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How to Figure Out Dog Food Ingredients

If you’re confused by some of the lingo on dog-food bags, you’re not alone — what’s a by-product, anyway? And meat meal may sound like ground-up meat, but it’s achieved by cooking, not grinding.

Here are definitions for some food terms in ingredient lists:

  • Animal by-product meal: This consists of rendered (essentially heated and strained) animal tissues that don’t fit any of the other ingredient definitions. It still can’t contain hair, horns, hoofs, hide trimmings, manure, intestinal contents, or extraneous materials.

  • By-products: Meat by-products are non-human-grade proteins obtained from animal carcasses. They can vary greatly in their digestibility, and there is no way for the consumer to determine their digestibility.

  • Meat: This is the clean flesh of slaughtered cattle, swine, sheep, or goats. It must come from muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus.

  • Meat and bone meal: This is rendered from mammal tissues, including bone. Other than that, it is similar to meat meal.

  • Meat by-products: This consists of fresh, non-rendered, clean parts of slaughtered mammals. It does not include meat but does include lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, livers, blood, bones, fat, stomachs, and intestines. It cannot include hair, horns, teeth, or hoofs.

  • Meat meal: This is a rendered meal made from animal tissues. It cannot contain blood, hair, hoofs, horns, hide trimmings, manure, intestinal contents, or extraneous materials. It may not contain more than 14 percent indigestible materials. Lamb meal is made from lamb parts. Meat meal is made from cattle, swine, sheep, or goats.

  • Poultry (or chicken or turkey) by-product meal: This consists of ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines. It cannot contain beaks or feathers.

  • Poultry (or chicken or turkey) by-products: This consists of non-rendered clean parts of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, and guts. It must not contain feces or foreign matter.

Rendering is a process by which animal parts are heated slowly over a long period of time to liquefy the fat so that it can be removed. What remains is mainly dry proteins and is called meal.

You partly render your bacon when you put it on a paper towel before putting it in the microwave. The heat liquefies the fat, which drips onto the paper towel. The bacon comes out dry and crispy.

If you see the term meal in reference to plant sources, it means that the oils have been extracted from the plant or grain and the meal is what remains.

Any terminology regarding the meat or meat flavor has to comply with a list of specific definitions. Examples of some common phrases and the standards that need to be met in order for the dog food company to use the phrase:

  • Beef for dogs: The food must contain 95 percent beef by weight.

  • Beef dog food: The food must contain 70 percent beef by weight.

  • Beef dinner, beef entrée, or beef platter: The food must contain 25 percent beef by weight.

  • Dog food with beef: The food needs to contain only 3 percent beef.

  • Beef-flavored: The food doesn’t need to contain any beef; it just needs to taste like beef (using artificial flavors).

The same rules for terminology apply to any meat source in dog food, such as chicken, lamb, and so on.

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