Meat in dog food, including meat by-products, can be just 'waste' that is found to be unsuitable for human consumption. About 50% of every slaughtered mammal is not used for human consumption. These parts are used for pet food amongst others.
The better pieces of meat are stripped away for us humans. Animals get second choice. Actually this is no different than living in the wild where the alpha wolf usually gets the first pick and the others fight for the remaining pieces. The omega always eats last and surely he or she doesn't get human-grade meat.
This is not the case for all kinds of pet food as some brands advertise they only use human grade meat in dog food. It is mostly the newer and smaller dog food companies that manufacture these kinds of products. However, no clear definition exists as to what exactly is "human grade" meat.
You can recognize the better brands of dog food by looking at the ingredient list to see one or more named meats among the first few ingredients. So instead of "meat", you'll read "lamb" or "duck" for instance.
Meat and meat by-products are defined by the AAFCO. So by reading the dog food label you can get an idea of the quality of the ingredients used. It's not fault proof but it's a good indication.
Meat in dog food is the clean flesh of slaughtered cattle, sheep, goat or swine. The most common used meat source in dog food comes from cattle and pigs. Parts fit for this definitions are: muscle, heart, esophagus, diaphragm and tongue.
First thing you need to learn is to distinguish between meat and meat by-products. According to the AAFCO “meat by-product is the non-rendered, clean parts of slaughtered mammals other than the meat”.
Meat by-products exclude meat but do consist of fresh non-rendered parts of the slaughtered animal. Think of sources such as: lungs, spleens, kidneys, brains, livers, blood, bones, fat, stomachs and intestines. So in other words: the organs of the mammal are allowed and NOT any of the following: hair, horns, teeth and hoofs.
Super premium dog food, natural dog food and organic dog food do not contain by-products.
This is rendered meal made from animal tissues. It cannot contain blood, hoofs, hair, horns, hide trimmings, manure or intestinal contents. Also, it may not contain more than 14 percent of indigestible material.
Unlike to what your intuition might tell you, meat meal is not per se inferior to whole meat. Meal is in essence meat with most of the moisture removed. So in fact meal is a more concentrated protein source than fresh whole meat. As to the nutritional value of this... keep on reading!
Meat is rendered at the rendering plant where it is heated for a long period of time at high temperatures (270°F / 130°C). The fat then melts and is removed from the meat. Only dry proteins remain and the end-product is called meal.
One can also render vegetable materials such as plants or grains. The oils are extracted and the meal is the remaining product.
The end-product is a dry non-fat meal that is free of bacteria and parasites since these are killed in the process. However, because of the prolonged heating also nutrients and proteins are destroyed so nutritional value is lower than the raw ingredient.
When a dog food ingredients list says "by products" instead of "meat by-products" then this is a clear difference. It's not just by accident that the word "meat" is left out as "by products" are non-human grade proteins obtained from animal carcasses. You cannot determine the digestibility of this dog food based on the ingredient list.
A better quality dog food will list more specifically its ingredients and, in case of meat, the specific animal it is derived from.
In your search for the best dog food look for specifically named meats and meat meals.
Meat by-products and meat meals typically vary from batch to batch. So when these types of protein sources are used in dog food it is difficult to obtain a consistent end-product.
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The "Confidential Dog Food Report" is an e-book written by Andrew Lewis. Now for those of you who know him, you know that he doesn't think highly of commercial dog food. In fact he likes homemade dog food diets. But commercial dog food is not always bad of course.
You just need to find the best food for YOUR pet. Andrew has listed the top 9 dog food brands that are just better-than-good, which is a good starting place for you. After all homecooking can be nice on occasion, but commercial dog food is very convenient. Just find the right one!