The next ingredient in our ongoing series on Healthy Ingredients for Your Pet is chicken. Chicken can be found in MANY pet foods and treats for both cats and dogs.
What is a chicken?
Chicken is a type of poultry, a descendent of the red junglefowl, a member of the pheasant family and native to Asia. It is the most common type of poultry in the world. Americans alone consume over 8 billion chickens each year according to Purdue University.
Why would chicken be in pet food?
Chicken is by far the most common protein found in pet food, likely due to the economics around breeding, raising and farming chickens. If you read the ingredients in your pet’s food, you will likely see chicken, chicken meal, chicken by-product and possibly even meat and bone meal.
Chicken is a great protein for your pet. It’s low in fat, but high on the scale of “biological value” which measures a protein’s ability to supply amino acids, especially the 10 essentials, and to supply them in the appropriate proportions.
According to the Petnet pet food database which lists the ingredients for over 6,000 pet foods, approximately 70% of the foods contain some form of chicken and almost 30% contain chicken in their name.
When looking at the ingredients in your pet’s food, it’s best to look for named proteins such as chicken, beef or pork, rather than “poultry” or “meat”. Chicken meal is found in many foods and while it is a concentrated form of protein, it has been processed and shouldn’t be the sole source of protein for your pet. By-products are just what it says, offal, and organs, or other unspecified parts of the animal and are potentially low digestible ingredients that may come from a rendering process. (Organs are great sources of nutrition for a pet, but most companies use the term by-product when they are not sure of the specific ingredients in the by-product. This is the primary reason why by-products are not considered to be a quality pet food ingredient.)
Are there any risks to feeding your pet chicken?
There are no concerns with feeding your pet chicken with a few exceptions:
- Cooked chicken bones splinter easily and could get caught in your pet’s throat or even puncture their organs, so don’t feed them cooked chicken bones. Raw chicken is okay and there is little to worry about from salmonella due to their strong digestive enzymes. But if your pet is ill or otherwise immune-compromised you should NOT feed them raw chicken.
- Many pets develop allergies or sensitivities to chicken that may result in skin disorders or stomach upset. Some nutritionists think it might be due to the over abundance of chicken in their food that they eat day after day and they develop an intolerance to it. That’s one reason we suggest mixing up their foods and making sure they eat various proteins.
The earlobes of a chicken are an indicator to the color eggs they will produce: white earlobes = white eggs, red ear lobes = brown eggs.
There are an estimated 25 billion chickens in the world, making them at the top rung of the bird species.
Chickens are omnivores meaning they’ll eat seeds and insects but also larger prey like small mice and lizards.