Dog food may contain various ingredients, ranging from familiar finds like meat, grains, and vegetables to head-scratcher items, such as chicken meal.
What is chicken meal, and how does it differ from real chicken? Is it safe for dogs to eat? Is it even healthy?
We’ll answer these burning questions and share must-know information about chicken meal in dog food below!
What Is Chicken Meal?
Chicken meal is a meat meal, a common ingredient in canine cuisine that isn’t used in human food. So what is this mystery meat product?
Meat meal is defined by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as being
“rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, and stomach and rumen contents.”
AAFCO’s definition isn’t easy for many pet parents to digest, so let’s clear the air further.
For example, despite the phrasing, in practice, meat meal isn’t limited to mammals; poultry and fish meals are also used in pet foods.
Essentially, chicken meal contains the muscle, fat, organs, and skin of chickens you’d expect to see in a butcher’s case but is free of feathers, feet, heads, and other non-edible poultry parts.
Poultry meal (including chicken meal) may also contain bone, though it’s not as dangerous as it sounds, as we’ll explain in a second.
How Is Chicken Meal Made?
To make meat, fish, or poultry meal, a manufacturer heats harvested animal products to a high temperature, drying the mixture out in a rendering process. The end product is then ground into a fine powder.
By cooking off all the water and fat, you’re left with a far more protein-rich substance by volume than fresh chicken. Chicken meal is also full of more nutrients like calcium, thanks to the ground bone included.
Is Chicken Meal Real Chicken?
Technically speaking, no.
While chicken meal may be made from chicken, “meat” is defined by AAFCO as being “the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals,” and consists of muscle tissue and potentially fat and gristle.
Real chicken does not include bone, nor is it cooked down into a powder like chicken meal.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with chicken meal as a protein source in dog food, but pet parents seeking the most natural, high-quality ingredients will likely prefer a labeled, whole protein like real chicken instead, as it’s far less processed than chicken meal that undergoes the rendering process and then is cooked again to make dog food.
Is Chicken Meal the Same Thing as Chicken By-Product Meal?
Chicken meal is made of rendered parts of the chicken that humans may eat as food – such as skin and muscle – while chicken by-product meal contains leftovers we wouldn’t normally consume, like chicken heads, feet, and giblets.
Chicken by-product meal is cheap and a good source of protein and flavor, so it’s common in budget-friendly dog foods.
Chicken by-product meal may not sound super appealing to you or me, but it’s an acceptable dog food ingredient, as long it appears with a labeled meal or meat like chicken meal or real chicken (and is used in a lower quantity).
Ideally, it shouldn’t be the sole source of protein in dog food, as there are simply better quality options.
Why Is Chicken Meal Used in Dog Food?
Chicken meal is packed with protein and affordable, making it a favorite in the pet food industry. The lower cost makes your dog’s food cheaper for pet food manufacturers to make – a savings usually enjoyed at the cash register by pet parents.
More importantly, chicken meal is dry, greatly aiding in the texture of dog food. Real chicken is far more watery, forcing manufacturers to alter the cooking process to balance the moisture.
Is Chicken Meal Good for Dogs?
Yes, chicken meal is a great source of protein for dogs, aiding in everything from muscle development to skin and coat condition.
Chicken meal is also a source of glucosamine, a compound that nourishes canine joints. It may be the primary protein source in dog food or used to bolster the protein content with chicken as the first ingredient.
That said, purchasing from a reputable manufacturer, preferably a brand that makes food in the USA, is important. American pet food regulations are much stricter than other nations, keeping your canine safer.
Do Dogs Like Chicken Meal?
Most pups are happy to scarf down dog food made with chicken meal, as it still has a chicken flavor floofs love.
That said, pickier pups may need a more meat-forward recipe with real chicken or multiple proteins like beef and salmon, as these foods are typically less processed, retaining more of a meaty smell to tempt pooch palates.
Chicken Meal in Dog Food: FAQ
Still curious about what chicken meal is or isn’t? Unsure if it’s right for your dog? We’ve tackled the most commonly asked questions surrounding chicken meal in dog food and answered them! Let’s get after them!
Why does dog food have chicken meal?
Chicken meal is a cost-effective product for upping dog food’s protein and nutrient content. As a dry ingredient, it’s also great for balancing the moisture content in a recipe, as fresh meat contains far more water. Chicken meal can be the star protein source in dog food or join another, such as real chicken or turkey meal.
Do all dog foods have chicken meal?
No, not all dog foods feature chicken meal or other meat meals for protein. Some only include real meat, like chicken or beef, while others utilize by-products for protein, such as chicken by-product meal. Others contain modified hydrolyzed proteins intended for dogs with multiple protein allergies.
Is chicken meal better than chicken in dog food?
Chicken meal packs more protein per ounce than real chicken, so it’s the winner in that category. However, many pet parents prefer the quality and “natural” state of real chicken versus the heavily processed powder form of chicken meal. Still, it’s a perfectly acceptable protein source and affordable, saving your doggy dollars for barkin’ adventures (or treats!)
Should chicken meal be the first ingredient in dog food?
If chicken meal is the only protein source or included with chicken by-product meal, it should be the first ingredient. If real chicken or another meat like beef is featured, the whole protein should be the primary ingredient.
Is chicken meal real chicken?
No. While chicken meal contains real chicken meat, it’s not “real chicken” by definition, so it can’t be labeled as such on a dog food bag. Chicken meal is a protein-dense powder made by rendering down and grinding together muscle, fat, and bone. In contrast, AAFCO defines meat as “the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals” that consists of muscle tissue and potentially fat and gristle.
Is chicken meal bad for dogs?
No, chicken meal is safe for dogs to consume and a great source of protein and joint-supporting glucosamine. While heavily processed, it still provides the nutrients your doggo needs and should be fine as long as your dog tolerates chicken well and the food meets the AAFCO nutrition profile for your dog’s age. Ask your vet if you’re unsure if chicken meal is a good fit for your floof.
How do you know if chicken meal is in dog food?
Easy! Check the ingredient list of your dog’s food for “chicken meal.” AAFCO guidelines ask manufacturers to identify a dog food’s ingredients on the label and order them by volume, with the first listed ingredient being the most used in the food.
Does your dog’s food have chicken meal in it? Is another meat meal a star ingredient or something else? What’s your experience? Let us know in the comments.