Byproducts in pet food add missing nutrients

Q: I heard that byproducts are bad for pets, so I want to buy cat food that is free of them. What brands do you recommend?

A: Actually, byproducts are full of nutrients, and it would be unwise to forgo them.

A byproduct is something produced or left over when something else is made. In the United States, most people who eat meat consume only the animal's skeletal muscle, so its liver, pancreas, stomach, spleen, kidneys, lungs, intestines (excluding the partially digested food inside), blood and bones are byproducts.

These body parts contain abundant taurine, an important amino acid for cats, while skeletal muscle contains very little. Amino acids are the chief constituents of proteins, the building blocks of the body. Cats deprived of taurine suffer from heart failure due to cardiomyopathy and blindness from retinal degeneration.

Organ meats are also rich in protein as well as vitamins and minerals, which are lacking in skeletal muscle.

Some foods we Americans consider unappetizing byproducts are enjoyed by people in other countries. For example, I am of Scottish ancestry, and when I visited Scotland, I dined on haggis, the country's national dish. Haggis is sheep's stomach filled with the animal's heart, lungs and liver, as well as oatmeal, onions and spices.

Another common pet food ingredient is brewer's yeast, a byproduct of beer production. Brewer's yeast is rich in B vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

Vitamin E is a byproduct of soybean processing. Other useful byproducts are wheat germ, bran, molasses, tomato pomace, whey and fat.

Human meals also contain byproducts. You probably eat gelatin, bouillon and broth, all of which are meat byproducts.

You'll be relieved to know that U.S. pet food regulations prohibit the use of hides, hooves, horns, teeth, hair, feathers and intestinal contents in pet foods.

Outdoor cats eat almost everything but their prey's fur, consuming the organs first because they taste so good. Not surprisingly, some pet food companies charge a premium for "whole prey diets" which contain, you guessed it, byproducts.

I hope it's clear that reputable pet food manufacturers add byproducts because of the important nutrients they provide.

Q: Our children are pestering us to adopt a dog. If we do, how do we prevent the dog from biting them?

A: Most shelters and rescue organizations place for adoption only friendly dogs with no history of aggression. Adopt from one of these rather than answering a classified ad.

If your new dog isn't already sterilized, have the surgery done immediately. Aggression is much less common in neutered dogs.

Dogs that are socialized and trained rarely bite. So, socialize your new family member with other dogs and a variety of people. Join a group obedience training class that uses praise, treats and other rewards to teach basic behaviors such as walking quietly beside you even when other dogs and people are around to cause distractions.

Most dog-bite victims are children, usually boys between the ages of 5 and 9. Typically these kids are bitten on the face, neck or head while provoking a dog they know. So, always supervise children, including your own, around your dog.

Don't let them disturb the dog during mealtimes or nap times. Be sure your dog has a safe, quiet retreat, such as a crate or your bedroom, that the children know is off-limits to them.

Protect your dog from situations that might feel threatening by telling your children and their friends not to scream around the dog or play chase. Teach them not to play tug-of-war and other rough games with dogs.

Finally, take your dog to the veterinarian for regular exams and whenever you are concerned about a problem, as illness and discomfort can make a dog irritable.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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