Ready to Learn What is Chicken Meal in Cat Food?

what is chicken meal in cat food

Ever found yourself staring at your cat’s food label, wondering “What is chicken meal in cat food?” I’m Rainie, and I’ve been there. My curiosity was piqued when my cat’s go-to brand listed chicken meal as a top ingredient. What makes this ingredient a staple in our cats’ diets?

I’m here to share insights on what chicken meal means in cat food, the nutritional value of chicken meal, and more you need to know about this cat food ingredient.

Let’s start!

What is Chicken Meal in Cat Food

What exactly is the meaning of chicken meal in cat food? Let me break it down for you. Chicken meal is a high-protein, dry-rendered product made from clean chicken flesh and skin, sometimes including bone. It’s sourced from the whole carcasses of chickens, minus the feathers, heads, feet, and entrails.

This rendering process does more than just extract fat and eliminate moisture to amp up the protein content. Moreover, it effectively eliminates bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful organisms, ensuring the meal is safe for our furry friends.

Is Chicken Meal Good in Cat Food?

Chicken meal stands out for offering an economical and efficient way to pack pet food with protein. Given its affordability and accessibility, it’s a go-to ingredient for crafting nutritionally rich pet diets.

But it’s not without its controversies. The high-temperature rendering process that makes chicken meal safe also strips away many of the original nutrients found in fresh chicken.

Moreover, the use of “4D” animals (those that are dead, dying, diseased, or disabled) is permitted in the rendering process, raising questions about the nutritional quality of the resulting meal.

The lack of transparency from pet food manufacturers about the quality and source of the chicken used further complicates matters.

While 4D meats are deemed safe for consumption, their nutritional value may be questionable.


  • Cost-effective
  • High in protein


  • Variable protein quality
  • Potential inclusion of 4D meats
  • Nutritional loss due to the intense heat of the rendering process

How Is Chicken Meal Made?

The creation of chicken meal involves grinding and rendering chicken parts at high temperatures. This process reduces moisture and fat while also disinfecting the meal by killing potential pathogens.

The result is a fine, protein-rich powder that serves as a key ingredient in many pet foods.

Notably, chicken meal undergoes a double cooking process: first during rendering and then again when it’s incorporated into kibble, ensuring its safety and nutrient concentration.

What’s the Difference Between Chicken and Chicken Meal?

Navigating the world of cat food ingredients can sometimes feel like decoding a secret language. Let’s simplify the chicken vs. chicken meal puzzle.


Chicken in your cat’s kibble means just that: clean flesh, skin, and sometimes bone, all from chickens minus the bits we don’t use (think feathers and feet).

But here’s a juicy tidbit: raw chicken is mostly water, about 50-70% of it. When cooked, this moisture content plummets, making it less efficient for dry kibble, which typically contains no more than 35% raw chicken.

And when you see “Chicken” on the bag, the specifics—be it fillets or carcasses—remain a mystery, varying from one brand to another. Remember, the picture on the bag is just marketing magic, not a guarantee of what’s inside.

Chicken Meal

Chicken Meal, on the flip side, is chicken (yes, the same meat, skin, and bone) but ground up and dried. This process turns it into a high-protein, low-moisture powder perfect for kibble.

The catch? Chicken meal quality swings wildly. It could be made from premium, deboned chicken breasts or from less muscular spent hens, leading to a higher skin and bone ratio, hence more ash. Ideally, a top-notch chicken meal has low ash content, signifying less bone and more meat.

But here’s the rub: it’s tough for us as consumers to discern the meal’s quality in our pet’s food, as it could also come from less desirable parts left after human food processing.

How Is Chicken Meal Different From Chicken By-Products Meal?

Building on our exploration of chicken ingredients in cat food, let’s compare chicken meal and chicken by-product meal to see how they differ.

Chicken by-product meal

Chicken by-product meal is made from the parts of the chicken not typically eaten by humans—think necks, undeveloped eggs, feet, and organs. These are ground up and rendered into a meal.

While this process makes use of parts that would otherwise go to waste, it often results in a product that’s less expensive for pet food manufacturers but potentially less beneficial for your cat.

The term “by-product” raises eyebrows because it suggests a mix of undefined meats, possibly lowering the overall nutritional quality.

A study highlighted that chicken heads and feet, common in by-product meals, are significantly lower in nutritional value compared to regular chicken meat.

Essentially, the quality of a by-product meal hinges on its specific contents—especially the proportion of lower-quality parts like chicken feet.

In contrast, chicken meal provides a more defined and concentrated source of protein, derived from cleaner, more straightforward chicken parts.

This distinction suggests that chicken meals could be a superior protein source for cat food, offering consistency and higher quality without the nutritional ambiguities associated with by-products.

Why Is Chicken Meal Commonly Included in Pet Food?

chicken meal in pet food

Now, let’s explore why chicken meal is a staple in many pet foods. Its prevalence boils down to a few key factors that benefit both manufacturers and, indirectly, our pets.

Protein-Rich & Aligns with AAFCO: Chicken meal, a byproduct of the rendering process, packs a high-protein punch. This makes it an ideal candidate to meet the protein-centric AAFCO feeding guidelines, ensuring pet foods fulfill nutritional requirements efficiently.

Cost-Effective with Long Shelf Life: Beyond its nutritional appeal, chicken meal is cost-effective and boast a long shelf life. These attributes make it a go-to for pet food producers seeking to balance quality with cost and ensure their products remain fresh and stable over time.

How to Identify High-Quality Chicken Meal in Cat Food?

Navigating the aisles for your cat’s food, you might notice how chicken meal often sneaks into various protein-labeled formulas, like beef, fish, or lamb. This ubiquity makes understanding how to spot high-quality chicken meal in cat food crucial for your furry friend’s diet.

Check for Clarity: Ensure “chicken meal” is listed specifically, not just “meat meal.” This specificity is your first clue to a quality protein source.

Quality Ingredients Matter: Beyond chicken meal, the best cat foods avoid fillers and artificial additives, focusing on wholesome components. You can also check what ingredients to avoid in your cat food.

Inquire for Insight: Contacting the manufacturer can shed light on the chicken meal’s quality. Questions like, “What percentage of the meal is muscle meat?” help gauge the nutritional value.

Adhering to these steps, you’ll better navigate the choices, ensuring your cat benefits from high-quality chicken meal in dry cat food, contributing to their health and wellbeing.

Wrap Up

Diving into “what is chicken meal in cat food” has been quite the journey, hasn’t it? We’ve uncovered the layers behind this key ingredient, emphasizing its role in our cats’ diets and the importance of quality and transparency from pet food brands.

As devoted cat owners, we’re not just label readers; we’re detectives in the pet food aisle, who advocate for our pets’ well-being. By choosing cat foods with clear, high-quality ingredients, including chicken meal, we’re ensuring our cats get the protein-packed, nutritious meals they deserve.

So, next time you’re evaluating cat food options, think of the insights gained here. Here’s to happy, healthy feline companions, fueled by the best we can offer!



As an English major graduate, Rainie seamlessly merges her love for writing with her passion for cats. As the proud owner of two cats, Ham and Tata, she delights in everything feline. She skillfully combines her academic background and personal interests, crafting engaging content that resonates with all cat lovers. Follow her on Facebook.
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