What’s the definition of meat on a dog food label?

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Few things create as much confusion among pet owners as the ingredient list on a commercial dog food label. Often, a dog food label will include words like “meat,” “meat byproducts” and “meat meal.”

To add to the confusion, there are often phrases included like: “human grade” or “from USDA inspected facilities.”

What does this all really mean?

First, there is no legal definition of “human grade” when it comes to pet food products and, while the phrase “Inspected for human consumption” sounds impressive, it doesn’t mean the product passed inspection for pet food. All it means is that it was inspected for humans—and could very well have been rejected, thus ending up in dog food.

According to the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials), the definition of meat is as follows:

“Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart, or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Meat means “fresh meat” and will often be listed next to “meal” or by-products.

“Meal” should always be species-specific, such as “chicken meal” or “beef meal.” You should stay away from the vague “meat meal,” because generic “meat meal” can really be anything, including roadkill. But would it surprise you to find out that the protein count of “chicken or turkey meal” is actually higher than that of “fresh meat?”

Here’s why: Fresh meat is wet when processed; it often has water content—so the protein weight will register as high as 70%; however, when cooked, all the water and fat is drained, and it might only have a protein content of 15%. Meat Meal, however, is condensed and has a protein content of as high as 65%.

Above all, the best thing you can do for your dog is to become an educated consumer!

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