Dogster is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

What Is Chicken By-Product in Dog Food? Facts & FAQ

Written by: Chelsie Fraser

Last Updated on July 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

man buying pet food

What Is Chicken By-Product in Dog Food? Facts & FAQ

Chicken is the most common first ingredient in dog food. But it’s often followed by “chicken meal,” “chicken by-product,” or “chicken by-product meal.” Veterinarians recommend that dog foods have these ingredients in their recipes, so they’re considered to be healthy. But what exactly is a chicken by-product? Chicken by-product is simply the part of the chicken that people don’t eat. Is it good for your dog? Or should you be avoiding it?

Dogster divider_v2_NEW_MAY_24_

AAFCO Ingredient Definitions

The Association of American Feed Control Officials, commonly known as AAFCO, carefully defines what the labels on dog food mean. Here is how AAFCO defines common chicken ingredients:

  • Chicken — A clean combination of skin and flesh with or without bone, derived from parts or whole chicken carcasses. Excludes heads, feet, feathers, and entrails.
  • Translation: Chicken meat, bones, and skin
  • Chicken Meal — Ground chicken or chicken that has been otherwise reduced in particle size.
  • Translation: Chicken meat, skin, and bones that are heat processed, dehydrated, and ground up into a fine powder.
  • Chicken By-Product Meal — Ground-up clean parts of the chicken carcass, including rendered parts like feet, necks, undeveloped eggs, and intestines. Excludes feathers, except when they are unavoidable through processing.
  • Translation: Heat processed, dehydrated, and ground-up organs, necks, and unborn chicken eggs.

Based on these definitions, it’s safe to conclude that chicken and chicken meal on an ingredient list are exactly the same thing! It’s just that the “meal” version is ground up. How the food is labeled is based on how the dog food company receives the ingredient. If the chicken comes as wet meat, they can label it as chicken. If it’s already been processed, they label it as chicken meal.

Chicken by-product and chicken by-product meal are also the same thing. One is in wet form, and one is processed and in dry form. This ingredient contains all parts of the chicken carcass.

dog eating dog food_cottonbro_Unsplash
Image By: Unsplash

Is Chicken By-Product Healthy for Dogs?

Let’s use chicken feet as an example. They are bones covered in muscle. Having bone in dog food is a good thing. It helps increase the levels of phosphorus and calcium. As far as quality goes, it makes no difference whether that bone comes from a foot, a wing, or a breast bone.

Nutrient-wise, chicken eggs, organs, and intestines are not only healthy for your dog, but they also taste good! Keep in mind that the intestines are required to be cleaned so they don’t transfer bacteria and fecal matter into your dog’s food.

Ingredient Quality

While chicken by-product aren’t cause for concern nutrition-wise, the quality of the ingredients can vary significantly between products. This is why the ingredient label often isn’t enough to help us determine if a dog food is “good.”

There are two ways of grading by-products in pet food:
  • Feed grade
  • Pet food grade

Pet food grade by-products are superior to feed grade because they are regulated to be higher in protein, easier to digest, and of consistent quality. Some dog food manufacturers are open about the grade of ingredients that they use, while others aren’t.

Why Does Dog Food Include By-Products?

The reason dog food manufacturers use chicken and other meat by-products in their food is that it’s cheaper than buying whole ingredients. By-products can’t be added to human-grade food, so they are left over after animals are slaughtered. Including these products in pet food reduces waste from the animal carcass, but it can also be bought at a lower price than whole meat because there is lower demand for it.

However, finding chicken by-product as an ingredient in your dog food doesn’t make it less healthy, and this shouldn’t be a reason not to buy a certain dog food.

french bulldog eating
Image Credit: Tienuskin, Shutterstock

Dogster divider_v2_NEW_MAY_24_


It is very hard to find a dog food that doesn’t include some sort of by-product or by-product meal in the ingredients list. Chicken by-product is simply the part of the chicken that people don’t eat. This ingredient is still nutritious for your dog, and using it in pet food reduces overall waste.

Featured Image Credit: LADO, Shutterstock

PangoVet Image Speak With A Vet Online

Get Dogster in your inbox!

Stay informed! Get tips and exclusive deals.
Dogster Editors Choice Badge
Shopping Cart


© Pangolia Pte. Ltd. All rights reserved.