Pet Food Ingredients

It’s All Chicken to Pet Food

What kind of chicken is in your pet food?  Emulsified chicken parts?  DOA’s?  Condemned?  Straight from the mouth of a pet food ingredient supplier – the truth about pet food chicken.

The (AAFCO) official definition of chicken is “the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails.  It shall be suitable for use in animal food.”  (The same definition applies to any poultry.)

And the (AAFCO) official definition of chicken by-product is “must consist of non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice.”

(Note that the legal definition of ‘chicken by-products’ requires the ingredient to be sourced from “slaughtered poultry” – but ‘chicken’ does not have that same requirement.  In other words, ‘chicken’ in pet food is allowed to be sourced from non-slaughtered poultry such as dead, dying, diseased, or disabled poultry – known as 4D – rejected for use in human food.)

When you read the above definitions, you’d assume the chicken or chicken by-product ingredients that are included in pet foods would all be similar.  Right?  Wrong.

Before you read what is actually sold to pet food manufacturers as a chicken ingredient, please think about what you understand ‘chicken’ to mean as an ingredient in a food.  Any food.  Define chicken (as a food, not the animal).  Does chicken imply meat?  Does chicken imply the whole bird or does your definition include parts of the bird?

Tyson is one of the largest suppliers of chicken in the world.  Tyson also sells chicken to pet food manufacturers.  Per the Tyson Animal Nutrition pdf titled “Wet Pet Food Ingredients” we find the following products offered for sale…

(bold added)…
“Product 9819 Chicken mix is a fresh non-rendered chicken product, composed of breast shells, necks, and other chicken parts, excluding heads, feet, and viscera, chilled for shipment in insulated tankers.”
(This ingredient could be listed as ‘chicken’ on a pet food label.)

“Product 9842 Whole ground chicken, primarily frames.”
(This ingredient could be listed as ‘chicken’ or even ‘whole chicken’ on a pet food label.)



“Product 15777 Frozen pet-grade mechanically separated chicken.”
(Recent Tyson recall of this mechanically separated chicken, read Here)
(This ingredient could be listed as ‘chicken’ on a pet food label.)

“Product 9903 Natural blend proportions of decharacterized ground chicken heads, feet, viscera, and ground mixture of condemned chicken parts chilled for shipment in tanker trailer.”

(This ingredient could be listed as chicken by-products on a pet food label.)

“Product 6027 Chicken parts, including heads, feet, lungs, viscera and dead birds (DOAs).”
(This ingredient does not fit into the legal guidelines of either chicken or chicken by-product.  Yet it is still offered for sale to pet food.  It would be left to the pet food manufacturer’s discretion to what ingredient name would be listed on the pet food label.  In other words ‘chicken’ or ‘chicken by-product’ could be listed on the label and it could include DOA birds.)

How fair is this?  How would it make you feel if you were purchasing a pet food that was made with “Product 6027” above – the one that includes DOA birds?  How would it make you feel if your pet food label stated ‘whole chicken’ and you learned it was made with “Product 9842” – the “whole chicken, primarily frames” ingredient?  You would be buying chicken bones – not meat…how happy would you be with your pet food?

So what if a pet food manufacturer is responsible and chooses to include USDA inspected and approved chicken meat (and only meat) in their pet food?  What is listed on the label of those pet foods?  The answer:  ‘chicken’.

‘Chicken’ listed on a pet food label could be chicken bones, DOA birds, or USDA inspected and approved chicken meat.  By looking at the ingredient list – no matter how closely you read it – there is no way a pet food consumer can tell which ‘chicken’ they are actually purchasing.  And by all means – do not depend on the images on the front of the bag/can or even marketing terms such as ‘real chicken’.  Chicken meat could be displayed on the label and yet chicken bones could be inside the bag or can.

Call your pet food manufacturer and ask 1) if all meat (and vegetable) ingredients are USDA inspected and approved; 2) what cuts of chicken or beef or lamb (and so on) are used.  The same questions apply to meat meal ingredients (such as chicken meal).  You deserve to know what you are buying.

Also – this is part of our Pledge to Quality and Origin effort.  The consumer deserves to know what quality of ingredients they are purchasing.  Companies that have provided us their Pledge agree – and have provided sworn statements to the quality of their ingredients.

By the way, for any of you out there that have stubborn friends and family that just can’t believe a pet food could ever be made from condemned meats or DOA animals…print out that Tyson Pet Food ingredient list and hand it to them. It might just make them a believer.


Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author Buyer Beware, Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
Association for Truth in Pet Food

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January 31, 2014

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15 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “It’s All Chicken to Pet Food”

  1. Judy says:

    Concerning 9903, I don’t think DOA birds or condemned birds could be listed as “by-products”, as by-products must be from slaughtered birds in order to be legal according to FDA definition.
    DOAs and condemned birds would be listed as “chicken” by their definition.

    People are afraid to feed chicken by-products, when actually, they are safer to feed than “chicken”, because of the definition. There would be a higher level of safety in a slaughtered chicken, rather than one that had died on it’s own or had been condemned. I suppose they could hurry up and slaughter the sick ones in order to meet the definition. You just never know!
    Meat by-products can be anything. If you trust your food company at all, you have to trust that they will use top quality chicken by-products.

  2. Ann says:

    Susan, Thank you for this important info. Question – Does this apply only to chicken or can this also be used for lamb, beef, etc as in ” 2) what cuts of chicken or beef or lamb (and so on) are used. The same questions apply to meat meal ingredients (such as chicken meal).”
    I no longer buy chicken for myself or my pets, but am I still risking DOA or condemned parts in the other meats that I buy? Thanks, ann

    • Susan Thixton says:

      It applies to any meat product in pet foods – regardless of the type of animal protein (chicken, beef,…) and regardless if it is a ‘meat’ ingredient or ‘meal’ ingredient. This is not human food – only pet food.

  3. Lisa Driscoll says:

    Boneless chicken*, chicken meal, turkey meal, boneless turkey*, chicken fat

    These are the ingredients listed on my pets food. Is the “boneless chicken” and “chicken meal” listing something I should worry about now?

    Thanks – as always- Sue for your opinion!!

    • Susan Thixton says:

      We have to ask them – always. Don’t worry unless the manufacturer will not confirm that meats or meat meals are sourced from USDA inspected and approved meats. And take note of how they respond. Some will answer ‘Oh yes, we source our meats from USDA inspected and approved facilities’. But that’s not what you need to know. You want to know if the meats in the pet foods are inspected and approved (specifically).

  4. cali says:

    Yes this article is very disturbing. I don’t know what companies to trust anymore. How can one even trust what they “tell” us, this food situation is very troubling.

  5. Peter says:

    Well, I honestly don’t think you can “trust” most pet food manufacturers at all, and you really cannot get information from them that is meaningful, even if you put forth effort to ask them. If you call, company reps are commonly poorly trained and under-informed. Typically, they respond from playbooks with carefully worded prepared (generic) responses. You may well detect the pause as they “look up” the answer you are destined to receive. If your question does not “fit” one of these standard answers, you’ll stump them. And often, the standard answers are not correct (such as claims that ingredients are US sourced, when we know that virtually all bulk vitamins come from China).

  6. Regina says:

    I haven’t bought myself anything from Tyson in years. So I’m sure as hell not gonna feed it to my children!

  7. Jaimee says:

    So when I look at Blue ingredients the listing shows “deboned _____ chicken, duck, beef, bison, salmon, rabbit, etc…What is the definition of “deboned (protein)” on dog / cat food ingredient listings. It says it meets AAFCO, but again, what is a published definition of this. Thx

    • Susan Thixton says:

      Deboned meat isn’t specifically defined in the AAFCO Official Publication. Deboned is a descriptive ‘feed term’ defined as “The flesh resulting from removal of bones from accompanying flesh by mechanical deboning.” Meat is defined as “the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed. If it bears name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

  8. Jaimee says:

    Improved and more specific standards need to be created by AAFCO for pet food. Afterall, Nugget slush (all parts) vs whole muscle protein slush is a big difference. Am I buying slush or whole muscle protein????

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Susan Thixton's author is a founding partner of the international pet food consumer association - Association for Truth in Pet Food. Through our consumer association, Susan has advisory position to AAFCO's Pet Food Committee and Ingredient Definitions Committee.