Americans spent 86.6$ billion on pet food and treats in 2019. In 2020 that figure increased 10%, making pet food one of the few industries to grow during the pandemic year, and one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. But as kibble flies off the shelves in supermarkets and feed stores and boutique pet supply shops, human consumers have begun asking the same questions about their pet’s diets that they ask about their own?
Meal” can be plant, grain, or animal-based, and consists of byproducts produced in factories processing these grains, vegetables, and meats for human consumption.And since chicken is one of the meats most commonly consumed in America, there’s a lot of chicken remnants available to be made into the now-ubiquitous chicken-meal.
If you’re a cat owner you should definitely be asking these questions about your pet’s food. Specifically, the common ingredient chicken meal. What is it? Where does it come from? How is it made? Is it good for your cat?
What is Chicken Meal in Cat Food?
“Meal’ is a common term listed among the ingredients of most pet foods. While most pet food buyers may think they know what it means based on common vernacular, the pet food industry uses a very specific definition for it.
According to the American Association of Feed Control Officials, “meal” is pet-grade organic matter rendered down into dehydrated, shelf-stable product. “[Source]
To reduce waste and cut costs, the pet-food industry found a way to make use of material normally wasted during the production of human food.
Interesting fact: meal for pet food can legally contain 4D animals. This means dead, dying, diseased, and disabled chickens are all on the table for your pets (pun intended).
It’s nice to see an industry making use of waste. Products like this. For centuries humans have made full use of what they killed or grew for their food, using animal products for clothing, lighting, tools, and medicines. Now you can feel confident that no scrap is wasted; what isn’t in your bowl goes into your pet’s.
Where does it come from?
There are two types of factories that produce chicken meal in the us. Integrated factories are USDA-inspected operations that have standing arrangements, or might even be physically attached to, butcheries and meat-processing plants.
The second type is the independent meal factory. These aren’t as heavily regulated and produce a cheaper product. Guess which one you want your cat’s food coming from?
[Related Article: 6 Simple Ways To Keep Raccoons Out Of Cat Food]
How is it made?
Meat and plant meals are made through a process called “rendering.” Far from the simple process of rendering turkey drippings into gravy, this involves a lengthy process described below by the USDA:
“Rendering, Carcass Disposal, a Comprehensive Review” rendering is defined as: “A process of using high temperature and pressure to convert whole animal and poultry carcasses or their by-products with no or very low value to safe, nutritional, and economically valuable products. It is a combination of mixing, cooking, pressurizing, fat melting, water evaporation, microbial and enzyme inactivation.“
Translation: the chicken parts are ground up, boiled down, pressed and dehydrated into a shelf-stable product easily stored and transported This makes it ideal for sending it to pet food factories all over the country. It’s a great business model, really. But is it good for your beloved felis catus?
Is Chicken Meal Good for Your Cat?
He sleeps on your books and laptop keyboard. He winds between your legs at the top of the stairs and jumps up on the counter to nibble at your houseplants. He sleeps all day, chases your laser pointer with great delight, and hurks up hairballs on your freshly vacuumed carpets. And you love him dearly.
Your purry partner has habits and personality. He’s part of your own little personal ecosystem, and you have every reason to be attached to him.
You may have noticed, though, that cats can be picky eaters, and even more picky drinkers. The entire pet water fountain industry is based on the fact that cats will turn up their noses at stagnant water sources, and they will not change their minds.
There’s a very good reason for this. Cats are desert creatures, evolving in the Fertile Crescent and spreading out across Asia and Africa from there. They’re accustomed to taking in much of their moisture requirements through their food. Raw meat provided plenty of moisture for little Felis Catus.
But chicken meal is dehydrated. While it isn’t the sole ingredient in your cat’s food, it can comprise a significant portion of his meal.
That means he’s taking in less moisture in a natural way than he was designed to. While cats are hardy little creatures, most of them adapting to the available food and water sources without trouble.
Chicken meal does contain. A high percentage of protein, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good source of protein for your cat.
Scientific studies into digestion and nutrition have consistently demonstrated that consuming a nutrient doesn’t mean absorbing it. Bioavailability is the term nutritionists use to describe whether or not a nutrient is easily absorbed.
Chicken meal is a powdered form of protein. But unlike your chocolate-flavored protein powder it isn’t engineered specifically for your stomach’s absorption processes. This powdered form of protein was designed for storage and transportation.
Bottom line is, your cat would have to eat a lot more kibble to obtain a reasonable amount of protein from chicken meal than the package generally recommends. While your cat isn’t starving to death, he certainly wouldn’t turn up his whiskers at a more bio-available source of protein.
[Related Article: 11 Substitute Foods Cats Can Eat Besides Cat Food]
The Bottom Line
Chicken meal is disgusting from a human perspective, but it comes from animal parts that a cat in the wild wouldn’t hesitate to consume. Unfortunately, the preparation process of rendering can reduce its overall nutritional value. Let’s just say it’s easier on your wallet than it is your cat’s stomach.
Cats with pre-existing health issues, particularly those that affect the digestive or excretory systems, may require a fancier diet full of raw, or partially cooked, ingredients to support his quality of life. And allergy testing for pets has begun to make its way into mainstream veterinary care.
But this doesn’t mean you should avoid cat foods containing chicken meal.. Just like most generally healthy humans, cats can function and live all nine lives quite contentedly on middle-grade nutrition options.
It’s important for you to do your research and make cat food choices that support both your cat’s nutritional needs and your ability to pay for said needs.
Of course, you’ll have to convince your resident cat-god he can subsist on anything less than the finest of tuna tidbits. Best of luck with that.