When is Chicken Not “Chicken” in Dog Food?

anatomy-of-the-chicken-with-textOne of the main quality meat ingredients used in dog food is chicken. In fact, chicken may well be the ideal meat source for dogs. It offers all the necessary protein for health and is a food that dogs naturally eat.

However, when it comes to what goes into the finished product, not all “chicken” is the same in dog food. In an effort to reduce costs, many manufacturers use inferior forms of chicken (or different processing methods) to reduce the amount of chicken meat in the final food. The dog owner may be none the wiser, as the packaging on many poor grade foods doesn’t represent the actual quality of the product. As a result, many dog owners think the food “must be good” if the packaging says it is – when that can often be far from the case.

The prices of dog foods vary widely. There are two factors which determine the price of dog food:

  1. the quality of the ingredients. Obviously, the better the ingredients used the more expensive it is to produce the food, and
  2. marketing. If a company spends more on marketing their product, then this is a cost that they must recoup from the only place possible – the customer. That is why there is not always a direct correlation between price and quality.

Because of this, it is important for the dog owner to understand the ingredients in the food, and what they actually mean on the label. With most health problems in dogs caused by food, understanding what you are really feeding your pet is the most important decision you can make for its health and wellbeing.

Dog food labels are confusing and this is particularly so when it comes to the use of “chicken”. This is by far the most expensive ingredient in a dog food and manufacturers go to some length to ‘disguise’ the reduced amounts of actual chicken meat in their food by describing “chicken” in different ways.

There is a lot of confusion out there, even among pet professionals. Here are the different types of “chicken” found in dog food and how they affect the quality of the final product:

  • “Chicken flavour”. This is the least amount of chicken. In fact, legally (and therefore virtually always), a food with “chicken flavour” need have no chicken in it at all. The producer is merely adding some flavour as a way of getting the dog to eat what are unappetising ingredients (usually cereals and waste products) – and as a way of making you think there is some chicken in the food. There isn’t.
  • “With real chicken”. There is something called the “with rule”. By law, for a food to use the word “with” it needs to contain a minimum amount of that ingredient. And that amount is? Just 3%! If the food you are feeding says “with real chicken” that will be all your dog is getting – and again the rest of the food is going to be made up of low nutrition (and even harmful) fillers.
  • “Chicken”. Well at last we’re getting to food that has a decent amount of actual chicken meat in it. For a food to say it contains chicken it must have actual chicken flesh in it. If it is the first ingredient on the label, it must be the greatest by weight in the food… or must it?
    In fact, if the food is based on “chicken” there is not nearly so much chicken as you might expect. The reason is that chicken meat contains 70% water. When the food is processed it is of course dehydrated, meaning it loses up to 80% of its weight and volume. So if chicken is the main ingredient by weight BEFORE processing then it certainly won’t be AFTER it has been dehydrated. Foods based on “chicken” actually end up with quite a low amount of chicken in the final product.
  • “Chicken meal”. This is the highest quality form of chicken of all. Chicken meal is simply chicken meat that has been dehydrated BEFORE it is added to the food for processing. It reduces the moisture from 70% to 10%, also killing many harmful bacteria in the process. If “chicken meal” is the first stated ingredient on a food, there is actually FOUR TIMES the amount of actual chicken in the final food than a food based on “chicken.” These are the ideal foods for dogs – and of course they love the taste too because there is lots of meat in it, not tasteless cereals and fillers.
  •  “Chicken by-product.” Many people (including vets) confuse “chicken meal” with “chicken by-product” but they are at opposite ends of the scale when it comes to quality. “Chicken by products” are all the bits of the animal that are left when the actual meat is taken off. The include organs, feet, beaks and even undeveloped eggs. Chicken by products are not necessarily bad and do have a high protein content. But they are only added as a way of reducing cost – which points to the fact that there are undoubtedly other low-cost ingredients in the food as well.

If you want a dog with minimal health problems, stick to a food that uses “chicken MEAL” at the first ingredient. The bonuses are that your dog will enjoy the food more and you won’t need to feed as much either (so a bag will go further).

Pro Pac and Earthborn Holistic both use ONLY chicken meal as the first ingredient in their foods (and no by-products either). It’s why these brands have led the field in dog nutrition for decades.

For more information about Pro Pac and Earthborn Holistic call 0800 DOG FOOD (within New Zealand) or visit www.petfooddirect.co.nz