Understanding pet food ingredients - What is a meal (e.g. chicken meal)?

A common ingredient in commercial pet foods is meat or fish ‘meals’. Most pet owners do not understand what a meat ‘meal’ is and often have misconceptions about this type of ingredient.

To create a meat meal, fresh meat, generally including bones and cartilage, undergoes a cooking process which removes the water from the meat and creates a dry powder. Meat meals are used in pet food to create a kibble which is high in quality protein and more nutrient dense (since it takes 3 to 5 kgs of fresh meat to produce 1kg of meal).

The key consideration when looking at the ingredient panel, is not whether the ingredient is a meal, but rather what the meal has been made from. A top quality pet food will only use ‘named’ meat meals (such as Chicken Meal) which are made only from muscle meats and bone; rather than ‘by-product’ meals or ‘un-named’ meat meals, which are inferior sources of protein. By-product meals (such as Chicken-by-product meal) may include unwanted ingredients such as beaks and feathers. Un-named meat meals (such as Poultry Meal) may include meats from many different unknown animal sources - this can be an issue if your pet has a food intolerance to a particular meat and you have no way of knowing what is in the food.

Another consideration is that some manufacturers may use preservatives, such as ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT, on the meat between slaughter and the meat meal processing plant. Such preservatives may not be listed on a pet food’s ingredient panel. It is important therefore to look for a food that is manufactured by a company that focusses on the quality and sourcing of its ingredients. Petcurean, for example, commits to ensuring that all of their meat meals are not preserved with ethoxyquin, BHA or BHT between slaughter and processing and require all of their suppliers to use natural preservatives (Vitamin E).