Offal and meat by-products: what and how to use?

Offal and meat by-products

The first theme of this course is about appropriate foods for dogs and cats, so in this article let’s go into detail on how to feed and handle offal.

The most common forms of offal fed to dogs and cats are the internal organs, but trachea, poultry necks, beef tails and bones can also be used.

The internal organs that are commonly used are the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and stomach.

Internal organs contain walls built from connective tissue, the function of which is to keep the form and integrity of the organs, and their location in the body. These connective tissue elements are less digestible for dogs and cats, and in large amounts can cause digestive disturbances.

The heart is a muscle organ, and there is almost no connective tissue elements, therefore heart (beef or poultry) can be considered as a muscle meat, and there are limiting factors for usage as a protein source.

Liver contains more connective tissue elements, but its main mass is built of liver cells which have a large nutritional and flavouring value. The only one limit that we should keep in mind when including liver in the diet, is its high vitamin A content. For every diet, a veterinary nutritionist can evaluate how much liver (and from what animal) it can be used in every individual case.

Kidneys, poultry or beef stomachs contain a lot of dense tissues, which can cause a problem: in individual cases offal that has not been fully digested comes to the large intestine, where it will be used by protein-feeding microbiota. This fermentation process can give some products that can act as an irritant in the gut, causing diarrhoea or gas formation. The fermentation rate can vary; that’s why we recommend in practical conditions to check the individual tolerance. It is better, to use such compounds, beginning from low amounts and increasing them gradually, evaluating the stool quality of the pet at every step. If the stool quality gets worse, or there is diarrhoea or gas, take a pause in feeding these compounds and then reduce them in the future diet to the amounts that were well tolerated.

The same rule goes for tendons, treats from them, cartilage and other non-meat compounds of the diet.

Extra attention has to be paid to poultry necks and beef trachea. Raw or dried, they can contain the parts of active thyroid gland tissue with active hormones. These hormones can change the thyroid hormone status of the pet animal, because these hormones have similar chemical properties in many animal species. It is difficult, to remove these parts from beef tracheas, and therefore it is better to use them only rarely as a treat.

But it is easier with the rest of thyroid gland from poultry necks – by removing the skin the gland will also be removed. By doing this you can use poultry neck often, even daily, but always without the skin.

If bones are needed in a diet (which is not necessary), please use only soft bones, and not the tube, or brittle bones. And, despite hygiene risks, it is recommended to use them raw. Cooking changes the structure of bones, making them dense and brittle, so, cooked bones have a higher risk for gut obstruction. Many owners grind bones in powerful mincers and mix them with meat compounds – this can reduce the traumatic and obstruction risks.