Dog Food Nutrition

What Is Chicken Meal In Dog Food?

October 5, 2021

What Is Chicken Meal In Dog Food?

This page contains affiliate links. We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post through our independently chosen links, which earn us a commission. Learn More

We all know that good dog foods are supposed to have plenty of meat protein. You’ve probably spent time reading dog food labels, looking at protein percentages and reading ingredient lists.

Chicken – whole and/or deboned, is one of the most common dog food meats available. But it’s often followed by “chicken meal.” What is chicken meal in dog food? Is it good for your dog? Why do dog food companies use it?

Here’s what you need to know about chicken meal in dog food.

The definition of chicken meal in dog food

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which provides definitions for pet food ingredients, chicken meal is defined as follows:

Chicken Meal is the dry rendered (cooked down) product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts of whole carcasses of chicken – exclusive of feathers, heads, feet, or entrails. Chicken meal does not contain feathers, heads, feet, or intestinal contents.

According to some sources, it’s considered to be the single best source of protein in commercial pet foods.

AAFCO explains that the rendering or cooking process to make a meat meal such as chicken meal is designed to destroy disease-causing bacteria. It leaves behind an ingredient that is very high in protein when the water is removed.

Chicken meal is not the same thing as chicken by-products or chicken by-product meal.

The difference between chicken and chicken meal in dog food

So, why do dog foods so often include both chicken and chicken meal? And what is the difference to your dog?

Dog food ingredients are listed by weight before cooking on the label. Chicken in its whole, fresh, or deboned form is relatively heavy and is often listed as the first ingredient. That’s because whole chicken is made up of 70 percent water.

Most dogs like chicken; it’s nutritious; and most dogs can eat it without food allergies or sensitivities flaring up (though some dogs do react to it).

However, after cooking, when the moisture is removed from the whole chicken, this ingredient would fall much lower on the ingredient list. It would still provide some protein for your dog but not nearly as much as you or your dog might hope.

By contrast, chicken meal is cooked down (rendered) and has the moisture removed before it is added to the dog food ingredients to make the dog food.

It’s already a super concentrated protein powder – a dried residue from cooking down the clean chicken carcasses.

This means that while whole chicken is made up of about 70 percent water and 18 percent protein (with some fat), chicken meal only has 10 percent water and 65 percent protein. Most of the fat is removed to use elsewhere.

Whole chicken compared to chicken meal
The water and protein percentages of whole chicken compared to chicken meal.


Using a lot of whole or fresh chicken in making a dry dog food can also cause some manufacturing problems. For example, fresh whole meats are more prone to bacterial growth than dried ingredients, such as meat meals.

It’s much easier for companies to work with dried products, such as chicken meal, than with fresh products or meats that are frozen, thawed, or added to dog food mixtures in other ways. (If you have ever tried to make dog cookies using chicken or tuna then you probably understand what we mean.)

Chicken meal can be used in much greater amounts than chicken meat – and it provides four or five times the nutrients as whole chicken weighing the same amount.

Chicken nutrition facts

NutrientSkinless, boneless breastSkin-on, bone-in breast
Calories165 gr197 gr
Protein31 gr30 gr
Total fat3.6 gr7.8 gr
Saturated fat1 gr2.2 gr
Monounsaturated fat1.2 gr3 gr
Polyunsaturated0.7 gr1.7 gr

Is chicken meal in dog food good?

While some people don’t like chicken meal in dog food or other named meat meals (beef meal, lamb meal, and so on), the fact is that it’s not practical for most dog food companies to provide a lot of meat protein if they only use whole meats in their foods.

Companies that don’t use named meat meals such as chicken meal may add protein by using peas, lentils, and legumes, which has become problematic. If they rely only on whole meats, their cost could be out of reach for most dog lovers.

You can usually expect a named meat meal such as chicken meal to be a good quality ingredient but you do need to consider the source.

If you have concerns about the chicken meal in a dog food, don’t be afraid to contact the manufacturer and ask where they source their chicken meal and what kind of protocols they follow to make sure the chicken meal is good quality.

You should be more cautious about generic meat meals such as “meat meal” and “animal meal.” That’s because you don’t know the animals used as the source of those meals. The same goes for other ingredients.

It’s always important for ingredients to be identified as specifically as possible so you know what you are feeding your dog.

Chicken meal is also a natural source of glucosamine, thanks to the cartilage that is included in the rendered chicken.

We believe that chicken meal in dog food is a good ingredient and we don’t have any qualms about recommending foods that include chicken meal.

Dog food with chicken meal as first ingredient

Most dog lovers prefer to see a whole meat as the first ingredient in a dog food such as whole, fresh, or deboned chicken, followed by chicken meal. However, in some cases you may see chicken meal listed as the first ingredient.

This shouldn’t be a problem if it’s a good quality food. You do need to consider the rest of the food’s ingredients.

If the other ingredients are split between pea protein, pea fiber, and pea flour, or there are six kinds of lentils and legumes, there is a serious problem. The same is true if the food has half a dozen kinds of grains.

On the other hand, it’s not unusual to see chicken meal used with other kinds of named meat meals such as lamb meal or turkey meal. That shouldn’t be a problem since the dog food is adding more named meat protein to the food.

So, while it’s always nice to see whole meat such as chicken included as the first ingredient along with chicken meal, if chicken meal is the first ingredient, this shouldn’t stop you from buying an otherwise good dog food.

The last word on chicken meal in dog food

Chicken meal in dog food is found in all kinds of dog foods. This is not an ingredient that you should worry about as long as the rest of the ingredients in the food look good. It has nearly four times as much protein and other nutrients as whole chicken. It’s good for dogs and they like it. Dog food companies like it. And it’s good for the dog lover’s pocketbook.

Carlotta Cooper

Carlotta Cooper is a long-time contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine DN Dog News. She's the author of The Dog Adoption Bible, a Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) award winner. In addition, she is an American Kennel Club Gazette breed columnist and the author of several books about dogs. She has been reviewing pet foods and writing about dog food for more than 10 years.
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *