Understanding Chicken, Chicken Meal, and Chicken By-Product in Pet Food

Do you ever find yourself feeling confused when reading the labels on pet food bags? The different terms used can make it challenging to determine what exactly you’re feeding your beloved furry friends. In particular, the distinction between “Chicken,” “Chicken Meal,” and “Chicken By-Product” can leave pet owners scratching their heads. Let’s delve into these terms and shed some light on their meanings!

What Do These Terms Mean?

To demystify the confusion surrounding these ingredients, let’s turn to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which provides clear definitions:

  • Chicken: This refers to the clean combination of chicken flesh and skin, with or without accompanying bone. It excludes feathers, heads, feet, and entrails. In simpler terms, it means chicken meat, skin, and bone.
  • Chicken Meal: Chicken meal is essentially the same as chicken but in a different form. It involves grinding or reducing the chicken (as defined above) into small particles. Chicken meal is a dry, solid material that can be incorporated into pet food kibble.
  • Chicken By-Product: This encompasses various parts of a chicken carcass, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines. It excludes feathers and, in good processing practice, should be kept to a minimum. In other words, chicken by-products include necks, unborn eggs, feet, and organs.
  • Chicken By-Product Meal: Similar to chicken by-product, this term refers to a ground and rendered combination of chicken by-products. It is also exclusive of feathers, with any remaining components limited to what is unavoidably present in good processing practice. In simpler terms, it means ground up necks, unborn eggs, feet, and organs.
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Now that we’ve clarified these definitions, let me explain further. Chicken and chicken meal are essentially the same ingredient. The difference lies in their form. Chicken refers to chicken meat in its natural state, including water content. On the other hand, chicken meal is chicken meat that has been dehydrated and ground into a powder. When it comes to pet food kibble production, we prefer to see chicken meal as an ingredient. During processing, the water content is removed. Therefore, if we use chicken in the food, which contains about 75% water, we are left with only 25% actual meat content. In contrast, using chicken meal ensures that we have 100% chicken, maximizing the meat content in the food. It’s important to note that ingredients are listed by weight before processing. If chicken is listed as the first ingredient, but moisture is subsequently removed, we end up with significantly less meat compared to other ingredients. However, if chicken meal is listed as the first ingredient, the moisture removal doesn’t affect the protein content, allowing us to maintain the same amount of protein in the final product.

The Importance of Avoiding By-Products

One thing we want to emphasize is the importance of avoiding any kind of by-product. By-products consist of leftover parts and pieces that are deemed unsuitable for human consumption. Although they significantly reduce the cost of pet food, our dogs end up paying the price for this inferior quality. Additionally, keep an eye out for terms like “meat by-product” or “animal by-product.” These indicate that the company is unsure of the specific meat sources used, potentially including proteins from animals like dogs, cats, horses, or other sources that we wouldn’t want to feed our pets.

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Our Basis for Recommendation

We understand that you may come across different opinions and conflicting information during your research. At Katten TrimSalon, we base our recommendations on food trials, scientific findings, and extensive research. While fresh meat is always an excellent option for our dogs, when it comes to dry kibble products, we prefer to see “Chicken Meal” listed as an ingredient. This ensures that our pets receive the optimal percentage of meat they need.

To provide you with a visual aid, take a look at this helpful chart:


Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post, where we’ll discuss ingredients to avoid in pet foods. At Katten TrimSalon, we’re committed to providing you with the latest insights and information to help you make the best choices for your furry friends’ well-being.

To learn more about Katten TrimSalon, visit our website. Stay tuned for more informative articles and exciting updates!