Photo credit: Jessie Osirio
Green tripe is a highly recommended ingredient in many raw diet circles, touted for benefits like beneficial probiotics, a balanced 1:1 calcium phosphorus ratio, and palatability. Some sources claim green tripe is mandatory in a raw diet, while some even claim green tripe alone is a balanced diet for dogs. Are these claims true?
What is green tripe?
Green tripe is the raw, unprocessed stomach of ruminant animals, like beef, bison, goat, venison, or sheep. While tripe can be found at some grocery stores, it is not the same thing as GREEN tripe; green tripe can’t legally be sold for human consumption. The tripe found in stores has been washed, scalded, and bleached. Green tripe, on the other hand, has not been processed in such a way; usually you will just find it ground or chopped up into chunks. There are many pet food suppliers that sell green tripe, including raw food suppliers like GreenTripe.com, K9 Natural, Ross Wells, or Texas Tripe, and there are even some companies like Solid Gold or Tripett that sell canned green tripe.
What is it good for?
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, many of the benefits of green tripe are overstated. But the good news is, it is definitely still useful in many situations, and it certainly isn’t harmful (unless you feed nothing but tripe… but I’ll cover that in the “bad news” section).
Tripe is very palatable to most dogs, which is great for encouraging picky dogs to eat their organs or veggies, for example. This is probably thanks to its smell – it might stink to you, but to a dog it smells delicious!
Green tripe is a great source of manganese (about 13.21 mg/kg on an as fed basis, according to the analyses provided by Monica Segal in her book K9 Kitchen) – which is fantastic, because manganese is one of those minerals that tend to fall short in many prey model diets, since it usually isn’t found in significant amounts in other meat products. That means that green tripe is the primary source of manganese in a lot of prey model raw diets.
Green tripe contains digestive enzymes that may benefit your dog, however these enzymes are meant to help a ruminant animal digest an herbivorous diet, so they may not be very useful to a raw fed dog that gets little to no starch in their diet. Still, although the extent of the benefits of these enzymes can be debated, they certainly won’t be harmful – so even in the absence of evidence of benefit, there is nothing to lose by feeding it anyway!
Green tripe also has a 1:1 calcium phosphorus ratio, but please keep in mind that this doesn’t mean green tripe has enough calcium to feed exclusively.
That leads us into our next section…
Busting some myths
Green tripe is not a balanced diet
A lot of people seem to misunderstand the calcium phosphorus ratio. Calcium and phosphorus work together in the body and are both required for proper skeletal health. If there is too much or not enough of one of these minerals, it will affect the body’s requirement for the other. So even if the body is getting the minimum requirement of dietary phosphorus as determined by the NRC, but too much calcium, the body will require more phosphorus for bone growth and basic skeletal functions, leading to a deficiency of phosphorus. This has been shown to lead to hip dysplasia and other skeletal issues. Too much phosphorus and not enough calcium, on the other hand, has been shown to accelerate the progression of renal failure. This is why it is important to feed not only the minimum requirements of these nutrients, but also be sure to feed a diet with a proper ratio, especially for growing puppies and large breed dogs – 1:1 to 1.2:1 is recommended.
But a good ratio of calcium to phosphorus doesn’t mean it has enough to meet the minimum requirements for either mineral – just that the ratio of the amounts of calcium to phosphorus are 1:1. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t really that important, because the rest of the diet will still need to have a balanced ratio anyway. But a diet of just green tripe and nothing else will definitely be deficient in not only calcium and phosphorus, but many other nutrients. In other words, green tripe is not a balanced diet by itself, and it should not be fed exclusively or in excess for this reason.
The myth that green tripe alone is a balanced diet may have been perpetuated by some of the canned green tripe products available that advertise themselves as a balanced diet. For example, Solid Gold offers canned green tripe and states on Petco’s website description of the product, “A nutritionally complete and balanced meal […] green tripe is excellent as the sole diet or as an accompaniment to dry kibble .” However, while this applies to this product, it does not apply to green tripe alone. A closer look at the ingredient list of Solid Gold green tripe shows a list of synthetic vitamins and minerals that were added in order to meet minimum dietary requirements.
Green tripe is not a great source of probiotics
The biggest exaggerated benefit of green tripe is its probiotics. To explain why green tripe isn’t a reliable or effective source of probiotics, let’s start from the beginning.
We’ve already learned that tripe is the stomach of a ruminant animal, like a cow. Cows, like other mammals, have a bunch of different kinds of microorganisms that live in their stomach and intestines. When I say a bunch, I really mean a bunch – in fact, just one drop of rumen fluid contains numbers of microorganisms that add up to more than 10 times the number of humans on Earth !
Most of these organisms are beneficial bacteria, such as Bacteroides succinogenes, Ruminococcus albus, and Lactobacillus fermenti, as well as protozoan organisms like Polyplastron multivesiculatum – all of which produce the enzyme cellulase that helps to digest cellulose, the main constituent of plant cell walls. Obviously that is important for an animal that is designed to eat primarily grass!
These organisms have adapted to survive in the conditions of the cow’s stomach: no oxygen, a pH of around 6-7, and a temperature of around 40°C (or 104°F) . If the conditions in the stomach change, that affects the organisms inside the stomach. For example, farmers know to allow their cows to graze on food throughout the day, because feeding them a larger amount of food all at once in one or two meals per day can cause the pH of the rumen to fluctuate, resulting in the death of so much of the organisms that the cow can’t utilize its food as effectively.
Just like the pH fluctuation can kill off these organisms, many of them will die in temperatures under 104°F. And since they have adapted to the conditions inside the cow’s digestive system, the vast majority of them are obligate anaerobes; this means they die in the presence of oxygen.
So when a cow is slaughtered and the tripe is harvested, most of the bacteria die right away due to the exposure to oxygen and the drastic change in temperature. The tripe usually goes through further processing, such as grinding or chopping, and is then stored in the freezer; naturally, this kills off even more temperature sensitive, anaerobic bacteria.
Some organisms in the tripe can still survive after being harvested, processed, and frozen. But the longer the tripe is frozen, the more of them die off. And since many of these organisms are actually dependent on each other for survival by utilizing each other’s byproducts, the deaths cause a chain reaction and results in the death of more and more organisms.
But some do still survive – including small amounts of lactic acid bacteria, most notably those classified in the genus Lactobacillus. However, the amount of lactic acid bacteria that actually survives will strongly depend on a number of factors.
The longer the tripe has been frozen, and even the rate of temperature decrease (if the tripe is just thrown into a freezer, the sharp change in temperature can kill some of the bacteria, but studies have shown that a slower transition to low temperatures can allow more of the bacteria to adapt and survive ).
Furthermore, their survival will also depend on whether or not they have enough food available to survive. Because they obtain energy only from the metabolism of sugars, lactic acid bacteria are restricted to environments in which sugars are present. In a lab setting, successful samples of these types of bacteria requires that they are cultivated in complex media that fulfill all their nutritional requirements . But in the case of tripe, there will be a finite amount of sugars for them to survive on, and eventually they will starve.
Since canned tripe goes through even more processing, you can imagine that the amounts of organisms left over are negligible; and while canning is great for increasing shelf life, the longer the can sits on the shelf, the more organisms die off.
If tripe does have some surviving probiotic bacteria left, the amount will be far less than what would be found in a typical probiotic product. For example, an analysis demonstrated that one sample of green tripe contained 12,000 CFU of lactic acid bacteria per gram . That may seem like a lot, but in comparison, a popular probiotic supplement called NOW Probiotic-10 contains 50,000,000,000 CFU per capsule . To put those numbers into perspective: in order to give the same amount of probiotics found in just one capsule of this probiotic supplement, you would have to feed your dog almost 4,200,000 grams, or about 9200 pounds of tripe!!! There is also no materials and methods information about whether or not the tripe from the analysis had been frozen, for how long, etc so we might have to assume the number will be far less in tripe that has been frozen for a significant period of time, especially tripe that has been thawed and refrozen, ground, canned, etc.
Long story short: after all is said and done, the vast majority of probiotic bacteria do not survive by the time the tripe ends up in your dog’s bowl. This is why advertising tripe as having a significant probiotic benefit isn’t completely accurate.
Should you feed your dog green tripe?
Just because green tripe isn’t a balanced diet by itself and it doesn’t contain a significant amount of probiotics doesn’t mean you should avoid it completely. As mentioned previously, it is a great source of manganese, and its smell tends to convince even the pickiest eaters to try it. Just don’t feed it exclusively, and don’t rely on it alone for probiotics. If your dog needs probiotics, you will get much better results if you just give them a probiotic supplement.
While tripe does have a good nutrient profile in comparison to kibble, it isn’t spectacular when compared to other raw foods, especially red meats like beef heart. But it is a good choice to add more variety to your dog’s raw diet, and it would be fantastic to add to your dog’s kibble – some raw is better than no raw at all, and that certainly includes green tripe!
Green tripe nutritional analysis
This information can be found in Monica Segal’s book K9 Kitchen.