The Good, the Bad and the Rendered

How do you know what’s really going into your dog’s food? Although dog food companies are legally obligated to list all of the ingredients on the package, there is still room for ambiguity, especially when it comes to meat.

What’s the Big Deal About Meat?

As a descendent of the wolf and a natural carnivore, your dog requires meat more than any other food in his diet. Though your pomeranian may not look like a wolf, his body is still adapted to eat a meat-based meal. All dogs have a short digestive tract that easily digests animal protein and fat, plus a single hinge jaw and sharp teeth made for slicing whole chunks of meat. Of course, dogs can and have adapted to eat a variety of foods. However, meat is undoubtedly still the most important ingredient in dog food, and worth looking into if you’re unsure about the type of meat your pup is getting.

Cutting Corners

Unfortunately, many dog foods do not live up to their claims when it comes to meat. It is far cheaper for a pet food company to include the leftovers of meat products, from human food processing, in their mix, including animal by-products such as feet, heads, brains, bones and intestines. Other unsavory ways of cheapening dog food meat involve using animals that are dead, dying or diseased. This type of meat can be made edible by a process known as “rendering” – cooking it until all the excess water evaporates and bacteria, viruses and parasites are killed. If this doesn’t sound like something you want your dog to eat, you’re not alone!

The Truth About Rendering

The important thing to note here is that rendering, by definition, does not lower the quality of the meat going into your dog’s meal. The key to a healthy rendered meat meal is the original ingredients – are they high quality, nutrient-packed meats or a medley of leftovers from the human grade food industry? If quality meat is rendered, it may actually be better for your dog because the process itself simply eliminates the extra water that meat holds. Like human bodies, a whole chicken is roughly 70% water and contains just 18% protein. However, the concentrated version – chicken meal – has only 10% water and a record amount of protein at 65%. This protein is still natural, high quality and great for your dog!

How to Find the Good Stuff

So how do you translate what you know about quality meats and rendering into finding a healthy dog food ingredient list? The answer is in the wording. If you are looking for premium foods, look for whole meat ingredients and/or look for meat-specific meals, such as “chicken meal,” “beef meal,” or “lamb meal.” A great example of a healthy ingredient list is ORIJEN Regional Red Dog Food. ORIJEN understands the importance of meat in a dog’s diet and has thus, in this formula, has included six different animal proteins, including “goat meal” and “wild boar meal” for maximum protein inclusion, on top of several fresh meats. When you know exactly what type of animal is rendered, it is much more likely that the meat meal is made of wholesome ingredients.

On the other hand, for a high quality meat dog food, avoid intentionally ambiguous terms like “animal meal,” “meat meal” or “chicken by-product meal.” These terms may indicate that a manufacturer has something to hide about how their meat is made, meaning you probably don’t want your dog to eat it. If you’re ever in doubt about the actual quality of your dog food, take advantage of K9 Cuisine’s handy dog food rating tool. You’ll get an unbiased score based on a number of factors, including meat quality.


ORIJEN is of course just one great example to choose from. When we are choosing the foods that we add to K9Cuisine, understanding the protien sources used is perhaps the most important thing we look at. This combined with the rest of our checklist ensures that we are only offering the best products possible to the rest of our K9Cuisine family.

With all the marketing ploys and gimmicks that go on in the pet food industry, it can be difficult to discern the truth about dog food nutrition. Look for the right words on your pet food label and remember that if you ever need more advice, K9Cuisine is here to help!