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Article: Chicken Meal in Dog Food: Safe Ingredient Guide for Dogs

Chicken Meal in Dog Food: Safe Ingredient Guide for Dogs

Chicken Meal in Dog Food: Safe Ingredient Guide for Dogs

Chicken Meal Dog Food

Finding the right nutrition for your beloved pet can often be a challenge, especially when it comes to confusing ingredients like 'chicken meal.' This confusion could affect your furry friend's health.

Luckily, this article dives deep into what chicken meal is, investigating its pros and cons and ultimately helps you make an informed decision about your dog's diet. Ill also provide alternative and some pet food options to suit your needs.

Before we get started, I'll mention that if you are looking for a delicious meal topper for your dog, look no further than the grass fed beef bone broth from Bluebird Provisions. It also helps heal damaged guts and fixed my two dogs' digestion.

What is Chicken Meal in Dog Food?

Chicken meal in dog food is the dried and ground up version of chicken, which includes flesh, skin and small bones. It's a widely-used ingredient in many top pet food brands you find at the vet or in local stores.

One thing to remember is that it does not have feathers, heads, feet or intestinal contents.

chicken meal in a bucket

What is Chicken By-Product Meal in Dog Food?

Chicken by-product meal is the rendered product from chicken parts unfit for human consumption. These often include heads, feet, visceral organs and undeveloped eggs. These parts are ground down and rendered at a high temperature to create a dry, dense powder.

While it is still made from real chicken, it's generally a cheaper ingredient that is rife with fillers and inedible parts of chicken. It is a blanket term that does not require a ton of regulation. So the quality can vary from product to product or brand to brand. It's worth noting that quality can vary dramatically among brands.


Chicken Meal

Chicken By-Product Meal

Definition according to AAFCO

Chicken (real meat, skin and bone) that has been ground or reduced in particle size.

The ground, rendered, clean parts of a chicken carcass such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, but no feathers.

Nutritional content

High in protein. Lacks the water content found in whole chicken, leading to a higher percentage of actual meat.

Not as rich in protein as chicken meal, but retains more nutritional content due to differences in rendering process. Does not provide an optimal nutrition..

Production Process

Chicken is heated, cooked and dried into a powder.

Necks, feet, organs, eggs are ground down and rendered at a high temperature to create a dry, dense powder

Use in Pet Food

Better suited for kibble due to its dryness.

Incorporated into cheaper, dry pet food.

Benefits for Pets

The dehydration process removes water, leading to a higher protein content.


Composition and Production of Chicken Meal

Chicken meal is made by rendering down parts of the chicken from the head to the intestines using heat and eventually dehydrating it into a fine powder.

But let's take a closer look at what exactly it is made of and how its made.

What is Chicken Meal Made of

Chicken meal primarily contains the skin and bones of chicken. That being said, sometimes it can have other parts such as the neck, feet and intestines. Unlike chicken by-products, it doesn’t eggs or other inedible parts.

Some people like chicken meal because it has natural amounts of glucosamine and chondroitin, while others see it as a low quality protein.

The Process of Making Chicken Meal

Making chicken meal involves a rendering process at meat rendering factories. Here are the steps to make chicken meal:

  1. Chicken leftover parts are shipped to meat rendering facilities.
  2. They go through a grinding process to make all the parts roughly the same size.
  3. They're cooked at high temperatures in order to isolate the protein from the fat and kill all bacteria.
  4. The fat is purified and further rendered into chicken schmaltz or chicken fat.
  5. The protein is ground a second time to make it the same size.
  6. The protein is then dehydrated into a fine powder using heat. The powder resembles cornmeal.

This entire process eliminates bacteria, viruses and parasites while also removing liquids.

How chicken meal is made

Why is Chicken Meal Used in Dog Food?

Chicken meal is used in dog food because it is cheaper than using real meat and it works well in dry kibbles because most of the moisture is removed in the dehydration process. It's less expensive than whole chicken, making it a cost-effective ingredient.

Plus, it boosts the protein content of dog food without raising the cost. Finally, because of the lengthy rendering process, it is shelf stable and free of pathogens so that it extends the shelf life of dry pet food. Suiting both the manufacturers' and pet food brands who sell to consumers like you and me.

Chicken Meal vs. Chicken: The Raw Facts


Chicken Meal


AAFCO Definition

Chicken (real meat, skin and bone) that has been ground or reduced in particle size.

Clean combination of flesh and skin with or without bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of chicken or a combination thereof. Noof feathers, heads, feet and entrails.


High in protein. Lacks the water content found in whole chicken, leading to a higher percentage of actual meat. High in glucosamine and chondroitin.

High in protein, higher moisture (50-70%). High in vitamin B6, vitamin B3 and zinc.

How it's Made

Chicken parts are heated, rendered and dehydrated into a powder.

Chicken is heated, cooked and dried to a powder.

Pet Food Uses

Better suited for kibble due to its dryness.

Better for wet food. But still works in kibble.

Benefits for Pets

Higher protein.

Generally higher quality meat, nutrients and sourcing.

Protein Content Comparisons

You might be shocked to hear that chicken meal tops whole chicken in protein content. While whole chicken is 50 to 70% moisture / water, chicken meal after processing is a concentrated protein source. So, a dog food made with chicken meal may contain more protein than a food using the same weight of whole chicken.

Nutritional Profile Differences

Chicken meal has some important vitamins and minerals, like calcium, glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen and phosphorus. Because it includes bone, it's rich in these minerals, supporting strong bones and teeth in dogs.

Whole chicken, on the other hand, has less of these specific minerals, but is higher in B Vitamins, zinc, folate, biotin and choline.

How Do You Know if Chicken Meal is in Your Dog's Food?

You can check the ingredients label on the back of your dog food to see if chicken meal is included. Usually it will be somewhere in the first 5 ingredients if it is used. You will see it labelled as 'chicken meal.' If you do not see it, then it is likely not in your pet food.

dog food ingredient list with chicken meal

Many of the top food brands for poodles, boxers and pugs all include chicken meal.

Is Chicken Meal Safe for Dogs?

Yes, chicken meal is safe for dogs as it is a reliable source of protein. But you must make sure the brand you are using uses quality sourcing and processing methods, or else you risk cross contamination or low quality ingredients that are GMO and can be harmful to your pup.

Also, it is not the most nutritious choice, so supplementing it with meat based proteins or bone broth is a good choice.

The Cons of Pet Foods With Chicken Meal

The risks with chicken meal is that it comes down to trusting the brand you are using and the manufacturer they are sourcing it from. Some pet foods may use chicken meal sourced from low-grade chicken or even 4D meats—dying, deceased, disabled or diseased.

It's quite a mystery. And a lack of transparency from some brands simply doesn't make it easier for pet parents.

Are There Healthier Protein Alternatives to Chicken Meal?

Some safer protein options than chicken meal are whole chicken, beef, lamb and fish (salmon, whitefish, herring, etc). These meats are generally better sources of protein and are less likely to have sketchy sourcing or speculative chicken parts in the mix.

Closing Thoughts

Thoughts on chicken meal are a mixed bag indeed. On one hand, it’s budget-friendly, protein-packed and has some extra nutrition for joint health and osteoarthritis.

On the flip side, the quality of sourcing is a concern. I would steer clear because it is really hard to get information from these massive pet food companies about where they are sourcing the chicken from.

You will not get a straight answer and instead get a PR statement. Better to save your time and just get a food with real, meat proteins. You can read my guide to finding the best food for labs, huskies and doodles for more info.

And if you are looking for a meal topper with extra protein and gut healing nutrients, try a high protein bone broth like the one from Bluebird Provisions.

Do you have any questions about chicken meal or a similar ingredient? Leave a comment and I'll get back to you asap.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used to treat or supplement any pet's diet. Consult your veterinarian or animal health specialist if you have questions about anything related to their food, consumption or health. The statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, USDA or CFIA.

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