What Is Meat Meal?

If you’ve ever looked at the label on the dog food you buy for your pet and wondered what on earth meat meal is, then this article will reveal all (and probably more than you wanted to know):

What is meat meal and what is it doing in my dog’s kibble and shouldn’t I be looking for a dry dog food that uses meat instead?

What Is Meat Meal

Even if you aced calculus and breezed through inorganic chemistry, figuring out the ingredient list on the back of the dog food will likely be a frustrating experience. Often, it’s an arcane list that bears little resemblance to known food sources.

“Meat meal” is a source of befuddlement to most dog owners, and the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officers) isn’t terribly helpful:

“Meat meal is 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 shall not contain added extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. . . . If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin, it must correspond thereto.”

“Poultry meal is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, and entrails.It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

“Fish meal is the clean, dried, ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, either or both, with or without the extraction of part of the oil. If it contains more than 3% salt (NaCl), the amount of salt must constitute a part of the product name, provided that in no case must the salt content of this product exceed 7%. . . . If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Here’s where things get confusing.

Rendering meat sources into meal facilitates their use in the manufacture of kibble, allowing the manufacturer to use a higher concentration of meat protein in the product, since “meat” has a high moisture content, and must be reduced in some way before being utilized in the production of dry food. You can end up with a product with significantly less meat protein, resulting in either a lower overall protein content, or one that has to be augmented by plant proteins, a less usable source for your dog. So “meat meal” is a good thing, right?

You know it’s not that easy.

Generic “meat meal” can contain pretty nearly anything mammalian that found it’s way into the processing bin, whether 4-D (animals declared unfit for human consumption, Dead, Diseased, Disabled or Dying), or a load of carcasses from an animal shelter after euthanasia day, or road kill picked up by whomever’s in charge of cleaning up the roadside, or even parts of carcasses that have been treated with chemicals like carbolic acid or fuel oil for denaturing. All of that can — and does — go into generic “meat meal” in any given batch.

What you want to look for in kibble is specific meals. Beef meal has to be beef. Lamb, must be made from lamb, poultry . . . you get the idea.

It’s not as simple as just picking out one or two ingredients you want to see, though. You must look at the overall balance of nutrition and then consider the sources of those nutrients, for example, if a kibble has a high protein level and lists sources like “beef,” “poultry” or other specific flesh sources, look farther to see if there appears to be a suspiciously high level of protein sources other than flesh. If you see plant proteins, like corn gluten meal added, then it’s a good idea to rethink your purchase and look around some more.

Ideally, you find a manufacturer you can trust to use high quality ingredients, even if they are labeled in the same fashion as those on lesser foods, since AAFCO adamantly resists efforts to require — or even allow — pet food manufacturers to be more specific in labeling. “Byproducts” by one manufacturer’s standards are not necessarily the same thing as byproducts by another’s, and each company should be able to make that differentiation in order to help you — the pet owner — more easily make an educated decision.