Don't feel bad if you need help understanding your dog's food label. Many label requirements are confusing and it's difficult to know exactly what's in your pup's diet. If one of the many phrases on the package is "chicken meal formula," his food is following the 25% rule.
AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials, an organization of government agencies responsible for regulating the sale and distribution of animal feed and drugs. AAFCO doesn't actually regulate pet food, nor does it test them or "approve" them. Instead, it sets the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods. Pet food manufacturers are responsible for meeting the standards and it's actually up to the individual state feed control officer to enforce each state's laws and compliance.
According to AAFCO, poultry meal is the dry rendered product from clean flesh and skin. It may -- or may not -- have bone and can include the whole carcass. Feathers, heads, feet and entrails are not included. If the label refers to chicken meal, then it must be from chicken. If it states poultry meal, it can also include other birds such as duck and turkey.
The 25% Rule
According to the Food and Drug Administration, if the named ingredient -- in this case, chicken meal -- comprises at least 25% of the product but is less than 95% of its contents, it must have a qualifying descriptive such as "dinner." A food that has between 25 and 95% chicken meal would say "chicken meal dinner for dogs," or "chicken meal formula." Other descriptors include "platter," "nuggets" and "entree." If you see a label that says "chicken meal and beef" formula, it means there's a combined total of 25% chicken meal and beef in the food and at least 3% must be beef or chicken meal.
Chicken Meal: Not Necessarily Bad
Chicken meal isn't inherently a bad thing. In fact, because it contains only about 10% moisture, it can provide your dog with a more concentrated amount of animal protein. It can be part of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. However, it is more processed than fresh meat because it's cooked before it's add to the kibble making process, where it's cooked again.