Dry Pet Food - Meat vs. Meal

The most vital source of nutrients for dogs and cats is animal protein such as meat, fish, eggs and cultured dairy products. Yet, pet food ingredient labels often leave consumers with more questions than answers due to the terminology they use. Against The Grain Pet Nutrition is frequently asked, Which is better - a whole meat, such as "chicken" as the first ingredient or a specifically named meat meal, such as "chicken meal"?  

To determine the answer, each brand and variety must be looked at individually. The following are some key facts to keep in mind.

  • The ingredients before the first source of fat are the major ingredients of the food. Those after the first fat are still important but are found in much smaller quantities.
  • Ingredients are listed on the label according to their pre-cooked weight with the heaviest ingredient listed first.
  • If the specific animal source is not named, for example "animal fat", it could be any animal and is not considered a high quality ingredient by ATG.
  • Fresh meat can be human grade meat. Meat meal is never human grade because it is rendered.
  • Fresh meat generally contains more intact nutrients because it is less processed. Whereas, meat meal has already been cooked at least once before arriving at the pet food manufacturing facility.
  • "By law pet food manufacturers are not permitted to make any statements on the product packaging or in the ingredient list in regards to the quality of what is used." http://www.dogfoodproject.com/index.php?page=meat-meal

Example #1 - If fresh chicken is listed as the first ingredient, remember 70% of its pre-cooked weight is water. After moisture is lost through cooking more than likely the first ingredient will be out-weighed by whatever ingredients are listed second and third. If those ingredients happen to be grain products (which have no moisture to lose during cooking) the fresh chicken listed first actually falls further down the list, making the major ingredient in this pet food grain not meat. *Due to the current labeling laws the manufacturer of this food still has the legal right to claim chicken is the first ingredient.  

Example #2 -  If chicken meal is listed first it is a more concentrated source of protein with only 10% water. When this pet food is formulated the weight of the meal essentially does not change when cooked therefore, this product probaby contains a higher percentage of meat protein.

Example #3 -  Many dry pet foods include fresh meat and a specifically named meat meal in the first few ingredients. Together these two protein sources usually out-weigh any cereal grains and provide your pets with a high level of animal protein.

Clearly there are pros and cons to the meat versus meal issue. Since most pet owners enjoy the convenience of dry pet food, ATG offers only those products that we believe are of the highest quality. We also suggest adding fresh protein to your pets meals several times a week to provide variety and a source of unprocessed nutrients. See Adding Fresh Foods to a Commercial Diet for more information on how to do that.

Against The Grain Pet Nutrition is a company that does things differently. We are a small business that is excited about offering pet owners better choices in pet nutrition. We believe that choosing appropriate pet food (be it commercial, raw or home prepared) is the most important factor in any pet's preventative health, convalescence and longevity.  Our name - Against The Grain - reflects our strong passion to provide pet owners with the knowledge to make healthy decisions about pet care even if we go ‘against the grain' of popular thinking.

To contact us:

1024 County Road 109
Montevallo, AL 35115

Phone: 205-665-9026
Fax: 205-665-5683
[email protected]