Is the Quality of Meat in Pet Food Improving?


Dogs thrive when they get their nutrition from meat. Therefore, the quality of the meat in your dog food will determine the quality of his whole diet.

“In 1983, the Hills company, a large pet food producer, waged an advertising campaign to show how much better its brand was than the competition. To help make its point, it created an ad that showed how you could produce a blend of shoe soles, coal, and crankcase oil that would meet AAFCO’s minimum requirements for protein, fiber, fat, and other nutrients.”2


What kind of meat is in your dog food?

More importantly, do you know where that meat came from? And is it nutritious, or safe, for your dog?

When Ann Martin found the answer to these questions, she wrote about it in her book Food Pets Die For. The information she came across is very interesting, but also very concerning.

(Warning: Some descriptions and definitions of the ingredients discussed in this article are graphic and may be offensive.)


What are 4-D Meats?

In the book The Nature of Animal Healing Dr. Martin Goldstein writes of Ann Martin’s discoveries, saying:

“… “4-D” meat: meat from dead animals, dying animals, and diseased and disabled animals. (To that I add a fifth D for “drugged.”) These 4-D carcasses may have cancerous tumors, worm-infested organs, and the like—basically, anything and everything goes in the pot. Worse, Martin found, rendering plants happily accept roadkill, dead zoo animals, and, most appallingly, euthanized pets from animal shelters and veterinary clinics.”2

Included with the animal carcasses in the rendering step are cattle ear tags with fly repellants, pet collars and ID tags, and packaging (plastic, foam, boxes) from expired grocery store meat.

Dr. Goldstein goes on to tell of Martin’s experience delving into the research of these meat sources. Ann Martin sent a questionnaire to all fifty United States, asking if euthanized pets are allowed in livestock and pet feed. Twenty states said there were no laws against such use, and the other thirty didn’t reply.

Martin also talked with several Veterinarians about the pets they euthanized, most of which had no idea that euthanized pets could end up at a rendering plant. Those Veterinarians responsibly changed what was going to happen to pets euthanized through their services.

The Los Angeles Times told a story of two circus elephants that developed tuberculosis.

“Workers used a forklift to put the animal’s body on a truck for transport to the San Bernardino State Diagnostic Lab. A necropsy showed that 80 percent of Joyce’s lung tissue was infected either with cancer or tuberculosis. The body was taken to a rendering factory to be processed into animal food.”2

Euthanized pets and sick zoo animals for dog food. Are you wondering what’s in your bag of dog food yet?


Rendering Plants – An Eye Witness

Ever wondered what it looks like inside a rendering plant?

The rendering plant is the first step of processing before the meat gets to the pet food manufacturing plant. They produce meat meals and by-products.

Jerry was a certified pest control operator, who serviced meat packing plants, feed mills, and pet food plants. After one particularly concerning experience at a pet food plant, though not an unusual occurrence he said, he wrote an alert to pet owners.

According to Jerry, the manufacturing plant is unsanitary with a massive rat infestation and is the dumping ground for all kinds of dead animals that are in no way suitable for human consumption.

You can find his full story here:

Questionable rendering practices are one reason to find out where your pet food manufacturer gets their meat.


Feed Grade Meats

4-D meats cannot be “food” by law and are instead “feed” ingredients. Any human edible meats that are part of the product are also ‘feed grade.’

All the ingredient definitions below are feed grade and could be “ingredients suitable for human consumption” or “condemned animal material, recycled waste, inferior and illegal ingredients”.5

Feed grade ingredients do not have to be USDA inspected or approved, do not have to be from animals purposely slaughtered for obtaining meat, and do not have to be preserved with natural preservatives.

However, feed grade ingredients can come from dead, dying, diseased, disabled, and drugged animals. The animals may have been purposely slaughtered or not, roadkill, euthanized pets and zoo animals, grocery store waste, or meat condemned as unsuitable for human consumption by adulteration. Feed grade ingredients contain chemicals with known risks, such as the preservatives Ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT.

Some manufacturers commit to use only human grade meat sources. However, if they produce a “feed” instead of a “food” by the inclusion of any one ingredient in their manufacturing plant, the human grade meat becomes condemned as feed grade upon arrival at the manufacturer’s facility.

Do you know the difference? Are You Feeding Your Dog “Feed” or “Food”?


Understanding Meat Ingredient Names

How will you know if your pet food includes any offensive meat sources?

Though the Pet Food Industry would rather you not know, they leave a few clues for the inquisitive pet owner sleuths.

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate the definitions of pet feed ingredients.

Let’s review some definitions to find which meat ingredients will be quality sources of nutrition, and which ones will not.

(Pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton provides the below AAFCO/FDA definitions. The original descriptions can be found here at her blog:


Animal By-Product Meal –

This rendered ingredient can include slaughtered or non-slaughtered (4-D) animal carcasses, or any other part of the animal, such as hide, hoof, and intestines (not required to be cleaned of fecal content) of any animal species. When the ingredient has only one animal source, the species is on the ingredient list such as Beef By-Product Meal. When there are multiple animal sources, the generic name Animal By-Product Meal will be on the list.

Animal Digest –

Animal Digest can be sourced from any species, whether slaughtered or not, and cannot include hair, horn, and hooves. This ingredient may also come from partially processed animals. It may appear on the ingredient list with a species name, or with the generic name.

Animal Fat –

Derived from rendering (cooking) any slaughtered or non-slaughtered (4-D) animal to separate the fat from the protein. Animal Fat can come from any species. It may be on the list with a specific species name, or generically.

Fish Meal –

This definition does not restrict any fish species from being used to make Fish Meal. In this ingredient, the fish is dried before reaching the pet food manufacturer (and there are no requirements on how the product must be dried). A fish meal may contain fish cuttings, whole fish, or both. When the fish meal has only one species, a specific name is on the ingredient list, as Menhaden Fish Meal. When a fish meal contains more than one species, it will have a generic name, like Fish Meal.

Liver –  

The liver organ from an animal slaughtered or from 4-D sources. Can be listed generically or with the species name, i.e., Chicken liver.

Meat –

Flesh from slaughtered animals, should not include bone but can consist of parts not considered human food, i.e., tongue, heart, etc. Labeled by species on the ingredient list.

Meat By-Products –

 A non-meat product (meaning no muscle meat), this could include lungs, stomach, and intestines (required to be cleaned) from slaughtered animals. Meat by-products may be labeled generically and contain a combination of species or may specify a species: Pork By-Products.

Meat Meal –

Rendered (cooked before reaching the pet food manufacturer) slaughtered animal tissues, including non-tissue material like bones, hooves and hide, horn and intestines (including feces). Meat meal can be on the ingredient list generically, meat meal, or by species: Beef meal.

Meat and Bone Meal –

This ingredient is any part of a slaughtered or 4-D animal, including horns, hooves, hide and intestines (with fecal content). Any species is allowable, and the product is rendered before reaching the pet food manufacturer. The ingredient will be in the list either with a specific species, i.e., Lamb and bone meal, or when combining species as ‘meat and bone meal.’

Poultry –  

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, can include flesh, skin, and bones. In fact, this product may be of a majority of skin and bones, with little to no meat. It should not include feathers, heads, feet or intestines. Poultry should be on the ingredient list by species.

Poultry By-Products –

The leftovers of the previous ingredient, Poultry; Poultry By-Products can include the feathers, head, feet, and intestines. Poultry By-Products may also be whole carcasses, and come from slaughtered or 4-D animals. When this ingredient contains a combination of species, you will find the generic name “Poultry By-Products” on the list. When the label says ‘Chicken By-Products’ the ingredient should not contain any other species.

Poultry By-Product Meal –

A rendered version of the previous ingredient that may also include feathers, heads, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines or whole carcasses from slaughtered or 4-D animals. You may see it on the label as species-specific, i.e., Turkey by-product meal; or generically as: Poultry By-Product Meal.

Poultry Meal –

Poultry meal is rendered and includes a combination of flesh, skin, and bones of slaughtered poultry. Even if made of mostly skin and bones with little to no meat it is still considered Poultry meal. It should not contain feathers, heads, feet, or intestines. Poultry meal can be on the list generically or by species, i.e., Chicken meal.


Too Much Information? Let’s sum up.

AAFCO and the FDA allow meat from dead, dying, diseased, disabled and drugged (including the euthanasia drug, antibiotics, and growth hormones) animals to become food for our dogs. Their definitions of these ingredients do not comply with the laws for human-edible meat. These ingredients do not have to be under continuously inspection and approval by the USDA like human food.

This video, by Susan Thixton of, sums up the confusion well:

Conclusion – What You Can Do:

Knowing the quality of the meat in your dog food can mean a lot of difference in what your dog eats. He may be eating as good as you are, or he may be at risk of eating food contaminated with spoiled meat, rancid fats, toxic preservatives and the euthanasia drug, pentobarbital.

It’s important to take a little time to evaluate the quality of the food your companion is eating. It may determine the length of your dog’s life.

Here’s how you can do that.


Read the Ingredient List

Check out the names of those meats on the ingredient list. Are they generic, containing multiple unknown species? Are they species-specific such as “Lamb meal” or “Chicken liver”? Choose to avoid generically named meat sources that may include undesirable ingredients.

Look for dog food brands that use “human grade” meats, which contain much more specific meat ingredients.

Learn how to decode your dog food package!


Check Out the Manufacturer

Find out where the pet food manufacturer gets their meats, and where product manufacturing takes place (pet foods from China have a historically poor safety record). If you are looking for a dog food made in America, find out if their ingredient sources and manufacturing processing is in America.

Contact your manufacturer and ask if their pet food uses meat that is under USDA inspect and has USDA approval for human consumption. Ask if meat ingredients comply with all the same laws that apply to human food.

Need to learn more about manufacturers? Start reading here: Check Out the Manufacturer.


Take the Matter into Your Own Hands

Get your hands dirty in the kitchen!

Cooking for your dog might sound crazy or complicated, but it’s well worth the effort. It gives you the control over what the ingredients are in your dog’s diet and the quality of those ingredients.

Here are some of the dog food cookbooks and canine nutrition books we recommend:

Resources for Homemade Dog Food


Don’t settle for the unknown risks in your companion’s food. Keep striving for a healthy, Satisfied Dog!


      –   Cassy Kay



1 E, Jerry. “Pet Food and Rendering Plants” Mar. 8, 2009. Web. Accessed Dec. 16, 2017.

2Goldstein, Martin D.V.M. The Nature of Animal Healing. Toronto, Canada: Random House, Inc. 1999. Print. Chapter Three: It All Starts with Food. Pgs. 49-50.

3 Thixton, Susan. “What Consumers Are Not Told About Pet Food Ingredients” Dec. 11, 2017. Web. Accessed Dec. 14, 2017.

4 Thixton, Susan. Pet Food Regulations & Ingredient Definitions.pdf.

5 Thixton, Susan. Video: 




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