Join Club

Healthy Paws: Pet Food Part II, Reading an Ingredient List

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

Last week we started a series of discussions on interpreting pet food labels, starting with the importance of the AAFCO statement, a simple statement indicating 1) whether the food is complete and balanced, 2) what type of pet the food is for and 3) for what life stages the food is suited for.

One of the next big items to address is the ingredient list… Just like ingredient lists of foods designed for human consumption, items on the ingredient list are listed from most to least, by weight.  Items at the top of the list (major ingredients) should be clearly recognizable by name, while items towards the end of the list (minor ingredients) may include vitamins and minerals or preservatives and stabilizers and, as such, may have less commonly-identifiable names.

AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) set definitions for just what makes up these major ingredients, which are classified as either raw or rendered.  Despite the “raw” label, even raw products are cooked during the manufacturing process to destroy any harmful bacteria, while “rendered” products are cooked and then heated in order to remove most moisture and fat, leaving behind protein and minerals, which are then ground into a uniform size.  

An important side note here — truly raw diets cannot typically achieve AAFCO certification, but there are a few companies out there that have gone the extra step to ensure that they still meet the AAFCO guidelines for being nutritionally complete and balanced. However, we do not typically recommend feeding your pet a truly raw diet for public & patient health reasons. A great article on this topic from a veterinary nutritionist can be found here.


  • cooked during manufacturing process to kill harmful bacteria


  • skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, esophagus, with or without overlying sinew, nerve tissue, and fat
  • “meat” may be from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats
  • if from another species (i.e. venison, bison) must be specifically identified

Meat Byproducts

  • clean parts other than meat – i.e. lungs, spleen, liver, brain, kidneys, blood, bone, stomach and intestines freed of their contents, lungs
  • if from another species (i.e. venison, bison) must be specifically identified


  • flesh and skin, +/- bone, excluding feathers, head, feet, and entrails
  • may include the bone when ground (may be called deboned poultry if bone is removed)

Poultry Byproducts

  • heads, feet, cleaned  viscera, “giblets” (heart, gizzard, liver)


  • cooked and heated in order to remove most moisture and fat, leaving primarily protein and minerals, then ground into a uniform size (aka – ‘meal”)

Meat Meal

  • “mammalian tissues, excluding added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents…”
  • may be from animals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without indicating which species
  • must meet certain minimum requirements for crude protein, fat, fiber, phosphorous, and calcium

Meat and Bone Meal

  • Similar to meat meal, but can include bone in addition to whole carcasses
  • Also has minimum requirements for crude protein, fat, fiber, phosphorous, and calcium

Animal Byproduct Meal

  • definition designed to cover individual rendered animal tissues that do not meet the criteria set forth elsewhere
  • “may include whole carcasses, but often includes byproducts in excess of what would normally be found in meat meal and meat & bone meal”

Poultry Byproduct Meal

  • clean parts of the carcass such as necks, feet, eggs, intestines (excludes feathers)
  • Also has minimum requirements for crude protein, fat, fiber, phosphorous, and calcium
  • Similar to poultry byproducts, except in rendered form

Poultry Meal

  • Similar to poultry, but in rendered form
    • flesh and skin, +/- bone, excluding feathers, head, feet, and entrails

So, as you can see, some definitions/classifications that commonly get a bad rap — i.e. “byproducts” — are actually some of the most nutrient-rich portions of an animal. In fact, these are often the tissues an animal in the wild would go for first — liver, spleen, kidneys — as they tend to be much more nutrient dense than skeletal muscle.  Thus, it is important to keep an open mind when coming across the term “byproducts.”

Visit AAFCO and FDA for further information about food labels and ingredients.  

Have a question about animal nutrition? Clarendon Animal Care wants to help! Submit your question to and use “ARLnow” in the subject line. Look out for the answer in an upcoming column.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Recent Stories

New properties just listed in Arlington include a 3 BD/3 BA home with an expanded kitchen, fireplace and two lower levels.

A mini-baby boom could deliver Arlington Public Schools a slight enrollment bump through 2033, according to the latest 10-year projections. The report says live births are predicted to increase by…

Rustico is closing its doors in Ballston. The craft-beer-centric restaurant serving “artisan pizza” and “creative American cuisine” at 4075 Wilson Blvd plans to welcome its last customers on Sunday, March…

A church that used to meet in school auditoriums is now hosting big acts in contemporary Christian music in its new digs in Ballston Quarter mall.

Early Years Preschool is a small non-profit preschool and parents day out program that has served local families since 1992. Early Years Preschool is located in the Cherrydale neighborhood at 3701 Lorcom Lane.

Early Years Preschool offers part-time programs for young children between 12 months – 5 years old. Early Years also offers a 6 week summer program! The school day is 9:30-2:30, with the option of morning extended day offered at 9am. Families have the flexibility of registering for 1-3 days/week in their parent’s day out program (12 months- 2 year olds) and 2-5 days/week for their preschool program (3-5 year olds).

Early Years’ teachers provide a nurturing environment that promotes the development of a child’s emotional, social, cognitive, and physical skills. Creative and stimulating theme-based activities allow each child to develop and learn at his or her own pace through exploration and play.

Learn more about Early Years Preschool by contacting the admissions team at [email protected] or by visiting their website at

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Dreaming of small-town charm with big-city convenience? Look no further than 7156 Main St in Clifton, Virginia! Nestled just 30 miles from the heart of Washington D.C., this picturesque property offers the best of both worlds.

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city to find tranquility in this quaint, historic town. With its tree-lined streets and friendly community atmosphere, Clifton is the perfect place to call home. Yet, with its close proximity to the nation’s capital, you’ll never be far from the excitement and opportunities of urban living.

Imagine weekends exploring local shops, dining at charming cafes, and enjoying outdoor adventures in nearby parks. Then, commute to D.C. for work or play, soaking in all the culture, entertainment, and career opportunities the city has to offer.

Don’t miss your chance to own a piece of this idyllic lifestyle. Schedule a tour of 7156 Main St today and experience the best of small-town living near a big city!

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Renegade Mode

Having worked with the likes of Gary Numan, DJ Neidermeyer lends authenticity a go-go. Enough to satisfy even the purists.

The Renegade boasts all of the virtues of Arlington’s premier music venues while providing bar bites that rival most restaurants

Self-led Decision Making – An IFS Approach

Whenever we feel indecisive, it’s usually because different parts of ourselves see things differently and are motivated by different priorities and concerns. In fact, it’s usually the friction between these different “camps” that makes us feel stuck.

We can mediate


Subscribe to our mailing list