What Is Chicken Meal in Dog Food? Uncovering the Components of This Ingredient

what is chicken meal in dog food

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You’re shopping for dog food. You want to get the best food for your fur baby, so, naturally, you are reading the list of ingredients. One keeps showing up: chicken meal. What is chicken meal in dog food anyway?

Chicken meal is definitely not what the pictures on the bag bring to mind. Those pictures conjure up images of juicy chicken breasts served with vegetables. This is a far cry from how dog food is really made. Chicken meal, the name, doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? Why is it used in dog food? Is it any good for your dog? What is chicken meal in dog food, and is it good for your dog? We wondered the same thing, and here is what we uncovered.

What Is Chicken Meal in Dog Food?

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) chicken meal is the product that results after rendering chicken carcasses and then drying the rendered product. This may may leave you with a new questio. In addition to wondering “What is chicken meal in dog food?” you might also wonder what the rendering process is all about.

How Is Chicken Meal Made?

Preparing the Chicken

The first step here is taking the whole chicken carcasses, minus the feathers, heads, feet and entrails, and grinding it up. Meat, skin and bones are ground and mixed together.

The Rendering Process

During the rendering process, the ground chicken is cooked until nearly all the water disappears. This can leave the dog food manufacturer with highly concentrated protein that can be turned into kibble. As the meat cooks, fat rises to the top and is skimmed off to be used later in the food production process.

After the mix finishes cooking, it is put into a press. The press squeezes out the remaining moisture and reduces the mix to a powder. They run this powder through shaker screens to remove excess hair and large pieces of bone that may remain. The end result is chicken meal.

Kibble Coming Through

After the chicken meal is prepared, it is mixed with the remaining ingredients, which typically include grains, vitamins, and minerals. After the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, they run it through an extruder. An extruder is a machine that cooks the mix using steam and water. Once it is done cooking, the mix is formed into kibble.

The kibble is then dried until it contains about 10% moisture. After drying, the fat that was skimmed off during the rendering process is added back in. This adds flavor to the food; but it also keeps the food stable. Fats can become oxidized with high heat, so it’s better to add the fat later in the process.

Why Use Chicken Meal Instead of Whole Chicken?

There are several reasons for using chicken meal. Whole chicken has a high moisture content, making it unsuitable for finished dry dog food. During the process of producing dog food, chicken is converted to chicken meal. This is because the amount of chicken meal that can be used in the finished product is much higher than that produced by a whole chicken. Chicken meal in dog food contains about 4 or 5 times the nutrients, pound for pound, as whole chicken because the moisture has been removed.

Chicken also has to be frozen to be prevent bacterial growth. It is then thawed and turned into a slurry to make dog food. This makes it susceptible to bacterial growth; but rendering the chicken into meal kills any harmful bacteria.

Quality manufacturers of chicken meal will keep the chicken from spoiling. They test for contaminants such as salmonella and other bacteria. They are also careful not to dry the meal at high temperature, since this destroys necessary amino acids. The nutrients from chicken meal from a quality producer are equal to that of whole chicken. Plus, using chicken meal in dog food helps to keep the cost down for the pet owner.

Is Chicken Meal Healthy for Your Dog?

That depends. If the pet food manufacturer uses quality chicken carcasses to prepare the chicken meal, then it is certainly a great source of protein for your furry friend. However, if waste materials, such as the heads and feet, are used, then the quality of protein is significantly lower.   

Not all chicken meal is created equal. The quality of the protein, and even the flavor, depends on the quality of the chicken used to make the meal. Higher quality meat will make a higher quality meal.

Be careful not to confuse chicken meal with chicken by-product meal. While chicken meal in dog food is generally an excellent source of protein, chicken by-product meal does not provide the same level of nutrients. Chicken by-product meal contain the necks, feet, unborn egg and internal organs, which reduces the quality of the final product.

Is Fresh Chicken Really Fresh?

If your dog food label claims to be made with fresh chicken, don’t let it fool you. On a label, “chicken” and “chicken meal” mean the same thing. The word fresh added to the label only means that the dog food manufacturer received the chicken fresh. This doesn’t mean that your dog’s chicken meal is harmful; but in this case “fresh” doesn’t mean the same thing as it does when you buy a chicken for human consumption.

How Can You Tell If You’re Buying Quality Dog Food?

Read the labels! There are ingredients to look for some that you want to avoid. To help you out, here is a list of the ingredients that you want to see listed on your dog’s food:

  • Chicken meal
  • Duck meal
  • Beef meal
  • Venison meal
  • Lamb meal

What to Avoid

The following is a list of ingredients that should have you putting that bag of food back on the shelf:

  • Animal meal
  • Meat and bone meal
  • Meat meal
  • Chicken by-product meal
  • Meat by-product meal
  • Animal by-product meal

Decoding the Labels

Many dog foods are labeled with claims such as, “Premium” or “Gourmet”. Does that mean that they contain superior ingredients compared to other dog foods? Those labels are usually just there to attract the attention of the pet owner. On the other hand, if the label say “natural” then the dog food was made using only natural plant, animal, and mined ingredients. 

What about labels that read “organic”? If the label simply says 100% organic, then all ingredients, including the chicken, come from sources free of antibiotics, GMO ingredients, and growth hormones. If the label reads “organic,” then 90% of the ingredients must come from organic sources. Labels that read “made with organic ingredients” contain 70% organic ingredients.

AAFCO Recommendations and Guidelines

The AAFCO has set rules for the ingredients in dog food. The four main guidelines that manufacturer must follow are:

The 95% Rule

At least 95% of the dog food must be made with the named ingredient. If the label says “chicken,” then 95% of that food has to be chicken. If the label lists two ingredients, such as beef and liver, then the two combined must equal 90%, with beef having a higher percentage since it is listed first.

The 25% Rule

Also called the Dinner rule, this means the dog food contains at least 25%, but less than 95%, of the named ingredient. If this is the case, then the label must include “dinner”, “entree”, “platter”, or “formula”. If those labels are present, you should read the label to see what the other meat sources may be.

The 3% Rule or “With” Rule

This one can be a little confusing. If the label indicates that there are special ingredients, such as “with cheese,” then the dog food must contain at least 3% cheese. But if the label reads “with chicken” then only 3% of the total ingredients need to be chicken. 

The Flavor Rule

If the label contains the word “flavor” then there is no specified amount of meat that must be in the dog food; it just has to have enough flavor for the dog to taste it. There may not be any meat in the food at all.

What Does it All Mean?

Now you know the answer to the question “what is chicken meal in dog food,” you know how to buy good food for your four-legged friend. Chicken meal in dog food can be a quality source of nutrients for your fur baby, but low cost dog foods are probably made with inferior ingredients. Does that mean you have to feed your dog the priciest food on the market? Of course not.

This does mean that you should take time to read the labels. Now that you know the answer to the question “what is chicken meal in dog food,” you can make good choices for your pet. Chicken, or chicken meal, should be listed in the first three ingredients of any food you buy. Stay away from those foods that contain meat by-products and/or unspecified meat sources.

Our dogs rely on us to feed them. They deserve the extra minute it takes for us to know what we are feeding them. While it is impossible for us to tell if the chicken meal in our dogs food comes from a high quality source, at least we know we aren’t feeding them mystery meat.

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