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What Is (Real) Chicken in Pet Food? … Real or Not-So-Real?


A variety of ingredients are used in pet foods. It may be difficult to understand which ones are good and which are not. There really is quite a difference in quality and value and I will try to clarify this.


Chicken meal (with the water removed) is always the #1 ingredient in ProDiet.

Chicken (Real) - 70%-90% water

The word “Chicken,” often listed as the first ingredient in many pet foods, does not mean what you may think it means. Most consumers don’t realize that “chicken” is mostly water. The definition for this ingredient in pet food is chicken with or without skin and can include bones from the carcass of the bird. When you buy a product with the word chicken (real or plain), you are paying for a lot of water (70% - 90%) and a small amount of chicken because it is listed by weight before it is mixed with the other ingredients and cooked as it goes through the extruder. Therefore, rather than having a meat- or chicken-based food, you could end up with a grain-based product.

Chicken Meal – cooked chicken without the water

When you buy a food with “chicken meal” you are paying for the weight of the bird only (“chicken meal” –dehydrated and highly concentrated--about 5% to10% moisture vs. “real chicken”  (70%-90% water). For this reason, "chicken meal" is considered to be the best source of protein in pet foods and the best value because you are not paying for a lot of water. Chicken meal, as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean chicken flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the whole carcass of chicken, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. A meal, in general, is an ingredient which has been ground or otherwise reduced in particle size.

Chicken By-products

"Chicken by-products" are less expensive and the least desirable parts of the chicken. Chicken by-products, as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), is the dry, ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines—exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices.


These parts may include disabled or diseased meat—not considered safe for human consumption. The use of chicken by-products is not recommended; however, they are often found in low-end pet foods.

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