Pet Food: The Ingredient List


Now that we have looked at how pet food is labeled, we need to address the ingredient list. This list hosts a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding. Just because an ingredient is listed first does not mean the diet is mostly made up of that ingredient.

All ingredients in a pet food diet need to be listed in descending order by their weight, not by how much of the product is in the food. If meat is the first ingredient, it means that the meat outweighs the other products. However, what we often don't consider is the water content of the meat. Meat is about 75% water. If you compare a pound of raw hamburger meat and a pound of corn, the weight is the same, but the contents in each of these products vary.  This is where the pet food label rules come in handy, helping you figure out how much of the product is potentially meat verses the other products.            

Now that we know the ingredients are listed by weight, we need to look at the individual ingredients and what they all mean. I can’t tell you how many times I hear, “Well, meat isn’t the first ingredient. This diet has by-products and meat meal and I don’t want to feed that to my dog or cat.” These misconceptions make it hard for your veterinary professionals to suggest a good quality diet.

Meat Meal

Meat meal is actually very healthy for your pets. Yes, it is something that we as humans wouldn’t want to think about eating, but our beloved pets are not humans and don’t have the same exact nutritional needs as we do. Meat meal is defined by AFFCO as “the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents." This means that the product is removed of the fat and water content, leaving only 10% water and mostly vitamins and minerals. Yes, meat meal can contain bones and organs, but these parts are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. If you remove the water and fat content from raw hamburger and compare it to meat meal, meat meal is going to have more vitamins, minerals, and protein than the hamburger meat alone.


Another misconception out there is the dreaded by-products. Just like meat meal, the thought of by-products is disgusting to us. But to our furry friends, they are very delicious and nutritious. Think about what an animal would eat in the wild to survive. They aren’t just going to eat the meat on the animal and leave the rest. They are going to eat virtually every part of the animal.

The AFFCO defines chicken by-products as “the ground, clean parts of the chicken, which include internal organs, bone/cartilage and other parts.” Just like meat meal, by-products provide essential vitamins, minerals, and protein for our pets. If you feed a good quality diet, you can count on the ingredients being high in quality also. If you research Royal Canin diets, for example, you will find they pride themselves on using high-quality ingredients. They use by-products such as the heart, liver, and lungs.

It is always best to research the food company before you consider buying and feeding a diet to your pet. As we all know, there are very good diets and there are not so good diets out there. Speak to your veterinary professionals for some guidance on what to feed your pets. If you don’t like the first diet suggestions they give, ask for another. Most veterinary professionals will be able to give you a couple of choices.

At Badger Veterinary Hospital, we highly recommend Royal Canin diets. And we do this because the majority of our staff feed Royal Canin with great results, physically and physiologically. 

In my next post, I will continue this topic with corn, grains, and grain-free diets.