Pet food ingredients

What's in Your Pet's food?

LAST UPDATED 9 March 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr Gillian Hill, BVSc.

Previously, we have written about how to read the label on your dog or cat's food - but how much do you really know about all those ingredients? Do some of them make you raise an eyebrow? Like, what on earth are tocopherols?

Well, never fear: we're here with a pet food ingredients list that's going to help clear the air! Analysing pet food ingredients can be a tricky business and similar to human food, it's best to be able to recognise all those ingredients listed on the back of your dog or cat's food. We're including both benefits and drawbacks as well - so that you can make the most informed choice when it comes to choosing your pet's food.



Beet Pulp

What is it? Fibrous remnant of sugar beet after sugar and water has been removed.

Purpose/Benefits: Excellent source of soluble and insoluble fibre. Helps to support normal bowel function and encourages production of firmer stools.

Drawbacks: Considered by some to be unnatural for pets as well as a 'filler' ingredient.

Foods and products that contain beet pulp

Pro Plan

Formulated with beet pulp as well as other natural fibres to promote healthy digestion for smaller, firmer stools, which is ideal for indoor cats.

Advance

Many Advance diets contain beet pulp for a more pleasant experience once it's been digested!

Ivory Coat

Ivory Coat uses beet pulp to keep your cat's gastrointestinal tract moving normally, assisting the passage of hairballs.

Eukanuba

Beet pulp is present in Eukanuba diets to support healthy digestion.


Fish Oil

What is it? Oil removed from fish

Purpose/Benefits: Rich in omega 3 fatty acids including DHA and EPA, which supports skin and joint health and may have an anti-inflammatory effect. Also a superior source of omega fatty acids - marine sources of omega fatty acids are richer in DHA and EPA, which are more effective in dogs and cats than others such as ALA.

Drawbacks: Can leave dry foods with a greasy feel and reduce shelf life. High doses can cause tummy upsets and may reduce blood clotting ability. Best to avoid in dogs prone to pancreatitis.

Foods and products that contain fish oil

Instinctive Bite Grain Free Salmon & Potato Dog Food

A diet rich in salmon, which is (of course!) full of fish oil and natural DHA. Also contains a minimum of 70% salmon!

Vets All Natural Joint Support

A supplement made with all natural ingredients including fish oil, to support joint health and movement.

Ivory Coat Grain Free Ocean Fish & Salmon Cat Food

The first two ingredients are fish: an obvious and natural source of fish oil, and therefore beneficial omega fatty acids.

Paw Blackmores Fish Oil

A concentrated blend of liquid fish oil, a rich source of omega fatty acids, EPA and DHA in a formula specifically designed for pets that can be dispensed into food.


Flaxseed Oil

What is it? Oil removed from the seed of the flax plant

Purpose/Benefits: Source of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, which can help promote a soft and shiny coat. Rich in ALA

Drawbacks: Marine sources of omega fatty acids are richer in DHA and EPA, which are more effective in dogs and cats than ALA. Best to avoid in dogs prone to pancreatitis.


Garlic

What is it? A species of plant from the onion family.

Purpose/Benefits: Safe in small amounts. Enhances flavour of food. Some links to potential health benefits in humans but no hard evidence of benefits for dogs and cats.

Drawbacks: Garlic can be toxic to dogs and cats when fed in moderate to large amounts and over extended periods (toxic dose dependant on size of animal).


Gelling Agents

What is it? Substances that help thicken tinned foods or provide a jelly-like texture. Examples include seed extracts such as guar gum or seaweed extracts like alginate and carrageenan.

Purpose/Benefits: Help to give wet foods a more appealing and palatable texture.

Drawbacks: Doesn't contribute any nutritional value to the food but considered to be safe. May reduce the absorption of some types of minerals.


Green Lipped Mussel Powder

What is it? Dried powdered form of Green Lipped Mussels grown in New Zealand.

Purpose/Benefits: Rich in EPA, DHA, glucosamine and chondroitin. Studies have shown can help reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Drawbacks: Expensive - may increase cost of food. Levels in some foods may not be high enough for a clinical effect, supplementation with pharmaceutical product containing powder could be more accurate.

Foods and products that contain green lipped mussel powder

Advance

It's unusual for food to contain green lipped mussel powder, which makes Advance's range of dry cat and dog food stand out from many others. You can find green lipped mussel powder in their healthy ageing, large breed and breed-specific diets.

Sasha's Blend

A highly recommended powder supplement that contains green lipped mussel powder, shark cartilage and abalone powder.

Ziwi Peak

Ziwi Peaks range of raw-inspired recipes and toppers are hand-crafted in small batches using the finest quality New Zealand ingredients.

Paw Blackmores Osteosupport

Contains highly concentrated Green Lipped Mussel powder in a powder form.


Green Tea

What is it? Leaves of the camellia sinensis plant that have not been oxidised like black tea.

Purpose/Benefits: An excellent source of antioxidants, which can help to promote youthfulness and vitality and support a strong immune system.

Drawbacks: Contains caffeine which can be toxic to dogs and cats in high enough doses, although only very small amounts are present in pet foods.

Foods and products that contain green tea

Tropiclean Oral Care Water Additive

This water additive (along with many other Tropiclean dental products) utilises green tea extract to help freshen your pooch's breath!

Savourlife Dog Food

Savourlife dog food contains a number of specialty ingredients, including green tea and rosemary extracts.

Greenies Original Dental Treats

A number of Original Greenies dental treats contain decaffeinated green tea extract.

Petz Park Cognitive Support

This supplement is formulated to maintain brain health in ageing dogs. It includes ingredients such as omega fatty acids (DHA and EPA), Vitamins B1 and B2, along with Green Tea Extract.


Inulin

What is it? A dietary fibre (non-digestible carbohydrate) often extracted from chicory. May be listed as chicory root.

Purpose/Benefits: Acts as a prebiotic; helps to promote the growth of 'good' gut bacteria for improved digestion and stool quality.

Drawbacks: Excessive amounts of fibre may dilute the nutritional value of foods although inulin is generally not present in high enough amounts for this to be a concern.


Maize/Corn

What is it? A cereal grain from a plant that produces sweet kernels.

Purpose/Benefits: A nutritious carbohydrate source when properly prepared.

Drawbacks: Perceived by some as a filler ingredient or cause of food allergies although there is currently no reliable evidence to support this.


Marigold

What is it? A herbaceous plant with bright yellow flowers.

Purpose/Benefits: Marigold extract is a source of lutein which may play a role in enhancing immunity.

Drawbacks: None known


Meat

What is it? Animal meats/muscle (including offcuts) from chickens, cows and similar.

Purpose/Benefits: Excellent protein source. Consumers consider this to be more 'wholesome and natural' than other protein sources such as meat meals.

Drawbacks: High water content means that ingredients list can be misleading. Ingredients are listed by weight prior to processing - once water is removed, significantly less meat is present.


Meat Byproducts

What is it? Parts of an animal, other than the meat, not including hair, horns and teeth, hooves. It includes lungs, spleen, kidney, brain, liver, bones, stomach and intestines as well as other soft tissues.

Purpose/Benefits: A source of protein, as well as a flavour enhancer.

Drawbacks: Contains animal proteins and may trigger reactions in pets with allergies to commonly used proteins such as chicken and beef.


Meat Meal

What is it? Meat that has been cooked to remove water.

Purpose/Benefits: An excellent source of highly concentrated and digestible protein.

Drawbacks: Labelling may be nonspecific, look for foods that specify the origin of the meal e.g. chicken meal or salmon meal if avoiding certain protein sources.

Foods that contain meat meal

Instinctive Bite

Meat meals are the #1 ingredient in all Instinctive Bite foods, which also contain a minimum 50% meat content!

Canidae

Canidae's limited ingredient diets contain plenty of meat meals, with the first three ingredients often being meat.

Black Hawk

All of Black Hawk's diets contain high-quality Australian meat meals.

Taste of the Wild

Taste of the Wild foods contain meat meal, and plenty of it!


Potato

What is it? A starchy root vegetable commonly used to replace grains in grain free diets.

Purpose/Benefits: A source of carbohydrate.

Drawbacks: Lower in protein and higher in sugar than grain based carbohydrate sources such as rice or corn.


Rice

What is it? A cereal grain.

Purpose/Benefits: Brown rice is an excellent source of nutrition, containing three B vitamins, iron, omega-3 oils and more. Can help to maintain digestive health. White rice is very easily digested and useful for dogs with gastrointestinal problems.

Drawbacks: White rice is lower in fibre than brown rice.


Rosemary

What is it? A fragrant herb.

Purpose/Benefits: A natural preservative and a powerful antioxidant.

Drawbacks: Large amounts may cause dietary upsets.


Tapioca

What is it? A starch extracted from the root of the cassava plant.

Purpose/Benefits: A novel carbohydrate source recommended for dogs with underlying food allergies. Also a source of B vitamins, iron, and calcium.

Drawbacks: Very little nutritional value. Should be avoided in dogs prone to obesity, weight gain and diabetes due to high calorie count.


Tocopherols

What is it? Natural antioxidants used to preserve foods.

Purpose/Benefits: Helps to preserve dry foods by preventing oxidation of fats and fat soluble ingredients. Source of Vitamin E.

Drawbacks: Natural antioxidants will not preserve foods for as long as artificial ones, so these foods generally have a shorter shelf life.


Tomato Powder

What is it? Dehydrated tomatoes in powdered form.

Purpose/Benefits: Source of natural antioxidants, vitamins, folic acid, zinc and iron.

Drawbacks: None known


Turmeric

What is it? A yellow-coloured spice.

Purpose/Benefits: Widely known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Drawbacks: May give food a yellowish tinge that can cause stains.


Water

What is it? That wet stuff that comes out of the tap. Water is vital to life!

Purpose/Benefits: Consuming foods with high water content can help to improve hydration and is beneficial in the management of some medical conditions such as kidney disease and bladder stones.

Drawbacks: Water content in canned foods may be as high as 75%, diluting their nutritional value and making them an uneconomical choice for large dogs.


Wheat

What is it? A cereal grain.

Purpose/Benefits: Source of readily digestible carbohydrate when properly prepared.

Drawbacks: Contains gluten, a protein source which may be allergenic to some pets.


Yucca Extract

What is it? Extract from Yucca shigadera, a plant native to Mexico.

Purpose/Benefits: When added to pet food yucca extract can help to reduce stool odour by up to 26%. Widely used in diets designed for indoor cats.

Drawbacks: Ingestion of the yucca plant itself can cause toxicity in dogs and cats however the extract is safe and widely used in many pet foods.

Foods that contain Yucca Extract

Advance

Yucca extract is added to minimise litter box odour in all of the cat foods from the Advance range.

Ivory Coat

Ivory Coat's range of foods include Yucca extract and are free from wheat, corn and soy, as well as artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

Meals for Mutts

Yucca extract is included in many of the Meals for Mutts recipes to reduce stool odour.

Instinctive Bite

Yucca extract and chicory root inulin are also included in the recipe, to provide beneficial fibre and a prebiotic boost.

So now that you know a little more about the ingredients in your dog or cat's food, will you be making any changes to their diet? Or are you confident that you've chosen the best food possible for your pet? It's also worth considering the order of the above listed ingredients: meat proteins should always be first (and as numerous as possible), followed by healthy carbohydrates and so on. By following these general rules, you'll know that you're giving the best care to your best friend.

Further Reading

Premium pet food: Is it worth it?

Does your dog have a food allergy?

How diet can help your senior pet

What is the Best Cat Food?

What is the Best Dog Food?

How to read the label on a bag of pet food

Exploring Grain Free Pet Food

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