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What Is Beef or Meat Meal in Dog Food? Vet-Reviewed Facts & FAQ

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you are attentive to the labels on your dog’s food, you may have noticed the ingredient called “meat meal.” The word “meal” is often used on pet food labels, but what does it actually mean? A simple definition of a meal ingredient is material that has been dried, ground, and used in a dry food product.

Protein is a primary ingredient needed in a dog’s diet, and while fresh animal meat’s protein seems sufficient, meat meals are common ingredients in pet food. Understanding pet food labels’ language is essential to determine what the recipe contains.

Dog food can also contain low-quality meat meals, and we will help you understand this ingredient a little better.

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What Is Meat Meal?

Any ingredient that includes the word “meal” behind it is a rendered ingredient¹.

When meat meal is rendered, the meat is intentionally overcooked, and the end product is dried into a concentrated powder known as meat meal. Most of the waste material processed from rendering comes from slaughterhouses and can include offal, bones, and fatty tissue.

It is still debatable how much of the rendering process depletes the nutritional content, but meat meal is still a source of amino acids, fats, and minerals. It also contains only 5–7% water, which results in a far more concentrated protein product than fresh meat, which contains about 70% water.

Meat meal is a broad term and means it could come from any one animal or a mix of them. For example, beef meal only comes from cattle.

Schnauzer puppy dog eating tasty dry food from bowl
Image Credit: Maximilian100, Shutterstock

Why Do Manufacturers Use Meat Meal Instead of Real Meat in Dog Food?

Meat meal ingredients are much easier to transport and store. Using real meat requires freezing and refrigeration to prevent the product from spoiling, whereas meat meal can be transported by trucks and railways un-refrigerated. Transporting and storing meat meal is more cost-effective and convenient.

Also, meat meal is a great business because if it wasn’t for the rendering process, the offal, which consists of 30% of the animal’s live weight, would be wasted and very expensive to dispose of.

How To Recognize Low-Quality Meat Meals

Meat from sources that can be easily identified usually results in higher-quality meals. Low-grade food is made from unidentified ingredients, such as expired store meats, calves that are sick or dying, deceased zoo animals, and slaughterhouse waste.

There are two things to look out for when identifying low-quality meat meals. Avoid “by-products” and recipes that do not identify the animal source. Knowing what goes into your dog’s plate is crucial. For example, if they develop an allergy, you’ll need to be able to identify what ingredients might be triggering it, which can be hard to do if you are feeding them a mix of unrecognized meat meals.

These should be avoided:

  • Meat meal or meat by-product meal
  • Meat and bone meal
  • Chicken by-product meal
  • Animal meal or animal by-product meal

These meat meals are all great choices because the type of animal used is identified and included in the label:

labrador dog eating
Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock

Should I Feed My Dog Meat Meal?

To make an informed choice regarding new dog food, you can inquire about the meal ingredients from the pet food manufacturer. It is widely acceptable to feed dogs a pure kibble diet, since the complete and balanced ones are designed to provide at least the minimal nutrients that dogs need. But a kibble diet can also be mixed with cooked meat, vegetables, and rice. If your budget allows for it, feed them a complete and balanced fresh food diet.

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Final Thoughts

When purchasing pet food, you will likely come across one or more listed ingredients that include the word “meal.” Take a moment to identify the meal type, since some varieties might be of lower quality, and it is always wise to know what goes into your dog’s plate.

See also:


Featured Image Credit: Srdjan Fot, Shutterstock

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