Caitlin UltimoNutrition / Pet Diet Tips

The Real Deal on Protein Meal

Of course, you want to feed your pet high-quality food that’s nutritious but also affordable. Chances are, you’ve seen “protein meal,” “chicken meal” or even “salmon meal” listed on a dog food package and wondered what it meant. You might jump to the conclusion that chicken meal in dog food or even salmon meal in dog food is a low-grade ingredient compared to whole meat or fish, and that manufacturers are just trying to save money by including it. But when it comes to cat and dog nutrition, that may not necessarily be the case. Here’s the real deal on protein meal, according to experts:

Meat meal is the dried end-product of rendering, a cooking process which converts ground meat—typically including flesh, skin and bone—into a concentrated protein powder that manufacturers can add to pet food. “It’s a valuable approach,” notes veterinarian Joseph Wakshlag, an associate professor in the Section of Clinical Nutrition at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York. That’s because protein meal is a more highly concentrated source of the nutrient than whole meat. For instance, whole chicken contains 18% protein while chicken meal has 65% protein. So pound for pound, chicken meal packs more protein than chicken. “Deboned chicken, for instance, is 60 to 70% water,” explains Logan McGath, pet nutrition expert for Chewy.com. “Meat meal helps boost the protein level of the food, making it easier for your pet to digest.” Protein is a great energy source for active dogs or low-energy dogs who may not be getting enough protein.

But there’s a twist—not all types of meat meal are sound for your pet’s nutrition. In fact, some might even be a bad food for dogs. Buying a product with “animal meal,” or “by-product meal” listed in the ingredients may not be a good choice for your cat or dog’s nutrition. “For instance, chicken by-products may contain bone, gizzard or even feathers,” says McGath. To prevent buying bad food for dogs or cats, you want to look at the product’s label for the source of the meat or fish, such as lamb, chicken, turkey, venison, salmon or beef.

Many high-end pet foods are made with a whole meat or seafood, plus some type of meat meal. “Higher-quality brands generally call out the source of the protein meal,” McGath says. For instance, American Journey Salmon & Sweet Potato Recipe Grain-Free Dog Food contains both chicken meal and deboned salmon meal in its dog food, while Hill’s Science Diet Adult Savory Salmon Entrée Canned Cat Food supplies both salmon and pork by-products. Some pet foods offer two types of meal; for example, Wellness Core Grain-Free Original Turkey & Chicken Recipe Dry Dog Food delivers both turkey meal and chicken meal in its dog food while Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Adult Dry Cat Food does the same.

If you have a low-energy dog or cat, check with the veterinarian to see if a switch in food might help. Or if you have an active dog, inquire about whether you’re feeding him enough protein to maintain his energy levels.

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