Why Is Chicken Meal Bad For Dogs?

If you’ve been buying dog food, you’ve probably come across this ingredient, but why is chicken meal bad for dogs? It is a dry and rendered product from the combination of chicken flesh and skin. When we say “rendered,” we mean undergoing grounding, melting, and cooking for hours until it becomes a powder. Then, manufacturers cook it again to make pet foods.

This ingredient is not entirely harmful to dogs, but it canines may be allergic to it since it is from chicken. This article aims to help you understand if a chicken meal is bad for your pooch or not. Let us debunk some myths with some facts explained by experts.

Understanding The Truth Behind Chicken Meal

There are fewer than 50 pet food producers in the United States, but how can it be accurate if there are approximately 1,000 brands of dog foods on the market? Many pet food businesses are nothing more than marketing companies dressed up as pet food businesses. They conjure up ideas that make the consumer look good at their particular product. Many of those things that make the pet food bags look good contain little to no nutritional value for your dog.

Placing “New or Dehydrated Foods” on a pet food label is frustrating to customers. Why? Let us explain some information to you, the pet consumer, that could completely change the way you look at pet food labels.

The AAFCO Standards

The Association of American Food Control Officials (AAFCO) sets standards for governing the labeling of pet foods under the FDA. The ingredients in pet food shall be listed in descending order, and according to its weight. 

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Take dog food, for example, that has a minimum of 30 ingredients. The manufacturer lists down its ingredients from the smallest amount to the most significant amount. With this pet food labeling rule, basic it might sound, there is a huge issue: Where does an ingredient’s water or moisture get factored into?

Explaining Common Dog Food Ingredients

The moisture of most ingredients, including all meat meals, grains, legumes, fibers, and other components, would be between 8 and 12%. The controversy occurs when you add to the formula “Fresh or Dehydrated” meats. Fresh Meats contain more than 80 percent water, while Dehydrated Meat lost greater than 80 percent of the moisture. What do you mean by that? Until shipping, Pet Food companies can use the weight of the ingredient to determine its position on the tag or label of that product.

A dog food formula, for example, guarantees 30% of Crude Protein with a similar label:

  • Fresh Deboned Chicken
  • Chicken Meal
  • Rice
  • Fat
  • Beet Pulp

The higher the protein, the higher the meat content, assuming there are no Glutens in the ingredient. On the other hand, a 30% protein level in a portion of dog food will have more meat than a 22% protein level pet food.  

The highest absolute fresh chicken that you can force through an extruder is around 25%. Nonetheless, in most cases, less than 20 percent. “New Chicken” contains just 8 percent protein as it contains more than 80 percent water with a nutritional value of zero!

So, give the pet food supplier the benefit of the doubt: Let’s say that a formula contained 25% fresh chicken with 8% Crude protein. Only 2 percent of this formula’s total protein comes from “Fresh Chicken,” yet “Fresh Chicken” holds # 1 spot on the label.

This situatuon alone is deceptive to the consumer, who, in most cases, thinks that they are buying costly pet food because of the high quality, high meat ingredient ratio. Another reason for not adding fresh meats to dry kibble food is food safety. However, is a chicken meal all about negativity for your dog’s nutrition?

Why Dog Food Manufacturers Use Chicken Meal?

According to some manufacturers, the inclusion of a protein meal as the main ingredient is an excellent protein source. It is safe and nutritious to add on kibbles that have been excellent in boosting the amount of animal protein in our dogs’ food. The most significant benefit of using a meal is removing the water from the meat before cooking the kibble. 

Removing the water from the meat at meal formation provides a higher percentage of protein in the kibble. Meals are a source of more concentrated protein than pure raw meat. Until the cooking process, the panels of ingredients on pet foods are classified by weight, whether it is baking or extruding.

Water gets lost during the cooking process. Then, the ingredients of the kibble are concentrated, nutritionally, and in quantity. However, a raw meat product on the product panel does not stay in the same place because about 70 percent of its total weight is lost when cooking the water. When a meal is useful as a source of protein, either as the primary protein or to improve a raw protein, extracting the water in the meat has already taken place so that the amount of protein remains constant after cooking.

The general rule is that raw meat contains about 70 percent water and 12 percent protein before cooking, compared to a meat meal containing about 5 percent moisture and 70 percent protein. Comparing the same raw meat and meat meal weight, it’s obvious the meal has a much higher protein content.

5 Best Dog Foods Free From Chicken Meal

Don’t worry if you don’t want chicken meals for your canine because there are still lots of options for you. So, here are the five best dog foods that are free from chicken meals. If you think this ingredient is unsafe, try these next best options.

1. Hill’s Science Diet Wet Dog Food – Salmon And Vegetable

Healthy digestion is a cornerstone of nutrition for good Dogs. That’s why Hill’s Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach & Skin Salmon & Vegetable Entrance helps optimize your adult dog’s digestive health & skin health. Natural fibers help promote easy cleaning of stools, while Omega 6s and vitamin E nourish the skin of your adult dog and add luster to their coat. 

It is a wet food that you’ll want to check out made with natural ingredients. There is more to love with Science Diet’s new look. Some of our products have unique names & new formulae as well. For puppies and pregnant dogs for safe digestion & faster pick-up of stools.

2.Purina ONE Weight Management – Lamb And Rice

Meet the unique nutritional needs of your dog throughout its lifetime by serving Purina ONE. Natural with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to support dogs’ health. Add Purina ONE SmartBlend Tender Cuts in Gravy Lamb & Brown Rice Entree adult wet dog food to your dog’s cravings for a savory flavor.

This recipe is from real lamb and brown rice, and every high-quality ingredient has a purpose with 0 percent fillers. A delightful gravy balances this wet dog food for added moisture and flavor. A balanced moist dog food recipe is easily digestible, so there’s more nutrition going to work inside your dog, and the high protein helps sustain its big muscles.

Tender, meaty cuts provide a tempting texture that can happily sink your dog’s teeth into, and 100% complete and balanced nutrition in each serving helps support your entire body’s health. If you serve this Purina One SmartBlend Tender Cuts canned dog food, you are giving your smart dog a nutrition that is essential for long-term.

3.Cesar Gourmet Wet Dog Food – Prime Rib

With CESAR Wet Dog Food, Dogs with sophisticated palates will enjoy a rich culinary experience! From big to small dogs, treat your pampered pooch with savory dog food featuring US Beef as the # 1 ingredient, and steak flavors that make water and tail wag for your mouth. Cesar Dog Food delights with an enticing filet texture and is fortified with vitamins and minerals to have a full and healthy diet. 

Cesar Adult Dog Food makes mealtime easy, served in comfortable trays with no-fuss, peel-away freshness seals. This gourmet wet dog food also uses formulated ingredients to follow the nutritional standards set for maintenance by the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles.

4.Pedigree Choice CUTS in Gravy Adult Canned Wet Dog Food – Beef

Dogs love a meaty feast, and Pedigree Choice Cuts in Gravy with Beef Adult Wet Dog Food gives them the nutritional flavors they desire. Made with flavorful morsels of real beef in delicious gravy sauce, this nutritious dog food offers the ideal mix of oils and minerals for good skin and a glistening coat. Every recipe is 100 % complete nutrition, so you know they get the most out of their wet dog food. Help your dog grow happy and healthy with food for dogs Pedigree Choice Cuts. 

5.Blue Buffalo Wilderness Wolf Creek Stew High Protein Grain Free Natural Wet Dog Food

Inspired by a wolf’s favorite hunting ground and wrapped in hearty gravy with tender chunks of live salmon. This grain-free recipe, made from fresh salmon as the first ingredient, plus fruits and vegetables, includes the most beautiful natural ingredients enriched with vitamins and minerals. 

Formulated for your adult dog’s health and wellbeing, this wet dog food features real salmon protein to help provide the energy it needs while promoting healthy muscle growth. Wilderness Wolf Creek Stew is a delicious, grain-free recipe with generous chunks of salmon, made from the meat your dog craves in a savory gravy for an irresistible taste.

The Importance Of Reading And Understanding Dog Food Labels

All pet food companies are trying to compete on an equal playing field; so, when one company practices misleading labeling practices, most other companies follow suit to keep up with the competition as well. You should know that not all pet foods on the market which contain fresh or dehydrated foods are evil. Remember that the consistency of these pet foods is not what you think they are at first glance.

If you are a pet owner looking for premium, high-quality, high-digestible pet food, here are a few things to look for in a pet food label, which will help you decide which diet is best for your pet. Premium pet food products should NEVER include the following ingredients.

  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Corn Gluten
  • Wheat Gluten
  • Soybean Meal
  • Wheat Flour
  • Wheat Middling
  • “By-Product Meals”

Using only 100 lbs per ton of dehydrated chicken, which is about 5 percent of the formula, the manufacturer can claim that by weight or 400 pounds, this is equal to four times that. If the next ingredient in the recipe is below 399 lbs, “Chicken” is magically the # 1 ingredient in the formula. If in reality, it’s just 5 percent of the pet food formula that adds only 3 percent of the total protein to the pet’s diet.

Chicken Vs. Chicken Meal: What Is Better?

What delivers higher quality meat protein between chicken and chicken meal? What savvy customers always think when they hear the Chicken vs. Chicken Meal issue is that Chicken (Raw) has at least 70 percent water weight. Thus, after processing, it is likely to drop in place on the product label where ingredients appear based on their weight order. The general rule is that the top 5 ingredients are around 80 percent of what’s inside the container.

Consumers also assume the ‘Meal,’ which is a cooked and ground-up food would be immediately better as it contains just around 5 percent moisture. It will retain its position in the label of ingredients, but this is where it gets tricky because a product’s weight does not define its quality.

Are you aware that kibble producers are not permitted to refer to the ingredients’ consistency in the product (digestibility, vital nutrients in the products, and actually how available they are to the dog)? It makes it incredibly hard or impossible for consumers to know what they are putting in their dog’s mouth.


As described by AAFCO, Chicken is “the combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone derived from exclusive (not including) feathers, heads, feet and intestines parts or whole carcasses of chicken.” Chicken (raw) has not been cooked and contains 50 to 70 percent moisture, which is reduced by about two-thirds during the cooking process.

Typically, no more than 35 percent of raw chicken is suitable in kibble formula. It can be problematic for manufacturing machinery, so if you see a kibble that lists only ‘Chicken,’ you might assume it is less than 35 percent. What we don’t know is what ‘Chicken’ is really in your kibble bowl, it might be chicken fillets, or it might be chicken carcass or something in between – it’s going to be different from company to company. Don’t depend on the picture on the front of the bag to pull you in, that’s all marketing hype.

What we know is that it’s not the ‘complete chicken’ like we see in kibbles. They use the entire animal that’s all kinds of amazing in terms of naturally deriving amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. It is more effective than having to add a whole bunch of synthetic ones at the end, and even though it’s always fried, it’s getting closer to biologically acceptable.

Chicken Meal

AAFCO describes the word “meal” as “fresh, made product from a mixture of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, extracted from parts of the entire [chicken] carcass, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, and entrails.” The chicken meal could be a product made only from high-quality, deboned chicken breasts, much like the kind you’d find in a grocery store, or it could be from all the carcasses of spent egg farm hens at the end of their productive cycle.

These hens put all their energy into producing eggs and don’t have a lot of muscle on their skeletal frames, so you have a relatively high ratio of skin and bone versus muscle meat quality. A defining feature of a high-quality meat meal is a low ash content, which means the bone-to-meat proportion is small. The reality seems to be that Chicken Meal is often from chicken frames that are part of the chicken that remains after the plants of human processing take what they need.

Meals can be good or bad in quality, depending on how they are prepared and handled. If the protein gets damaged, then dogs don’t get a good source of amino acid. Sadly as described above, customers have no way of knowing if the meal in their dog food is decent or bad quality.

Chicken By-Product Meal

AAFCO explains the by-product meal in chicken can contain varying amounts of clean flesh and skin-chicken heads, chicken feet, and chicken guts. Some new studies of by-product meals as protein sources for dogs – the general finding is that the meals ‘slightly’ contain more amino acids and are ‘slightly’ more digestible than by-product meals.

In a 1998 review, they found that the viscera, which is the chicken’s internal organs and intestinal contents, were comparable in protein quality to the components of chicken flesh used in high-quality chicken meals. Researchers also found that chicken heads were marginally lower in price, and the cost of chicken feet was much smaller than chicken meat. These variables affect a by-product meal quality-does it involve chicken feet and how much if so.

Chicken Meal vs. Chicken By-Product Meal

Meals are usually of a marginally higher quality than by-product meals, but if there are no chicken feet in the by-product meal, you get pretty close up. You, as the user, however, have no way of knowing that detail. It comes down to not pretending that you are something that you are not. For example, if you’re a kibble company paying $120 for a kibble bag whose main ingredient is a by-product meal that costs you much less than Chicken Meal, then that’s not fair to the customer.

If you’re a kibble company charging $40 for a kibble bag featuring chicken by-product meal as the main ingredient, it seems much fairer. Since you can’t guarantee consistency, be careful to go for the chicken meal and hope the meal has been prepared and treated so that it doesn’t harm the protein.

Frequently Asked Questions

Everything is good but in moderation, and the same rule applies to chicken meals. When possible, you want to choose dog foods that don’t have a chicken meal in it. It is still best to go natural to keep your canine happy and healthy. 

Why is chicken meal used in dog food?

We need a certain proportion of wet and dry ingredients when making pet food, and we do need to meet the nutritional requirements of pets. The end product is a concentrated, bioavailable source of protein by drying and grinding the chicken up. For example, if we tried to make kibble using all the chicken breasts, which are about 75 percent moisture, it would be way too watery and would not come out properly through the extrusion process.

Is chicken meal good for dogs?

The chicken meal has plenty of nutritional benefits, so you’ll often find it in dog food. For example, chicken meals have protein, an essential nutrient that plays a role from muscle growth to immune functions in all.

Chicken meal is a natural source of glucosamine, a cartilage tissue-building block, too. Glucosamine can help keep your dog’s joints safe, which will help your dog remain active for a long time to come, so be sure to pick dog food with extra glucosamine outside the meal.

Is chicken meal safe for dogs?

If your dog eats food from a company that values safety and quality, you will never have to worry if it is bad for dogs to eat chicken. The chicken meal we use is always carefully sourced in some of our dog food, and it always follows our high-quality requirements for pet food. But if you see a bag of dog food that proudly says it’s made with “True Chicken,” it refers to a healthy mixture of flesh and skin of the chicken. The chicken meal contains no feathers, feet, heads, or intestinal contents. Chicken Meal for your dog is safe and nutritious!

Is chicken meal real chicken?

Absolutely — the method of rendering and grinding is the reason we describe it as chicken meal and the fact that it may contain bones. Yet if you see a bag of dog food that proudly says it’s made with “Pure Chicken,” this applies to a healthy mixture of flesh and skin of the chicken.

It is important to remember that if your pet food, including chicken meals, includes a meat meal as the first or second ingredient, it’s perfectly fine. When you want to feed a pet food with a high amount of meat in the formula, you need to note it right here. The higher the protein, the greater the flesh material. A protein level of 30 percent in food for your dogs would have more meat than a protein level in pet food in 22 percent.

Do you want to try something new for your pooch, check out these amazing 7 easy recipes of wet dog food.

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