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Meat ingredients (Fresh, Dehydrated, Meals)

5 min read

The type of meat ingredients used in dry cat food significantly influences its nutritional quality and the resulting scoring according to established evaluation criteria. Here is an in-depth analysis of the various forms of meat—fresh, dehydrated, and meals—detailing their impact on the scoring system and offering specific brand examples to illustrate key points.

Fresh Meat Ingredients #

Definition: Fresh meats are typically listed on cat food labels as “chicken,” “beef,” “turkey,” or other specific animal sources without any additional qualifiers. These ingredients are considered fresh because they are not processed extensively before being added to the food.

Nutritional Value: Cat food highly values fresh meats for their high water content, natural flavor, and quality protein. They contain essential amino acids in their natural ratios, which are crucial for a cat’s health. Fresh meat also provides high bioavailability, meaning the nutrients are readily absorbed and utilized by a cat’s body.

Considerations: While fresh meats are an excellent source of protein, their high water content (typically 70-80%) means they can be misleadingly high on an ingredient list before cooking. During the manufacturing process, the water is removed, which significantly reduces the weight of the fresh meat, potentially moving it lower down the ingredient list than it originally appeared.

Scoring Benefits: Listing fresh whole poultry or fish as the primary ingredient can significantly increase a food’s score. The scoring system awards +2 points for these ingredients in the first place and +1 points in the second or third place.


  • Fresh Chicken:
    • Product Example: “Brand A’s Fresh Chicken Formula for Cats” lists fresh chicken as its first ingredient. This product would be highly rated due to its high digestibility and nutrient density. Including fresh chicken helps maintain the natural flavors and essential nutrients crucial for a cat’s diet.
  • Fresh Salmon:
    • Product Example: “Brand E’s Salmon Feast Cat Food” prominently features fresh salmon. Salmon not only provides a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids but also appeals to cats, enhancing the food’s nutritional value and palatability.
  • Fresh Turkey:
    • Product Example: “Brand F’s Turkey Delight Cat Kibble” uses fresh turkey as the top ingredient. Fresh turkey offers lean protein, supporting muscle maintenance and overall health, which is beneficial in scoring systems that prioritize high-quality animal proteins.

Dehydrated Meat Ingredients #

Definition: Dehydrated meats are made by removing moisture from fresh meat at a low temperature, which preserves most of the meat’s nutritional properties. These ingredients may be “dehydrated chicken” or “dehydrated salmon.”

Nutritional Value: Like fresh meat, dehydrated meat is a high-quality source of protein that retains most of the amino acids and nutrients found in fresh meat. The dehydration reduces the ingredient’s volume but concentrates its protein content, making it a highly efficient protein source in dry cat foods.

Considerations: Dehydrated meat is less processed than meat meals and is generally considered to provide superior nutrition compared to more heavily processed meat sources. It’s also less likely to contain the preservatives often used in meat meals.

Impact on Scores: Dehydrated meats score highly in the evaluation system, with +4 points for being listed first, +3 for second, and +2 for positions 3rd to 4th.


  • Dehydrated Chicken:
    • Product Example: “Brand B’s Dehydrated Chicken Meal” places dehydrated chicken as the primary ingredient. This product scores well due to the concentrated source of protein provided by the dehydration process, which removes water but retains and intensifies the chicken’s nutritional properties.
  • Dehydrated Duck:
    • Product Example: “Brand G’s Duck Recipe for Cats” features dehydrated duck. Duck is a novel protein source that helps manage food sensitivities while providing essential nutrients in a concentrated form.
  • Dehydrated Fish:
    • Product Example: “Brand H’s Ocean Fish Mix” lists dehydrated fish among its top ingredients. This inclusion offers cats a rich source of protein and essential fatty acids, vital for skin and coat health.

Meat Meals #

Definition: Meat meals, such as “chicken meal” or “fish meal,” are rendered products from animal tissues. Rendering involves cooking the material to remove moisture and fat, leaving a concentrated protein powder.

Nutritional Value: Due to moisture removal, meat meals are much richer in protein per unit weight than fresh meats. This makes them a potent concentrated protein source beneficial in cat foods, especially dry forms.

Considerations: The quality of meat meals can vary significantly depending on the source of the ingredients and the rendering process. High-quality meals use specified sources (like “chicken meal” vs. generic “meat meal”) and are controlled for quality. However, they can still be less digestible than fresh or dehydrated meats because the high-temperature processing can denature some proteins, making them harder for cats to utilize.

Negative Scoring Consequences: Foods utilizing meat meals as the primary protein source are generally scored lower. Main meat by-product ingredients result in significant point deductions.


  • Chicken Meal:
    • Product Example: “Brand C’s Chicken Meal Formula” uses chicken meal as its main protein source. While providing a significant amount of protein, chicken meal is less expensive and scores lower due to the heavy processing it undergoes.
  • Fish Meal:
    • Product Example: “Brand I’s Deep Sea Fish Meal Cat Food” incorporates fish meal. Although rich in protein and omega-3s, the meal form indicates more processing and potentially lower freshness, affecting its score negatively compared to fresher options.
  • Lamb Meal:
    • Product Example: “Brand J’s Lamb Meal Mix for Senior Cats” opts for lamb meals to provide sustained energy for older cats. Lamb meal is packed with protein but, like other meals, may contain less desirable animal parts, thus scoring lower in systems that favor whole, fresh meats.

Updated on May 5, 2024
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How the score is calculated?

The actual calculation of the score is based on sophisticated and advanced algorithm that takes into account multiple parameters.

To simplify the explanation, the calculation is based on three main criteria:

(1) Amount of protein (more is better)

(2) Amount of carbohydrates (less is better)

(3) Quality and source of ingredients.

Based on that 3 main criteria, 9 score calculation rules are used to compare the different foods.

One major assumption is that the closer an ingredient is to the top of the ingredient list, the greater its relative weight and contribution to the food.

In general, cat food is composed of protein, fats, carbohydrates, fibers, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein is the most important component in a cat’s diet, and cats primarily get their protein from animal meat.

Fat is a primary source of energy and essential fatty acids.

Carbohydrates are controversial in a cat’s diet, as cats are obligate carnivores and typically consume very few carbohydrates.

Fibers play an important role in digestion and food absorption, and vitamins and minerals are essential for different organism functions.

Dry matter values are used to compare the amount of nutrients in different cat foods.
This means that moisture is excluded from the equation to provide a more accurate comparison.

Putting all of these and more into a formula results in a product score.

The maximum score a cat food can receive is 100.
Points are added or removed based on the score calculation rules.