What is meat meal and how is meat meal made?

As opposed to whole meat, meat meal is the dehydrated, concentrated version, created through a process called rendering. Dog Food Advisor, likens the first step of rendering to making a stew. “With rendering, you start with a meat stew, cook away the water and bake the residue.  And you end up with a highly concentrated protein powder — or meat meal,” the site explains.

While the end product is high in protein, the fact that it’s processed through a rendering plant means that the quality of the input ingredients do not have to comply with many of the regulated standards.

So why is the lack of regulation an issue?

This goes back to what’s put into the original “stew,” which can contain thrown out animal carcasses and their by-products. According to Dog Food Advisor, input ingredients can include “slaughterhouse waste and spoiled supermarket meats — even diseased or dying cattle — or dead zoo animals.” Meals can also be comprised of processed beaks, bones, feet, under-developed eggs, organs, and feathers.

How can I tell if my pet's food contains low quality meat meals?

If you know what to look for in ingredient lists, you can get a good sense as to whether a pet food contains low-quality meat meals. Any “meal” that is vaguely identified or doesn’t determine the exact animal it’s sourced from is a red flag. Also, look out for anything listed as a “by-product.” According to Dog Food Advisor, here are some examples of pet food ingredients to avoid: Meat meal, animal meal, chicken by-product meal, meat and bone meal, glandular meal, poultry meal, and blood meal.

How do I make sure my pet is getting good quality food?

There are many quality dog foods that include meals of some kind, but unfortunately there is generally limited disclosure as to the exact type, quality, and source of ingredients in meat meals.  Look for a pet food brand that hold themselves to a high standard, that is focused on superior quality, and that provides a high level of transparency around their ingredient sourcing.