Organ meats are the new quinoa of dog nutrition—the trendy, must-have ingredient of the moment. Everybody's buzzing about them, and how important they are to a dog's diet. And while it's undisputed that they contain wealth of vitamins and minerals, it's important to define and dissect this hot term when deciding what to feed your pup. We consulted Dr. Joe Bartges, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN to help us get to the heart of the matter (pun totally intended.)
All organ meat is not created equal.
Most organ meats are safe for dogs to consume and rich in a long list of nutrients including vitamin A, B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, folic acid and especially vitamin B12), minerals such as iron, phosphorus, copper, magnesium and more. But as they become more popular, Dr. Bartges says that some food manufacturers are using "organ meat" as an umbrella term that can include everything from nutritionally rich parts of the animal like liver and heart to less nutritionally dense visceral and skeletal organ meats like intestines and neck meat.
Get to know your A-list organs.
The most nutritional bang for the buck comes from a few prime parts: liver is high in soluble vitamin A, glycogen, potassium, copper, B vitamins, and vitamins D, K and E (plus, dogs love the taste!) Heart contains a concentrated source of the super-nutrient CoQ10, as well as taurine, an essential amino acid. Also on the A-list are kidneys, which are high in vitamins A and B as well as iron, and spleen, which boasts vitamins D, K, A and E, iron and zinc.
Other organ meats such as lungs, pancreas and stomach still have some benefits but are less nutritionally dense. And then there are the D-listers out there—intestine, neck, thyroid, brain—that are often lumped together with by-products like beaks, feathers, feet, hooves, and hair in mass production (hashtag gag reflex.)
Look for clear labeling.
Terms like "made with organ meat" are vague at best and misleading at worst. You want the names of those prime organ meats listed individually. Also keep in mind that the high-heat processing of dry kibble tends to rob organ meats of much, if not all of their nutritional value, so opt for fresh foods rather than dry kibble to get the most out of them. And look for terms like "human-grade" to indicate quality standards in both product and cooking technique.
Cook it with love.
Preparing organ meats for your dog as an occasional treat is easy once you procure the right ingredients. The liver, heart and kidneys of chicken, lamb and beef are all common in butcher shops. They can often can be purchased inexpensively and prepared simply by boiling in water or low-sodium broth for about five minutes. If you happen to be roasting a whole chicken or turkey for yourself, you can prepare a tasty nutrient-rich treat for your dog at the same time. Just remember, says Dr. Bartges, "the bag may contain liver but may also contain the crop, which is a muscular organ and has less vitamins and minerals." You can use those "extras" in the bag to help flavor the broth, but toss them out before serving.