Fresh Meat in a Dry Pet Food: The Real Truth 


There are less than 50 pet food manufacturers in the United States.

But wait - If this is true, how could there be over 1,000 brands of pet food to choose from?

Most pet food companies are truly nothing more than marketing companies disguised as pet food companies. They conjure up ideas that make their particular product look really good to the consumer. Many of these things that make the pet food bags look good contain little to no nutritional value to the pet being fed.

The placement of “Fresh or Dehydrated Meats” on a pet food label is deceptive to the consumer.


Well, let us explain to you, the pet consumer, some information that may change the way you look at pet food labels altogether.

AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) sets standard rules under the FDA to govern pet food labeling. Regulation PF5 states:

The ingredients in a pet food shall be listed in descending order by their predominance by weight in non-quantitative terms.

Seems simple enough, right? Take for example a pet food that has 30 ingredients total. The ingredients are listed in the order of largest amount to smallest amount.  However simple it may seem, there is a BIG problem with this pet food labeling rule: Where does the water or moisture of an ingredient get factored in? Moisture of most ingredients, which would include all Meat Meals, Grains, Legumes, Fibers, etc. would run in the range of 8-12%. The controversy comes when you add “Fresh or Dehydrated” meats to the formula

Fresh Meats contain 80+% water, while Dehydrated Meats have had 80+% of the moisture removed.

What does this mean? Pet Food companies can use the weight of the ingredient before processing to establish its place on that formula’s tag or label.

 As an example:

  • A pet food formula guarantees 30% Crude Protein with a label similar to the following:
    • Fresh Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Rice, Fat, Beet Pulp, etc.
  • The higher the protein, the higher the meat content (assuming there are no Glutens in the ingredient listing)
  • A 30% protein level in a pet food will have more meat than a 22% protein level pet food.

As the consumer reading the label, you interpret this as meaning that Fresh Deboned Chicken is by far the majority ingredient of the pet food formula. WRONG! Confusing indeed.

Check out the math behind it.

The absolute maximum fresh chicken you can push thru an extruder is about 25%. In most cases, though, less than 20%. “Fresh Chicken” runs only 8% protein because it contains over 80% water, which has zero nutritional value!

So, to give the pet food manufacturer the benefit of the doubt: Let’s assume a formula contained 25% fresh chicken with 8% Crude protein.

Only 2% of the total protein in this formula comes from “Fresh Chicken”, yet “Fresh Chicken” holds the #1 spot on the label. Totally deceptive to the consumer, who in most cases THINKS they are buying a very expensive pet food because of a the high quality, high meat ingredient ratio.    

Tricking Pet Owners 101:  Fancy Pet Food Bags + Deceptive Labels + False Information = A Confused Consumer who buys a poor pet food. Like they say in magic shows, this could be considered the pet food industry’s “Smoke & Mirrors” trick up their sleeve.  Shop at your own risk!  

There is zero reason to add fresh meat to a dry kibble formula.

Food safety is another reason not to add fresh meats to a dry kibble food. Since there is practically zero nutritional benefit to adding fresh meats as previously shown, why would you want to add a product to an extruder that is known to contain bacteria which is harmful to a pet? Of course, the extruder should kill the bacteria assuming everything is running perfect, but why take the risk?  Is the marketing advantage really that powerful?


If a pet food company uses a “dehydrated” form of meat, that company is allowed to use the water that was dehydrated out before it ever came to the plant in order to find its respective place on the label.  NOT a good thing for the pet owner as it is also very confusing.

Example Time: Let’s assume “Dehydrated Chicken”  is the number one ingredient on the label. (By the way: A manufacturer can drop the word “Dehydrated” and just use the word “Chicken”).

As little as 5% Dehydrated Chicken can make its way to the #1 ingredient position on a label.

Here is how that happens: By using only 100 lbs per ton of dehydrated chicken (which is about 5% of the formula), the manufacturer can claim this to be equal to 4 times that by weight or 400 lbs (20% of the formula). And assuming the next ingredient in the formula is under 399 lbs, “Chicken” magically becomes the #1 ingredient in the formula…When in reality, it is only 5% of the pet food formula adding only 3% total protein to the pet’s diet.                  


All pet food companies are trying to compete on an equal playing field; So, when one company practices misleading label practices, most other companies follow suit so that they, too, can keep up with the competition.      

Please understand that not all pet foods containing fresh or dehydrated foods on the market are bad. Just know that these pet foods are probably not the quality you think they are upon first glance.

If you are a pet owner who is looking for a premium, high-quality, highly-digestible pet food, here are a few things for you to look for in a pet food label that will help you decide on which food is best for your pet. 

Premium pet foods should NEVER contain the following:

  • Corn
  • Wheat
  • Corn Gluten
  • Wheat Gluten
  • Soybean Meal
  • Wheat Flour
  • Wheat Middling
  • “By-Product Meals”


Remember, "Fresh or Dehydrated Meats" in most cases provide little to no nutritional value or benefit to the animal even though they may be listed as the first or second ingredient on a label.

Meat Meal 101: It's important to note that if your pet food contains a meat meal (such as chicken meal) as the first or second ingredient, it is perfectly okay. Meat meal does NOT contain animal by-products such as bones, beaks, feet, or other body parts.

If you want to feed a pet food with a high percentage of meat in the formula, here is what you need to remember (it is actually pretty simple):

  1. The higher the protein, the higher the meat content. (assuming there are no Glutens in the ingredient listing)
  2. A 30% protein level in a pet food will have more meat than a 22% protein level pet food.


We hope we were able to shed some light on the "Meats in a pet food label" subject. Next time someone asks you about meat meal in pet food, you will be prepared with an awesome, educated answer.