Dog Food:
Meat vs Meat Meal
By B.R. Stewart
When it comes to meat in dry dog
foods, there are two options: meat or
meat meal. They sound deceptively
similar, but the discrepancy in quality
between the two can be extreme.

So what's the difference?

Let's look at how the AAFCO defines these ingredients:
  • Meat: "clean flesh of slaughtered mammals and is limited to... the striate muscle... with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh."
  • Meat meal: "the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents."
The definition of meat is rather straightforward, but that of meat meal requires a bit more explanation. There are two terms which are particularly important: rendered and mammal tissue.

refers to a process where tissue is cooked, removing all moisture, and then ground into a fine high-protein powder which is later baked. It is essentially a way of recycling amino acids from waste products. During rendering all bacteria, viruses, and parasites present in the source material are killed which allows meal producers to use 4D (dead, dying, diseased, or disabled) animals as meal ingredients. The possibility of this inclusion is why meat meal is never considered fit for human consumption.

Mammal tissue
is a broad concept which can include bone, organs, glands, and cartilage. In and of themselves, these ingredients are not bad. The meal quality depends on the raw materials initially used: some are created from high-grade meats and organs while others are created from the garbage tissues of diseased animals.

Did you know the large human food companies are often the major providers of pet food? This relationship provides them with the opportunity to render the waste products from the human food industries and utilize the resulting meal in dog food. They make money on product they would otherwise throw away.

The question now becomes: how can you tell if your dog food has high quality meat meal in it or if the meal was made from spoiled supermarket meats and chicken feet? Unfortunately, when we pick up a bag of dog food, we have no way to determine the quality of the included meat meal.

While we can't know exactly which products to avoid, there are some red flags:
  • Avoid meat meals that do not specify the source animal (i.e. poultry meal vs chicken meal; animal meal vs lamb meal)
  • Avoid meals that include the term 'by-product' (i.e. chicken by-product meal)
In Summary...
Look for a dog food that lists a specific meat as the first ingredient and meat meal somewhere farther down the list, if at all. Meat meal is not inherently bad, but its quality is always suspect.
M&M Mars/Proctor & Gamble owns:
Iams, Eukanuba, Evo, Innova, Pedigree,
Royal Canin
Nestle owns:
Purina, Alpo
 Colgate-Palmolive owns:
Hills Science Diet
Del Monte owns:
Kibbles N Bits, Pup-peroni, Natural Recipes

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