Mysterious Meals: Myths and Facts About Meat Meal in Pet Food

Nutrition
April 21, 2021

A blog providing some clarity on the good vs. bad meat meals in pet food.

The war against meat meals in pet food has been raging in recent years. Pet owners have become wary of ingredients ending in the word “meal”. But what actually is a meal ingredient? Are they safe or dangerous to feed to dogs? This blog will help clear up some of the confusion surrounding the use of meat meals in pet food.

What does the word “meal” mean?

The term “meal” is commonly found on pet food labels but what does it actually mean? Meal is a term defining what form an ingredient is in. A meal ingredient just means that it has been ground and dried for use in a dry food product. Similar to the way wheat is ground and dried to make bread.

This is done so that dry food does not spoil. Moisture is the #1 culprit of spoilage when it comes to dry food ingredients. Moisture provides an environment for bacteria and mold to grow and thrive. By removing a portion of the moisture from protein sources, it reduces the chance for mold to form and harmful bacteria to colonize. Many meat meals are also cooked before use in pet food to further reduce the chances of microbial contamination and you or your dog getting sick.

The grinding of meat meals also serves an important purpose in pet food. Ingredients are ground fine so that they are evenly distributed throughout the food and do not just get clumped into one area of the food or treat. Meals help to keep even distribution of nutrients in the food for 2 reasons. One is that it ensures the proper consistency of the food or treat and the other is that it also ensures that picky eaters, who may not eat all of their meal, are at least getting a balanced amount of nutrients.

A surprised looking Brussels Griffin staring off in the distance

Myths and facts

Myth: All meat meals are bad.

Fact: Some meat meals contain high quality meat and protein.

Contrary to popular belief, many types of meat meals contain meat that are just as high quality and digestible as whole meat products. This is because some meat meals are just that, whole meat. Instead it has just been cooked and ground into a form that can be utilized in dry food. Meat meals that use whole meat are actually very healthy for your dog and are a great source of protein. Look for ingredients like salmon meal, chicken meal, turkey meal, etc. which use whole meat products and do not involve a multi-meat mix or by-products. Whole meat meals often contain muscle and meat tissue from different parts of the body (for example, breast and thigh meat), so your dog is getting the nutritional benefits from both types of meat.

Two medium sized dogs eating together from their food bowls next to each other

Myth: All meat meals are created equal.

Fact: There are some types of meat meals you want to avoid.

Like everything in life, nutrition is about balance. When it comes to meat meals, there are both good and bad ones. As stated above, whole meat meals are a nutritious form of protein for your dog. However, there are some low quality meat meals to look out for. Ingredients like meat and bone meal and by-product meal are not as digestible for dogs. Some companies use these ingredients because they are cheaper as they are usually made from discarded parts from human meat rendering plants. Parts like cartilage, bone, viscera, and feathers are not as digestible to dogs and therefore result in less essential nutrients, like protein, being absorbed.

A study by scientists Bednar et al. helped solve some of the guess work for us when it comes to the quality of meat meals. Their study examined the digestibility of soybean meal, poultry meal, poultry by‐product meal, and beef and bone meal in dogs. They found that poultry meal was the clear winner when it came to total tract digestibility, organic matter digestibility and crude protein digestibility. Fecal output was also lower for those dogs fed poultry meal compared to soybean meal.

Tan and white dog laying down next to bowl of kibble looking unimpressed

Take home message

When shopping for pet food and treats, do not be afraid if the label says “meal” in the ingredient list. Instead, take a moment to discern what type of meal it is, since not all meals are bad and not all meals are created equal. If the label reads that it is a whole meat meal like chicken or salmon meal, it is a good one to go with. However,  if it reads meat and bone or by-product it is a low quality protein that should probably be avoided.

Kabo recipes and Monch bars uses only high quality, whole meat meals in our products to ensure that dogs are getting the most out of their food while enjoying the taste as well!


References

Merriam Webster “meal” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meal 

G. E. Bednar, S. M. Murray, A. R. Patil, E. A. Flickinger, N. R. Merchen & G. C. Fahey Jr. (2000) Selected animal and plant protein sources affect nutrient digestibility and fecal characteristics of ileally cannulated dogs, Archiv für Tierernaehrung, 53:2, 127-140, DOI:10.1080/17450390009381942 

Purina. “What is chicken meal in dog food?” https://www.purina.com/articles/dog/nutrition/what-is-chicken-meal-in-dog-food 

Watson, Hilary. "Poultry meal vs poultry-byproduct meal." Dogs in Canada Magazine 2 (2006): 9-13.

Dust, Jolene Marie, C. M. Grieshop, C. M. Parsons, L. K. Karr-Lilienthal, C. S. Schasteen, J. D. Quigley III, N. R. Merchen, and G. C. Fahey Jr. "Chemical composition, protein quality, palatability, and digestibility of alternative protein sources for dogs." Journal of animal science 83, no. 10 (2005): 2414-2422.


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