Every dog owner wants to feed their pet the best quality dog food available. However, reading labels and figuring out what the ingredients mean can be quite a challenge (Trust me, I have been through it).
If you look at the ingredients label for your dog’s food, you might find the term “chicken meal” written there (Go ahead, take a look!).
You might immediately assume that any ingredient that says “chicken meal” must-have chicken in it. Well, that is not truly the case – sometimes, not at all.
Now, you may have several questions: what is chicken meal and why is it used in dog food? Should you even be feeding it to your fur baby?
While the answers to all these questions may not be as straightforward, I will break down what exactly is this mystery ingredient in dog food and if you should avoid it.
Let’s get to it.
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What exactly is Chicken Meal?
To make sure you are feeding your pup a healthy diet, it is essential to understand pet food language. In other words, first, we need to understand what chicken meal is and how it’s made.
According to the AAFCO/ FDA definition, chicken meal can include flesh, as well as bone and skin of slaughtered chickens.
However, just because the label reads chicken meal, does not mean it has any chicken in it. The reason is that there is no specified requirement for how much skin, bones, or flesh is to be used in the ingredient.
Therefore, a chicken meal might not have a lot of chicken and mostly rendered skin and bones.
What is a rendered ingredient? In this case, it is an ingredient that is cooked before the manufacturing of pet food.
The rendering process includes cooking the ground chicken parts for long hours to get rid of all moisture and fat to turn it into a powder – a meal.
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Another crucial factor to consider is that chicken meal is made from “leftovers” after human consumption.
What matters is the source of the ingredients used in making chicken meal.
One issue is that sometimes the ingredients are sourced from 4D (dead, dying, diseased, disabled) animals.
When subpar ingredients are used in the kibble, it opens a host of other concerns like the use of medicines or foreign objects.
Cooking the ingredients at high temperatures rids not only moisture and fat but significant nutrients as well.
In saying that, I should also mention that chicken meal in dog food could be made from high-quality ingredients like deboned chicken breasts, but there is no easy way to get to the source to determine whether the meal is good quality or bad.
Related: What is Taurine in Dog Food?
Is Chicken Meal Bad for Dogs?
Chicken meal is not bad for your dog per se. It is a rich source of protein since it renders all its fat and water content. Chicken meal in the kibble also allows for longer shelf life and a cheaper price tag.
Despite that, the concern of the ingredient source being a mystery remains. Chicken meal can be sourced from chicken that was never inspected by the USDA.
Is Chicken Meal Higher in Protein?
Chicken meal has its downfalls, but it is a saturated protein source in dog food. If your pup suffers from an amino acid deficiency, it may benefit from kibble – including chicken meal.
Compared to chicken, which contains 18% protein, chicken meal contains 65% protein. However, what matters more is how much your dog can digest rather than the protein content.
Your dog needs amino for strong muscle development, healthy skin, and metabolism. Digestibility of these essential amino acids is significantly higher for chicken than chicken meal.
Chicken Vs. Chicken Meal: What’s Better for Your Dog?
So, the real question remains: What is better for your food? Chicken or chicken meal? For that, we need to understand what does it mean when the ingredients label says chicken instead of chicken meal?
Chicken in kibble comprises flesh, skin, with or without bone. This can be derived from whole carcasses or parts of the chicken.
As chicken is not cooked before the manufacturing of dog food, it has a high moisture content (50 to 70%).
The moisture content limits the use of the ingredient in the kibble. Usually, there is only 35% of chicken in any dog food formula.
Therefore, dog food with chicken meal has a higher percentage of protein than raw chicken when incorporated in dog food.
However, what comprises “chicken” in different kibble brands differs from company to company.
While the source here again is unclear, it is crucial to remember that chicken meal is cooked twice at high temperatures. Once to remove the moisture and fat content and then later in the manufacturing of the kibble.
Raw chicken is only cooked once before being added to the kibble mix. This rendering process takes away from the overall nutritional value of the chicken meal.
According to wellness vet Patrick Mahaney, commercial dog food is made from feed-grade ingredients. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot have it yourself, do not feed it to your pet.
So, what is a better choice for your dog?
Sadly, there is no easy way of knowing where ingredients are sourced from – unless the manufacturers decide to be transparent about it.
Since the manufacturers are not obliged to do so, it would be better to opt for chicken than dog food with chicken meal.
First of all, chicken is cooked only once, and there is a lower chance that it would just be chicken bones rather than flesh.
Yes, chicken meal has a higher protein percentage, but you never know if it is of good quality or sourced from dead or disabled animals.
Some high-quality brands name the meal source, but it is a practice that differs from company to company.
So, should you feed your pup dog food with chicken meal? While it is not unsafe to consume, the uncertainty around the ingredients makes it a dubious choice.
Every dog has varying nutritional needs. You can use the information mentioned above, ask manufacturers for more clarity or consult your vet for better food choices for your pup.
Just remember that even though chicken contains a lot of moisture reduced by two-thirds during cooking, the lower weight does not equal poor quality.
All in all, using natural ingredients is better for a balanced diet for your pet. So, when in doubt, you should go for chicken over chicken meal as the less risky diet choice.