Breaking Down The Facts – Meat Quality & Digestibility
We talk a lot about meat quality and digestibility here at The Thoughtful Pet Food store, but what exactly do we mean?
Protein is the staple component of all high-quality pet foods. It is one of the primary sources of energy for both dogs and cats (alongside fat) and is vital for growth, development, and the overall general health of our pets. Therefore, the quality of the meat used in pet foods is paramount, as is our pet’s ability to digest it. Quality and digestibility can be broken down into simple characteristics; which part(s) of the animal is the meat composed of, and how has it been processed?
When you look at the ingredients of a pet food, certain terms will be used to describe the meat as governed by both the EU and UK law. Depending on what terms are used will give you an insight into what exactly is being included in your pet’s food. We have outlined some commonly used terms below along with their legal description.
MEAT & ANIMAL DERIVATIVES
“All the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcase or parts of the carcase of warm-blooded land animals”
“Entire bodies or parts of animals, products of animal origin or other products obtained from animals, which are not intended for human consumption, including oocytes, embryos and semen.”
“Dehydration by artificial or natural processes”
“The term fresh may describe substances used in pet food manufacture that have not been subjected to any treatment except maintaining the cold chain. Treatments such as cooking, drying, freezing, hydrolysis, or similar processes, or the addition of salt, curing agents, natural or synthetic chemical preservatives or other processing aids exclude the substance/s from being called “fresh”.”
What do these definitions have to do with digestibility?
Depending on which part of an animal is used in your pet’s food greatly affects its digestibility. Muscle meat, fats and organs are easier to digest, and as a result, when your dog or cat consumes foods containing these parts, their digestive system breaks down and utilises the essential amino acids more effectively.
Other animal parts that can be found in foods such as hooves, beaks and feathers, are composed of different proteins such as keratin. Keratin is a fibrous protein, and it is much harder to break down once ingested.
When a substance is difficult to digest, food intolerances can occur. A common example of this is lactose intolerance in people, a result of the body being unable to digest the sugars found in milk and other dairy products. Considering that protein should make up the majority of your pet’s diet, feeding them indigestible protein can cause serious digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), as well as general bloating and digestive upset.
In the pet food industry, meat is processed in a variety of ways. Here, we will be focusing on the methods used in manufacturing dry food, as there is a greater variety of techniques that have a greater impact on quality and digestibility compared to wet and raw foods.
The most common method of preparing kibble is through extrusion, where the kibble is cooked at high temperatures over a short time. This is a convenient method of manufacturing as it allows for quick production and turnover. However, it is argued that exposing the meat to such high temperatures so quickly may remove many of the nutrients (including beneficial enzymes and essential amino acids) thus lowering the nutritional quality and digestibility of the food.
Baking kibble is a similar process to extrusion but is gentler. The food is still baked under high temperatures, but the process is slower, potentially helping to prevent some nutrient loss. Baked kibble is often produced in smaller batches as well, allowing for higher quality control.
A relatively new technique, cold-pressed kibble is arguable more digestible than baked or extruded kibble. This is due to the food being processed under cold temperatures as opposed to heat, so fewer nutrients can be lost. To create the kibble, the meat ingredients are ground up before manufacturing, a technique that can increase the digestibility of the food while maintaining the quality.
It is important to note, however, that many (but not all) cold-pressed foods on the market contain meat meal as their primary protein source. Meat meal often has low digestibility as it can be composed of several animal parts including keratinous protein (as mentioned above). Always check the ingredients of your pet’s food before purchasing.
Air-drying is a less commonly seen method of production, however, it is one of the more nutritious and convenient methods. This process involves gently cooking the ingredients with a flow of warm air. Although this process takes longer compared to other, more convenient processes, the result is a product that retains a majority of its nutritional content and digestibility.
Therefore, it can be argued that the less processing a food goes through, the higher the quality and digestibility of the ingredients.
CHOOSING WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOUR PET
As we all know, every pet is different, and there is isn’t just one answer when it comes to choosing food that is suitable for your pet.
Of course, we always recommend feeding your pet food containing quality, natural ingredients, but when it comes to the manufacturing process there is much more variability. For example, AATU’s dry food is extruded, but done so in small batches for quality control, and contains a considerably higher level of protein ingredients compared to some other brands. In comparison, some gently baked dry foods contain high levels of carbohydrates such as oats or wheat to give the food a more biscuity and crunchy texture, thus lowering the overall nutritional content of the food.
If you are concerned about the digestibility and quality of the protein ingredients in your pet’s food, we always suggest reading the ingredients list and following these rules:
- Ensure meat is the first ingredient. Under UK & EU legislation, ingredients in pet food must be listed in order of composition, starting with the highest quantity.
- Avoid derivatives and by-products. Although these ingredients can contain digestible, quality meat, there is no legal guarantee so you cannot ensure exactly what your pet is eating.
- Named meats (e.g. “fresh chicken” or “dried beef”) are generally higher quality than unnamed meats (e.g. “chunks” or “meat meal”).
We are always available to chat about your pet diet’s, and if you have any questions on concerns you can contact us here. Our advice is always unbiased and you will never be pressured to purchase anything from our store. Alternately, why not fill out our Personalised Pet Food Advice Form to receive hand-picked recommendations?Back