Dog food bowl.

Real Meat vs Meat Meal In Dog Food: Fact Checked By Our Vet

Written By Vedrana Nikolic | Canine Coach, B.A Ethnology & Anthropology, M.A Semiotics.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 7th January 2024

When browsing through dog food ingredient lists, you may come across terms like "meat" and "meat meal." While they may seem similar, there are distinct differences between these two ingredients that can impact the nutritional composition of the dog food. Understanding these differences can help you make informed decisions when selecting the best diet for your furry friend.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the disparities between "meat" and "meat meal" to shed light on their respective characteristics, processing methods, and nutritional implications.

Meat In Dog Food

When "meat" is listed as an ingredient, it typically refers to the fresh, unprocessed muscle meat sourced from animals like chicken, beef, turkey, or pork. The technicalities of the definition might depend on where you are in the world, but, in general, when an ingredient list includes meat, that is understood to refer to the common-sense idea of meat.

Related: The Best Meat For Dogs.

When looking at the ingredient list of a dog food formula, you’ll ideally want to see exactly what type of animal meat is included. If the list only says “meat”, then there is no way to know which kind of meat or  what animal it came from -and that is never a good sign. In most cases, meat is simply listed as “pork”, “chicken”, “beef” etc.

Related: Kangaroo Meat For Dogs.

Real meat is the best possible option to have in dog food. However, just having meat on the ingredient list doesn’t make dog food great, but seeing it as the first ingredient is always a good sign. One thing to keep in mind is that fresh meat usually has a high water content, which makes it easy for it to be the first ingredient on the list.

Related: Understanding Guaranteed Analysis Levels in Dog Food

This ingredient is generally higher in water content due to its fresh state.

Meat Meal In Dog Food

In contrast to fresh meat, "meat meal" is a processed ingredient that undergoes rendering to remove moisture and fat content. Rendering involves cooking meat at high temperatures to eliminate water and separate the fat. The resulting dry product is then finely ground into a meal.

Meat meal is typically made from various animal tissues, including muscle meat, organs, and bones. Examples include chicken meal, beef meal, or fish meal. It is a highly concentrated source of protein and is commonly utilised in pet foods due to its nutritional benefits.

 The dog food regulations in Australia are very loose, so it’s hard to get a clear definition of meat meal, but the AAFCO standard defines it as:

“Meat meal: rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition.” (1)

AAFCO also notes:

“Unlike meat and “meat by-products,” this ingredient may be from mammals other than cattle, pigs, sheep or goats without further description. However, a manufacturer may designate a species if appropriate (e.g., “beef meal” if only from cattle).” (1)

So, it’s clear that, just like in the case of meat, we want to know which animal it comes from, as “meat meal” could include just about any mammal from this definition. Common examples include chicken meal, beef meal, or fish meal.

Related: What Is the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA)?
Related: AAFCO vs PFIAA: Dog Food Standards Comparison Australia

The rendering process plays a vital role in producing meat meals. It effectively eliminates water, which significantly reduces the moisture content of the ingredient. As a result, meat meal has a significantly lower water content compared to fresh meat. The removal of water and fat also results in a higher concentration of protein. This makes meat meal an excellent protein source.

Related: Are Dogs Carnivores or Omnivores?

Meat meal offers several advantages for both pet food manufacturers and consumers. Its reduced moisture content enhances the food's stability and shelf life, as it is less susceptible to spoilage. Furthermore, the concentration of protein in meat meal contributes to a more nutrient-dense dog food, allowing for precise control of protein levels in the formulation (2).

Considerations When Choosing the Right Diet

When comparing "meat" and "meat meal" in dog food, it's crucial to consider their context within the overall formulation, as well as the specific nutritional needs of your dog. The quality and sourcing of ingredients are also essential factors in determining the overall nutritional value of the dog food.

Related: How To Choose The Right Dog Food?

While fresh meat provides a natural and palatable protein source, it is essential to ensure that it is sourced from reputable suppliers and handled with proper food safety practices. The same goes for meat meal. Unfortunately, finding out the origin and exact components of meat meal in dog food can be very difficult for the consumer.

Related: How Much Protein Is In Dog Food?

Key differences to note:

  • Processing: "Meat" is fresh and unprocessed (to start with), while "meat meal" undergoes rendering to remove moisture and fat content.
  • Water content: "Meat" has a higher water content due to its fresh nature, whereas "meat meal" is dry and has a significantly lower moisture level.
  • Concentration: "Meat meal" is more concentrated in protein since it is a rendered product that includes various animal tissues.

My Final Thoughts

We hope we’ve helped clear up the difference between meat and meat meal. In short, meat meal is not necessarily bad, but it can be. Meat is better, but the quality and the source of the ingredient also play a big role here.

Remember to review the complete ingredient list and consult with your veterinarian to choose a dog food that aligns with your dog's specific dietary requirements and health considerations.


  1. “What’s in the Ingredients List?”. AAFCO. Retrieved June 5, 2023.
  2. Kerns, N. February 20, 2020. “Meat and Meat Meal: Sorting Through Animal Protein Sources”. Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved June 5, 2023.

Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer, Anthropologist & dog lover.

With a Masters Degree in Semiotics & Bachelors Degree in Anthropology, studying the communication between animals and humans, Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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