The facts about pet food: rendered meat meals

You’ve been feeding your pet the packed pet food available in the market, right? Have you ever taken a look at the ingredients?

Pet owners have been told that feeding their pets with commercial pet food, the sort typically found in grocery stores, is the best thing they can do for their dog or cat. And most pet owners believe it. They think of this processed pet food as being perfectly balanced for their pets’ needs.

However, processed food is not good for our pets, in the same way that processed food is not good for us. The kind of processing that gives food a shelf life of six months (or more!) is the kind of processing that also robs food of its nutritional value. Processed food is unhealthy food.

Let me walk you through some of the basic facts about processed pet food, about what goes into the making of that food, so you can see more clearly what I’m talking about.


Rendering is the process by which all moisture and fat — part of what makes food fresh — is removed from the raw animal material. This process both dries the material and separates the fat from the bone and protein.

Rendering is typically carried out in a rendering plant, which functions as a giant kitchen. In this kitchen are rendered all the material that goes into processed pet food: the by-products of the meat processing industry, often unfit for human consumption, as well as animals that are dead on arrival (roadkill, downer animals, dead zoo animals), also deemed unfit for human consumption.

So much of what goes into commercial pet food begins as unsavory, unpalatable, and unhealthy. Animals that are diseased, dying, or already dead. Tissues and parts that remain for long periods unrefrigerated. And parts that typically would not even be eaten.

What rendering produces

The output of rendered animal materials is fat and a dried protein meal. The raw animal material the process began with determines the composition of that meal. It may be meat meal, meat and bone meal, chicken by-product meal, and so on.

What you see on the label

Meat meal

Meal is the dried material produced by the rendering process. Meat meal came originally from animal tissues, exclusive of by-products. The meal may be from a specific animal, in which case it will show up on the ingredients list as, for example, “chicken meal” or “turkey meal.” If an ingredient is listed only as “meat meal,” it could be any mix of species.

By-products, by-product meal

By-products are those parts of the animal that people typically do not consume, such as bones, blood, organs, hooves, beaks, and so on. So, in other words, everything but the meat. These by-products might be from a particular type of animal — as with chicken by-products, turkey by-products, beef by-products — or they might instead be collected from various animals. Where the label says only “animal by-products” or simply “byproducts,” the source is varied.

Some of these by-products can be eaten without being rendered. Most of the byproducts, however, must be rendered to be made anything like edible. If the label says “by-products” (of whatever type), those are non-rendered parts. If the label says “byproduct meal” (of whatever type), those by-products were rendered.


When clean meat tissues or by-products are left to break down chemically, the resulting material is digest. This material is processed and then added to commercial pet food as flavoring — giving food that hasn’t any real meat in it the flavor of meat. As with all “flavoring” that must be added to food, it’s a deception.

The bottom line

The pet food industry functions as a gigantic waste disposal machine for the human food industry. Everything we don’t want or can’t eat gets tossed into the processed food made for our pets. It’s not the healthiest of food to give them. Nor is it the best way to spend our resources. The next time you go to buy commercial pet food, make sure to check the label. For your pet’s health and safety, steer clear of brands that list these ingredients.

Written for the PetPlate blog