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We recently discussed how to read your pet food label to know exactly what’s in your pet’s food. But most people would be surprised to know that “Chicken and Potato Dinner” dog food may not contain real, natural chicken in the ingredients.
What is chicken meal in dog food? Where does chicken meal come from?
Chicken meal and chicken by-product meal are some of the most confusing ingredients found in many pet foods. So let’s take a closer look at these common dog food ingredients.
What is Chicken By-Product Meal in Dog Food?
Chicken meal is a powder-like substance made from chicken parts and by-products. Essentially, animal by-products are parts of meat (chicken, beef, pork, etc.) left after removing what is safe for human consumption—in other words, the parts we don’t want to use in our own food.
How is Chicken Meal Made?
The source of the chicken meal is the most critical factor. Typically, chicken meal is made from the skin and bone of the chicken but can also include meat and other parts of the animal such as necks, feet and intestine.
It’s important to note that the parts used in chicken meal are not fit for human consumption. In some cases, the chicken meal ingredient is sourced from 4D meat (meat from dead, dying, diseased or disabled animals), in which case a whole new set of significant concerns come into play including the potential presence of foreign objects or dangerous levels of pharmaceuticals. The manufacturer saves money, but the real cost is the introduction of inferior (and sometimes scary) ingredients to your dog’s diet, negatively impacting their overall health.
In the chicken meal process, the parts are dehydrated and cooked at high temperatures for long periods of time. This process is referred to as rendering and separates the fat and removes water to create a concentrated protein powder that resembles corn meal, hence the term “meal.”
During this high-temperature process, bacteria, viruses, parasites and organisms die. Unfortunately, all nutrients are also lost (sometimes referred to as “dead food”) resulting in nutrients being artificially sprayed onto the food to meet AAFCO nutritional requirements.
Is Chicken Meal Good for Dogs?
Chicken meal is not 100% bad for our pets as it provides a source of protein, but it is definitely NOT the healthiest option.
Why Do Some Manufacturers Include Chicken Meal in Dog Food?
- Makes Pet Food Cheaper: Companies can cut costs, making the end product more affordable to the consumer. However, cheaper doesn’t mean better, especially when the real cost is your dog’s wellbeing and health—no product is worth illness.
- Longer Shelf Life: The end product is shelf-stable for longer.
Is Chicken Meal Bad for Dogs?
While chicken meal is an approved source of protein in pet food, there are downfalls.
Disadvantages of Chicken Meal in Dog Food
- Digestibility: Pets BEST digest and absorb essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in the natural state, not through chicken meal, pills or powder supplements.
- Made from 4D Animals: 4D meats are UNFIT for human consumption. EVERYTHING is killed off in the rendering process, including inherent nutrients or vitamins.
- Artificial Nutrients: Artificial nutrients are not easily digestible. While chicken meal is considered an approved protein source in pet food, what pets are able to actually digest and utilize is unknown.
- Not a Whole Food Ingredient: It really all comes down to digestibility, which counts for proper nutrition, healthier bodies, shiny coats and good stool quality.
How Do You Know if Chicken Meal is in Your Dog Food?
Just read the pet food nutrition label. If chicken meal is in the recipe, it will be listed as an ingredient.
Healthier Protein Alternatives to Chicken and Meat Meal
Since whole foods are more easily digestible and better absorbed, I recommend giving your pet high-quality, whole ingredient protein meat.
Top 5 Protein Meats for Dogs:
Chicken (including chicken necks & chicken liver)
- Chicken necks are loaded with healthy calcium and also chondroitin, glucosamine and omega-3s to help improve joint function and reduce inflammation.
Duck (including duck necks)
- Duck necks promote joint, skin and cellular function and also helps to build strong bones and teeth.
Beef (including heart & liver)
- Beef heart is a natural source of taurine, important for heart health. Beef heart also helps build muscle, store energy and boost stamina and endurance. Heart is also important for healthy joints because it contains twice as much collagen and elastin as regular meat.
- Salmon is rich in omega-3s, which nourish healthy skin and modulate the body’s inflammatory responses.
- Rabbit provides ample moisture and hydration. Rabbit is nourishing to kidneys and supports the liver. It is considered a novel protein with hypoallergenic properties—perfect for dogs with allergies.
In the end, feeding our pets fresh, natural ingredients results in a healthier, stronger body and an opportunity for a longer life.
According to a Purdue University Study, simply switching your dog food with just 25% real food, like green leafy vegetables or a high-quality freeze-dried food, may DECREASE the risk of cancer by up to 90%.
Final Thoughts on Feeding Your Pet the Best Nutrition
A healthy, clean diet provides the nutrients and energy our pets need for optimal health. To understand what ingredients are best for your pet, take our virtual Pet Assessment. In just three minutes, you will learn what foods complement your pet’s unique nutritional needs and how you can help them not only thrive but live longer through whole food nutrition.
Dr. Alison Birken is a small animal veterinarian in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. She owns Victoria Animal Hospital, is the co-founder of Forever Freckled, wife to her amazing husband Rob, mom to her 3 greatest accomplishments Luke, Leah & Hayden and dog mom to her Saint Bernard Dory