Long ago, the ancestors of today’s pet cats and dogs thrived as predators. To achieve the full spectrum of nutrition that they needed, they were inclined to eat most of their prey. With domestication, their diet evolved to commercial pet food that can lack specific components that were present in the natural diet of their ancestors.
What is offal?
Offal literally means “fall off”. It refers to any organ that falls off from the carcass during the process of butchering. It includes the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, feet, brain, spinal cord, tongue, tripe, ovaries, testicles, etc.
Offal or organ meats are often viewed as inferior ingredients for pet food. This can be attributed to the fact that the organ meats that are used in pet food are of inferior quality and are often used as fillers to bloat the percentage value of meat on the ingredient list. But animal offal are viable sources of essential nutrients to pets in natural proportions (which is a bonus!). Organ meats are often considered as the nutritional powerhouse of prey animals.
If your pet is on a raw food diet, offal is a good substitute if you have no easy access to affordable meat. Your local butcher is a cheaper source of offal which can provide your pet’s needs with valuable nutrients. More often than not, offals are discarded in many abattoirs.
Offal feeding in raw diets
Offal is an important source of protein and other nutrients in a raw food diet, even in a raw freeze-dried diet. Unfortunately, many people consider organ meats as waste and unsafe for pets. Nutrient-rich offals are even considered taboo in some cultures. But if you are armed with appropriate knowledge coupled with proper handling and preparation, organ meats are a great addition to a cat’s or dog’s diet.
As more and more pet owners choose to place their pets on a raw food diet, many are now incorporating offal in addition to muscle meat as the main source of protein and other essential vitamins and minerals. Feeding raw food to pets is an effort to mimic the original diets of the ancestors of cats and dogs. One of the most popular raw diet approaches is the BARF diet in which the main components are a combination of raw meat and vegetables.
Nutrient composition of organ meats
Did you know that proponents of raw diets for pets believe that meat organs or offals are “mother nature’s multivitamins”? Yes, organ meat is more nutrient-dense compared to muscle meat. The nutritional composition of each organ meat is unique. In fact, pound for pound, offal are much more nutritious and palatable than muscle meat.
- Vitamin B-12 is present in high quantities in all organ meats except tripe
- Liver is an excellent source of protein, vitamins (retinol or vitamin A, niacin, folate, riboflavin), and minerals (iron and zinc); it has high levels of nitrogen-containing compounds
- Kidney is rich in protein. It is also an important source of vitamin B12, iron, folate, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin
- Heart contains iron, zinc, and thiamine. It’s the best natural source of coenzyme Q10. The heart is also a good source of collagen and elastin, vitamin B12, potassium, selenium, and phosphorus. It’s rich in taurine which is an essential nutrient for cats. A taurine deficiency can lead to cardiomyopathy which can be potentially fatal.
- Tripe is high in essential fatty acids but low in fat. It has an ideal calcium-phosphorus ratio. Tripe also has lactobacillus which are prominent members of the beneficial microflora in the gut that promotes proper digestion of food. Tripe is a natural palatant, meaning it enhances the taste and odor of pet food to make it more enticing to fussy eaters and pets with poor appetites.
Precautions to be observed when feeding offal to pets
- Liver contains very high levels of retinol (vitamin A) thus moderation should be observed especially in pregnant pets.
- Excessive consumption of liver can cause vitamin A toxicity in cats, which is characterized by loss of appetite, tiredness, constipation, and unexplained weight loss.
- Know where your meat organs come from. Buy offal from a reputable butcher only.
- Be sure your pet worming medications are up-to-date because the risk of parasites does exist.
- Freeze offal for 24-48 hours if you have concerns about worms. Defrost before feeding your pet.
- Brain and spinal tissue should not be fed to pets because of the unknown risk of Mad Cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy -BSE)
- Proper hygiene and sanitation should be observed in the preparation of raw diets.
Which organs should cats and dogs eat?
Among the organ meats, the liver is the most commonly fed to pets. It is also more nutrient-dense compared to the kidneys, heart, and tripe. But liver should be fed sparingly because of the high nutrient concentration.
How much organ meat should pets eat?
Organ meats or offal are often incorporated in many raw diets for pets. Most pet owners observe the “80-10-10 rule”, that is, 80% of the diet is muscle meat (includes the heart), 10% is bone, and organ meat composes the last 10% (liver should not exceed 50%) Raw diet proponents call this as the “prey model diet” or “species-appropriate diet”.
Considering that pets differ in their nutritional needs, it is recommended that you consult with your veterinarian or pet nutritionist before making any changes in your pet’s diet.