Understanding by-products in cat and dog food

By-products in cat and dog food can provide important nutrients for your pet. Learn how by-products in nutritionally balanced pet food can benefit your cat or dog.
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What are by-products in cat and dog food?

The term “by-products” is used to describe an ingredient which is produced in parallel to another. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines by-products as “secondary products produced in addition to the principal product.”1 These can be both plant or animal based, and range from corn meal and beet pulp to organs, fish oils, and poultry proteins can include organ meat.

When raw materials are processed the result is a primary product designed for human consumption, and secondary products usually intended for animal consumption. This delineation of raw materials is a common practice.

This doesn’t mean byproducts are unsafe or lack nutrition—they just aren’t part of the original primary products.

What is the nutritional value of by-products?

Many assume that cats and dogs will enjoy chicken breast or prime cuts of steak in the same way we do, but the ingredients that appeal the most to humans aren't always the most nutritious for pets.

By-products can provide many high-quality nutrients that are essential to maintaining the health of cats and dogs. For example, liver can provide iron, B vitamins (especially B12) and vitamin A. These nutrients support the healthy maintenance of the nervous system, skin, growth, red blood cell formation, and vision. By-products can also contain glucosamine, which can support for mobility and joints in cats and dogs.

These are not the only nutrients to be taken from by-products. Many can provide key nutrients such as protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins, which play a vital role in the continued development of organs and muscle tissue, supporting the immune system, and supplying energy.

Build muscle Support immune system Supply energy

Cats and dogs require a balance of precise nutrients based on specific amounts of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fats, among others. To ensure cats and dogs are getting a complete diet, tailored to their needs, it’s vital that we focus not on the perception of an ingredient, but instead on the specific nutrients each ingredient is able to provide.

Understanding by-products on pet food labels

The by-products that Royal Canin incorporates into pet food can undergo a process of cooking, grinding, separating, and drying. Removing the moisture in this way enables us to create a much more concentrated and digestible source of protein.

In comparison to fresh meat, which can contain up to 85% water and only 10–30% protein. When water is removed in dehydrated meat, it provides a much more concentrated sour of protein. 1 kilogram fresh poultry will provide approximately 250 grams of nutrients compared to 1 kilogram of dehydrated poultry protein (chicken meal in North America), with much lower water content, which provides a massive 940 grams of nutrients.


Protein Fat Moisture Protein Fat Moisture Fresh meat Dehydrated meat

According to current pet food legislation, each ingredient in a pet food must be listed on the package based on weight before cooking in descending order. This means that fresh “meat” will naturally receive a high position on the ingredients list. This might give the impression that “fresh meat” is the primary source of the nutritional content of the pet food. However, this may not be the case.

The nutritional profile is provided by the entire diet, and not just the first ingredient listed on the pet food label. At Royal Canin, every single ingredient listed on our packaging is included for a specific purpose, determined by the high-quality nutrients they provide for cats and dogs.

Our nutrient-led approach allows us to precisely combine by-products and other raw materials to deliver a nutritional profile tailored to the breed, the age, or even any potential health conditions of your cat or dog.

If you are ever uncertain about ingredients in your pet food, or would like to know more about how a cat or dog’s diets should be tailored to address their unique needs, speak to your veterinarian.


1 http://talkspetfood.aafco.org/byproducts

2 Nutritional Truths Handbook 2018

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Royal Canin’s approach to nutrition

At Royal Canin, we focus our efforts on understanding the unique needs of cats and dogs. Everything we do is designed to create precise nutritional formulas tailored to support their continued health and wellbeing. Find out more about our scientific approach to pet nutrition.
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