Fish meal is a fine, dry powder formed by rendering and grinding both whole fish and the bones and offal from processed fish. It can be listed in a number of ways, with or without the fish species used. For example, meat meal from cod could be called 'fish meal', 'ocean fish meal', 'white fish meal', 'cod meal', 'dehydrated cod' or 'dried cod'. Fish meal usually carries a strong smell which dogs love but some dog owners dislike.
How much the rendering process affects the nutritional quality of the fish is a matter of some debate but most nutritionists agree that fish meal is unlikely to be quite as nutritionally beneficial for dogs as fresh fish ingredients.
It is, nevertheless, still an excellent source of natural, bio-appropriate amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), fats and certain minerals and vitamins. Furthermore, because fish meal is only around 5-7% water, it is far more concentrated than fresh fish (which contains roughly 70% water) and as a result much less is needed. For example, 20% fresh fish would only equate to around 6.5% fish meal. This is an important consideration when comparing the meat contents of dry dog foods. Fish meal from oily fish (as opposed to whitefish) also contains abundant fish oils including several omega-3 and omega-6 oils.
If the species of fish is not specified, the general term 'fish meal' means that it could have come from any combination of fish species. Broad terms like this are often used by dog food manufacturers instead of naming each ingredient either because the recipe regularly changes and/or because naming the ingredients might not be as appealing for the customer.
Antioxidants must be added to fish meal during its production in order to prevent it from becoming rancid. These antioxidants can be natural (such as vitamin E, Vitamin C and rosemary oil) or artificial. In the case of artificial antioxidants, the most commonly used in fish meals are the highly controversial and potentially harmful chemicals BHT, BHA and Propyl gallate.
The main issue here is that, since the antioxidants are added to the fish meal at the fish rendering plant long before it arrives at the dog food factory, the manufacturer does not need to declare them on the label. In fact, a food can contain any number of ingredients that have been pre-treated with artificial additives by the ingredient suppliers and can still legally say that their food has 'no added artificial additives' just as long as they don't add any more themselves! For this reason it's always important to look for foods that are guaranteed 'free from artificial additives' (rather than 'free from added artificial ingredients') or, if you are in any doubt, to ask the manufacturer directly. pollock
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