probably doesn’t.
The second thing here is, even though byproducts are not as bad as they say, a package should still list “meat” as the first ingredient. Did you know pet food manufacturers are obligated to list ingredients on the package in order of the amount of each ingredient?
This means that if the package lists grain or meat byproducts first on the label, it consists mainly of those, which is not good. Meat still has to be the primary ingredient. We’d prefer food that lists “meat” as the first ingredient and “meat byproducts” as the second one, but keep in mind, manufacturers can twist and bend their labels, so the mat “appears” the main ingredient, but really isn’t. And, of course, it’s better that the package identifies both meat and meat byproducts, clearly stating which animals – and which parts of the animals – are used. See more tips about choosing good cat food.
So, to sum up: Meat byproducts should not be avoided in your cat’s food. But you should avoid unidentified meat byproducts as well as unidentified meat. Trust us, if the manufacturer puts something good into the package, it will gladly list exactly what that ingredient is. If it says just “meat and meat byproducts,” you are right to be suspicious.