This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 Issue of Vohne Liche Kennels’ American Working Dog Magazine.
There seems to be a lot of misinformation in the world of dog food when it comes to ingredients. We’ve touched on some of these in the past when discussing the perceived benefits of grain free foods. Another common misconception is the perceived superiority of whole meats versus meals and by-products. To illustrate the flaws in this, we’ll use the various forms of chicken used in dog food as examples.
Pet Food Meats Defined
Following is a summary of how AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) defines these three ingredients. For clarity I’m paraphrasing but it is an accurate characterization of each of the definitions.
- Chicken: Chicken meat, skin and bone
- Chicken Meal: Chicken meat, skin and bone which has been ground and dried
- Chicken By-Product Meal: Chicken meat, skin, bone, necks, unborn eggs, cleaned entrails, feet and organs which has been ground and dried
Now if you believe most of what’s spread around the internet, you’d probably rank the quality of these ingredients in the order shown above. In reality, you’d probably be doing your dogs a nutritional disservice. In most cases, we’d encourage you to move “Chicken” to the last spot on the list and here are three very good reasons why.
3 Reasons Meat Meals are Better
Reason #1: Chicken is about 80% water. This means you’ll get about 5 times more meat from both Chicken Meal and Chicken By-Product Meal than you will from whole Chicken. During the manufacturing process all that water is cooked out and you’re left with basically Chicken Meal except only about 20% as much as if you’d have started with a meal.
Reason #2: Many foods that use whole Chicken immediately follow it up with some other ingredient to account for the protein they missed out on by not using a meal to begin with. In many cases, this is a vegetable protein, such as Corn Gluten Meal, which dogs absorb at only about half the rate they do a meat protein. In short, you replaced the missing protein with only half of what you should have.
Reason #3: As unsavory as it may seem to many people, there’s actually excellent nutrition in the by-product components of Chicken By-Product Meal. Hearts, livers, feet and even clean entrails provide a protein dense meal with a broad nutrient profile that offers nutritional benefits not found in regular Chicken Meal. While it may not sound appetizing, dogs both enjoy it and thrive on it.
Specific is a Must
One final distinction that may seem small but is actually pretty important is making sure your meat sources are specific. While a by-product meal may be acceptable, or even preferred, we’d limit that to only those that are known and named. If you see a generically named ingredient such as Poultry By-Product Meal or Meat and Bone Meal, you’re probably better off to avoid those foods. The generic terminology allows for least cost usage of different protein sources in your food. This means you’re quite likely to get a different quality and type of meal from one bag of food to the next. For safety sake, you’re better off avoiding the mystery meat and sticking with something you know.