Top view of a dog about to eat kibble

What’s the Deal With Chicken Meal?

If you're a dog owner, you've likely come across the term "chicken meal" when reading the ingredient list on your dog's food. But what exactly is chicken meal, and why is it used in dog food?

Named meat meals, such as "Chicken Meal" or "Lamb Meal," are used in pet food because they provide a concentrated and high-quality source of meat protein in dry foods. These meals are made by rendering and grinding whole meats like chicken or lamb into a fine "meal" consistency. It's similar to ground up jerky, packed with essential amino acids and nutrients that dogs and cats need for their overall health and well-being.

Just like with human foods, ingredients are listed in order of weight. Since pet kibble is cooked to remove all but about 10% total moisture content, the amount of moisture each ingredient starts out with can make a huge difference between where it lands on the ingredient list and its nutritional contribution in the food after processing.

Moist ingredients like fresh chicken or lamb will lose as much as ¾ of their weight in water as they are cooked during the kibble process, meaning they may not be contributing as much to the total recipe as their place on the ingredient list suggests. For example, fresh chicken is 29% protein, 13% fat, and 63% moisture. Compare that to chicken meal at 62% protein, 11% fat, and 5% moisture. Compared pound for pound the chicken meal offers significantly higher nutritional value.

Why Do We Keep Saying “Named Meat Meal”?

Using named meat meals ensures that the pet food contains a specific and identifiable source of high-quality protein. “Chicken Meal” is made from the same chicken you'd purchase at a grocery store. Things that we would happily serve our family for dinner! This is true of all named meat meals. 

On the other hand, things like “meat meal” (without the animal name) come from ambiguous sources. Meat meal is defined by AAFCO as the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It can’t contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. While named meat meals are from the choice meat of a single animal, this ingredient may be from mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without any further description.

You just don’t know what you’re going to get and you see “meat meal” on a label. Unlike named meat meals, the parts used do not have to come from animals intended as part of the human food chain. Imagine all of these parts going into a blender, then being cooked until it’s absolutely devoid of moisture, then dropped in your dog's bowl.

Pretty gross.

This is why all of our Kahoots-branded products will only ever contain the highest quality meats and named meat meals available. No ambiguous mystery “meat” in our products. If we wouldn’t be comfortable serving it to our own family, why would we serve it to your dog?

Why is Chicken Meal Used in Dog Food?

Okay, so named meat meals, and just “meat meal” are two very different things. The question then is why do so many dog foods use any sort of meal in the first place? There are a few reasons. 

Accurate Protein Percentage: Because chicken meat, for example, is roughly 63% water and 29% protein by weight, most of this weight is cooked out of the meat before it hits your dog’s bowl. This is a problem because the protein percentage on the back of your dog’s food isn’t a true representation of what you think you’re reading on the ingredient list. 

Think about it. If the first ingredient is chicken, and the second is whole grain corn, which actually contributes more to the nutrition of the food? The ingredient that goes into the mix dry and doesn’t lose 63% of its weight during cooking!

This is how, if raw chicken isn’t made into chicken meal before going into the dog food formula, (even though the packaging might claim a high percentage of protein) your dog might be cheated out of a significant amount of vital nutrients!

High Protein Content: Dogs are natural carnivores and require a diet rich in animal protein. This isn’t just for muscle growth and keeping their energy up. High quality animal protein is necessary for heart health, immune function, and tissue repair as well. Named meat meals help to provide the right concentration of the right type of protein to keep your dog healthy.

Nutrient Density: Named meat meal is packed with essential nutrients, including amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients are vital for maintaining strong bones, healthy skin and coat, and optimal organ function. By including a named meat meal in your dog's diet, you are providing them with a more well-rounded, nutritionally balanced meal that supports their overall health.

Safety and Quality: Chicken meal used in reputable dog food brands undergoes strict quality control measures to ensure safety and nutritional integrity, and nutritional value. By choosing dog food that includes chicken meal or any other named meat meal, you can have confidence in the safety and quality of the ingredients.

How to Identify High-Quality Chicken Meal in Dog Food?

Chicken meal is one of the most prevalent ingredients in dog food. You might be surprised at how many “beef”, “fish”, and “lamb” formulas actually rely on chicken meal as a primary source of protein. Just take a look at the ingredients on a few different formulas the next time you get a chance. This practice is your best chance to ensure that you’re feeding your dog high-quality food.

Look for Specificity: Your dog food’s ingredient list should clearly state "chicken meal" rather than generic terms like "meat meal." Specificity ensures that you know exactly what protein source is included in the food.

Consider the Overall Ingredient List: In addition to chicken meal, the dog food should include other high-quality ingredients, such as legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Avoid dog food that includes fillers, artificial additives, or excessive amounts of carbohydrates.

Wrapping Up

Chicken meal and other named meat meals are important ingredients in many dog foods because they provide a concentrated source of high-quality protein. While the word "meal" might seem off-putting at first, just remember that named meat meals are very different from generic "meat meal.” The former is derived from high-quality meat sources, while the latter can come from a mix of different, often lower-quality sources.

When choosing dog food, always check the ingredients list to ensure you're providing your pup with the best nutrition possible. High-quality chicken meal and other named meat meals offer an excellent source of protein, essential amino acids, and other vital nutrients for dogs.

By opting for dog foods that list named meat meals as primary ingredients, you're investing in the health and well-being of your pet. Remember, a balanced and nutritious diet is one of the most important aspects of pet care, laying the foundation for a long, happy, and active life for your dog.