Wanna Feed Feathers? | Animal Hospital Boulder

Oct 31, 2022

Wanna Feed Feathers? | Animal Hospital Boulder

Ok, this is a weird one; Dogs are often prescribed a feather-based diet when they suffer from food allergies.  Most people don’t know they’re feeding their dogs feathers.  A lot of veterinarians don’t know they’re prescribing feathers either, and I was one of them.  The ingredient is called “hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate.”  Seeing the words “by-product” creeps a lot of people out to begin with, but these words above wouldn’t necessarily make you think of feathers.   I used to think by-products were primarily organs. Although I don’t personally go for organs in my own diet, I knew organ meat can be a great source of nutrition.  But feathers…man that’s a hard sell.

I practice in Boulder, Colorado, and for many of my clients there is an underlying skepticism of large commercial dog food brands (and people food brands too).  There’s no escaping the fact that dog kibble is highly processed.  This deserves a whole other blog post, better yet a multiple-part series.  But for now, let’s just say a large proportion of my clients seek out something other than kibble.  So, when looking at a primary ingredient called “hydrolyzed poultry by-products aggregate,” (i.e., feathers), there’s an immediate turn-off.

It’s a little unfair though to simply say these diets containing feathers are just feathers.  Feathers have a ton of protein but they’re highly indigestible.  Just imagine chewing and swallowing feathers and you’ll get the idea.  It’s like eating toenails.  The process of hydrolysis though breaks down these feather proteins to an amino acid level so they can actually be digested.  It seems like this would be a slimy corporate tactic to source cheap protein, as protein is usually the most expensive ingredient in any pet food.  But apparently the process of hydrolysis makes feather meal more expensive than chicken meat.  I have no way of confirming this, and I’m perhaps a little skeptical that this is not the case.  However, if it’s truly more expensive than maybe there’s something to it?  The manufacturers also point to sustainability.  Previously most of these feathers would have ended up in a landfill.  So, if this enormous untapped source of protein can be transformed into actual food, it’s hard to argue that it’s not worth considering.

In addition, in cases of protein hypersensitivities, these hypoallergic feather-meal diets really work.  Food hypersensitivities in dogs are almost always due to certain animal proteins (which seems weird but that’s the case).  By reducing the feather protein to the amino acid level, the hydrolyzed feather-meal is much less likely to cause an inflammatory reaction.  I see allergic dogs all the time that have tried all sorts of medications and diets but are still itching themselves raw.  Then 4-8 weeks after starting a feather-meal diet the itching resolves.  For many owners and dogs, it can be a real blessing.

Again, when initially hearing about feather-meal I was suspicious of some shady corporate profit-motive.  But after reading up on it I see some valid arguments supporting its use, let alone the results.  I’m sure many people will still steer clear of feeding feathers.  But ultimately it may not be as foul as it sounds.  (I know I could have spelled that “fowl” but that’s just too cheesy).

-Andrew Boal, DVM

Wanna Feed Feathers? | Animal Hospital Boulder | Rise Vet is Boulder’s new breed of veterinary care located in downtown Boulder.  Call us today to make an appointment for your pet.  We are located in the Ideal Market Plaza, right next to Sweet Cow Ice cream and are excited to open our doors to you and your pets.  We serve pet lovers in Boulder, Longmont, Louisville, Superior and surrounding Boulder County.