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Understanding Meat Meal: Its Role and Purpose in Dog Food

Understanding Meat Meal: Its Role and Purpose in Dog Food

In the realm of pet nutrition, the ingredients that make up our furry companions' food are of paramount importance. One such ingredient that often sparks curiosity is "meat meal." This term might raise questions about its origin, composition, and why it finds its way into our dogs' meals. 

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? To grasp the significance of meat meal in dog food, it's essential to delve into its role, production process, and the benefits it offers to our beloved canine friends' overall well-being.

Two female puppies eating Two female puppies eating dog food meat and kibble stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

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 dog food or kibble 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 an 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.

Kibbles with measuring cup inside larger food storage bucket. 1 cup dry pet or dog food portioned out for a medium to large dogs feeding time. Isolated on white. Selective focus. dog food meat and kibble stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Myths and facts about meat meals

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.

A surprised looking Brussels Griffin staring off in the distance

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.

The Role of Meat Meal in Dog Food

Meat meal plays a crucial role in the formulation of high-quality dog food, offering numerous benefits that contribute to your canine companion's overall health and vitality. Here's an in-depth look at the significant roles that meat meal fulfills:

Concentrated Protein Source

Protein is a fundamental nutrient for dogs, serving as the building blocks for muscles, tissues, enzymes, and hormones. Meat meal is a concentrated protein source obtained by removing excess moisture and fat from the meat. This process results in a protein-rich powder that can provide a higher protein content compared to whole meat. This concentrated protein is essential for muscle development, repair, and maintaining optimal bodily functions in dogs of all ages and sizes.

Amino Acids and Essential Nutrients

Meat meal offers a comprehensive amino acid profile that dogs require for various physiological processes. Amino acids are the fundamental components of proteins and are necessary for functions such as immune system support, tissue repair, and hormone production. Meat meal derived from different animal sources can provide a variety of amino acids, ensuring that dogs receive a well-rounded array of nutrients to support their unique needs.

Impact on Dogs' Growth, Energy, and Muscle Development

Puppies, active adult dogs, and highly active breeds require a consistent intake of protein to support their growth, energy demands, and maintenance of lean muscle mass. Meat meal aids in meeting these requirements effectively. For working dogs or those engaged in activities like agility or herding, the protein content in meat meal can contribute to sustained energy levels and enhanced endurance.

Addressing Dietary Sensitivities and Allergies

Dogs with dietary sensitivities or allergies to certain protein sources can benefit from meat meal. The rendering process used to create meat meal can help break down proteins, potentially reducing the likelihood of triggering allergic reactions. This makes it an alternative protein source for dogs with sensitivities, allowing them to enjoy a balanced and nutritious diet without discomfort.

Enhancing Flavor and Palatability

Meat meal is often more concentrated in flavor than whole meat due to the removal of water and fat. This intensified flavor can make dog food more appealing to picky eaters, ensuring they receive the essential nutrients they need. The enhanced palatability of meat meal can encourage dogs to consume their meals eagerly, preventing potential nutritional deficiencies.

In summary, meat meal's role in dog food is multi-faceted. It serves as a concentrated protein source, providing essential amino acids and nutrients that contribute to overall health, growth, and energy levels. Its benefits extend to addressing dietary sensitivities, enhancing flavor, and offering dietary versatility. When choosing dog food containing meat meal, it's essential to consider your dog's individual needs and consult with a veterinarian if necessary to ensure optimal nutrition.

Natural pet food. Fresh raw minced meat in bowl on white background. Natural pet food. Fresh raw minced meat in bowl on white background. dog food meat and kibble stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Evaluating quality and nutritional value of meat meals in dog food

Selecting the right dog food for your furry friend involves careful consideration of the ingredients used, especially when it comes to meat meal. Here's a comprehensive guide on how to assess the quality and nutritional value of meat meals in dog food:

  • Identifying Reputable Dog Food Brands: Start by researching and choosing reputable dog food brands known for their commitment to using high-quality ingredients. Brands with a strong track record of transparency and rigorous quality control measures are more likely to prioritize the nutritional value of their products, including the meat meal they incorporate.
  • Reading Ingredient Labels and Guaranteed Analysis: Thoroughly examine the ingredient list on the dog food packaging. Ideally, meat meal should be listed as a recognizable protein source (e.g., "chicken meal" or "salmon meal") rather than vague terms like "meat by-product meal." Additionally, pay attention to the guaranteed analysis, which provides information about the protein, fat, fiber, and moisture content of the food. This will help you understand the nutritional composition of the product.
  • Consideration of Protein Content and Sourcing: Check the protein content percentage in the dog food. A high-quality meat meal should contribute significantly to the overall protein content of the food. It's also important to know the source of the meat meal. Look for products that clearly specify the animal source (e.g., chicken, lamb) rather than generic terms.
  • Nutritional Density and Bioavailability: Quality meat meals are nutrient-dense, offering a concentrated source of essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. These nutrients should be highly bioavailable, meaning they are easily absorbed and utilized by your dog's body. This ensures that your dog gets the most nutritional benefit from the food.
  • Absence of Fillers and Artificial Additives: Examine the ingredient list for fillers like corn, soy, and wheat, which offer limited nutritional value. Ideally, the dog food should be free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. A focus on wholesome ingredients indicates a commitment to the nutritional well-being of your dog.
  • Research the Brand's Sourcing and Production: Look into the brand's sourcing practices. Brands that prioritize using responsibly sourced meats and adhere to strict production standards are more likely to provide higher-quality meat meals. Transparent brands often share information about their sourcing and manufacturing processes on their websites.
time to eat lonely dog is eating food on white background close up dog food meat and kibble stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Misconceptions about by-products in pet food

By-products are a topic that often triggers misunderstandings and concerns when it comes to pet food. It's crucial to separate fact from fiction to make informed decisions about your dog's nutrition. By-products are not inherently inferior or unsafe. They consist of parts of an animal that are nutritionally valuable but not typically consumed by humans. These can include organs like liver, kidneys, and hearts, as well as other nutritious components like skin and cartilage. When properly processed, by-products provide essential nutrients that contribute to a balanced diet for dogs and can actually be highly digestible. Organs like liver and kidneys, for instance, contain essential nutrients that can support digestion and overall health. It's more about the quality and processing of the by-products rather than the category itself. By-products can vary widely in quality depending on the source and processing. While some may be highly nutritious, others might lack essential nutrients. It's important to choose dog food brands that specify the type of by-products used and ensure they come from reputable sources.

Dogs in the wild often consume a variety of animal parts, including organs, to meet their nutritional needs. Many dogs find by-products to be flavorful and palatable. In fact, by-products can enhance the taste of dog food and make it more appealing to picky eaters.

Golden Retriever with dog food  Golden Retriever with dog bowl and food dog food meat and kibble stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Take home message

In the realm of pet nutrition, the inclusion of meat meal in dog food stands as a testament to the ongoing evolution of our understanding of optimal canine diets. Far from a mere filler, meat meal plays a pivotal role in providing our furry companions with the essential proteins, amino acids, and nutrients they need for vibrant health and vitality. Its concentrated nature offers a range of benefits, from supporting muscle development and energy levels to addressing dietary sensitivities and enhancing palatability.

As responsible pet owners, our quest for the best nutrition for our dogs involves careful scrutiny and informed decision-making. By evaluating the quality and sourcing of meat meal, we ensure that our choices align with the nutritional needs of our four-legged friends. Equally important is dispelling common misconceptions about by-products, recognizing their value as nutritious components that contribute to a well-rounded diet.

As we navigate the array of dog food options available, let's remember that a holistic approach to pet nutrition goes beyond any single ingredient. It encompasses a balance of protein sources, carbohydrates, fats, and other nutrients that work synergistically to promote optimal health. By staying informed, seeking guidance from professionals, and selecting reputable dog food brands, we pave the way for our dogs to thrive, embodying the true meaning of companionship and well-being.

2 dog food bowls, one filled with kibble and the other filler with cubed red meat
2 dog food bowls, one filled with kibble and the other filler with cubed red meat

View Sources

Funaba, Masayuki, Yuko Oka, Shinji Kobayashi, Masahiro Kaneko, Hiromi Yamamoto, Kazuhiko Namikawa, Tsunenori Iriki, Yoshikazu Hatano, and Matanobu Abe. "Evaluation of meat meal, chicken meal, and corn gluten meal as dietary sources of protein in dry cat food." Canadian journal of veterinary research 69, no. 4 (2005): 299.

Harris, R. C., J. A. Lowe, K. Warnes, and C. E. Orme. "The concentration of creatine in meat, offal and commercial dog food." Research in veterinary science 62, no. 1 (1997): 58-62.

Abd El-Wahab, Amr, Bussarakam Chuppava, Anna Lisa Zeiger, Christian Visscher, and Josef Kamphues. "Nutrient digestibility and fecal quality in beagle dogs fed meat and bone meal added to dry food." Veterinary sciences 9, no. 4 (2022): 164.

Raditic, D. M., R. L. Remillard, and K. C. Tater. "ELISA testing for common food antigens in four dry dog foods used in dietary elimination trials." Journal of animal physiology and animal nutrition 95, no. 1 (2011): 90-97.

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

Thompson, Angele. "Ingredients: where pet food starts." Topics in companion animal medicine 23, no. 3 (2008): 127-132.

MONTEGIOVE, Nicolò, Eleonora Calzoni, Alessio Cesaretti, Roberto Maria Pellegrino, Carla Emiliani, Alessia Pellegrino, and Leonardo Leonardi. "SOLUBLE PROTEIN CONTENT ASSESSMENT IN DRY PET FOOD RAW MATERIALS: COMPARISON BETWEEN FRESH MEAT AND MEAT MEAL FORMULATIONS." Scientific Bulletin Series F. Biotechnologies 25, no. 2 (2021).

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February 20, 2024
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