Healthy Eating for Dogs: What is Meal?



by Katie Hamm

Most dog lovers at one time or another have probably wondered what meal really is. Do you know? If not, keep reading to understand what it is and why it’s important to know.

According to, meal is the product that remains after meat is cooked and dried through a process called rendering.

However, all meal is not the same. The quality of meal can vary from dog food to dog food based on its contents prior to rendering. “High quality raw ingredients are those that come from respectable sources and contain a large percentage of actual fresh meat,” explains Leslie Kessinger, co-owner of Three Dog Bakery in Franklin. That means animals that are raised and slaughtered in humane and sanitary conditions, and animals that are healthy and not overloaded with medications.

According to Kessinger,  you can determine whether the meal in your pup’s food is quality meal or not by noting two things:

  1. What type of meat the meal is made from. It will be listed on the product (i.e. chicken meal, beef meal, lamb meal).
  2. Where the product is made. It will be sourced in their branding.

“A great example is Champion Pet Foods, the maker of Orijen and Acana. On the back of every bag of food, you will Skin Allergy 4see a picture of a local Kentucky farmer who raised the animals specifically for the dog food made in their Kentucky kitchens,” says Kessinger. “They use 50% fresh meat and 50% meal to make their foods, and they make their meal in their very own kitchens. No outsourcing.”

Meal is fine for your pet to consume in these circumstances. It becomes a problem when the meal is of a poor quality. Products that contain “by-products” and those that are not sourced should be avoided.

Examples of inferior meat-based products may be listed as:

  • Meat meal
  • Animal meal
  • Chicken by-product meal
  • Meat and bone meal
  • Glandular meal
  • Poultry meal
  • Blood meal

“These meals often contain the leftover parts of animals, a lot of bone, and can even have come from diseased or dying animals that were brought to slaughterhouses with poor standards,” notes Kessinger. “When meal is produced from these raw materials, your dog receives little to no true sustenance from the addition of meal. The addition of bone is particularly troublesome, because as bone is cooked down to a powdery substance, it basically becomes a highly concentrated mineral powder.” That powder is call ash.

All dog foods contain a small amount of ash. In fact, ash is one of the sources for natural minerals that dogs need to maintain good health. It often comes in the form of a digestible bone like cartilage – which dogs would naturally consume in the wild. Beware: dog foods that contain a large percentage of poor quality meal also have high levels of ash in the food.

Ash — or minerals — is processed through the kidneys. “If the kidneys are overloaded by high concentrations of minerals, it prevents the organs from working efficiently. When that happens, minerals left in the kidneys can form urinary crystals or stones, which are extremely painful and, left untreated, can develop into an infection,” notes Kessinger. “Repeated overworking of the kidneys can also lead to kidney disease in dogs.”

Small dogs are particularly prone to developing kidney conditions, so watching the ash level in their food is essential.

NOW - a grain-free food

“We recommend NOW Fresh dog food by Petcurean (which comes in small breed and large breed) for dogs who have kidney issues. NOW Fresh is made completely from fresh meat with zero meal in the food, which means that the ash content is very low and easily processed,” says Kessinger.

It’s in your pup’s best interest to know where your dog food comes from – that means where it’s made and where the actual ingredients come from. To find out how your dog food stacks up, check out

You can find any of the holistic products pictured here at Three Dog Bakery, located on West McEwen Drive, adjacent to Whole Foods in the McEwen Shopping Center in Franklin.

Click here to follow Three Dog Bakery on Facebook.

Three Dog Bakery has two locations in Middle Tennessee: 1556 W McEwen Dr #112, Franklin, TN 37067 & 1982 Providence Pkwy #102, Mt Juliet, TN 37122.

If you have health concerns about your dog, consult your veterinarian. This article is not meant to substitute or act as medical advice for pets.