Pet food ingredients - just what's in your pet's food?
This article has been written by Gemma Radcliffe, one of Pet Circle's pet product and lifestyle gurus, and approved by our veterinary team
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.
Ingredient: 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 dogs as well as a 'filler' ingredient
Foods and products that contain beet pulp
Formulated with beet pulp as well as other fibres to promote healthy digestion for smaller, firmer stools, which is ideal for indoor cats.
Many Advance diets contain beet pulp for a more pleasant experience once it's been digested!
Optimum uses beet pulp in their furball recipe to keep your cat's gastrointestinal tract moving normally, assisting the passage of furballs.
Beet pulp is present in this diet to assist dogs who may have a sensitive digestive system.
Ingredient: Chicken/beef/other flavour
What is it?: Often animal muscle or soft tissue free of hair, horns, teeth, hooves and feathers, that has been hydrolysed or "digested" to break it down into protein in powder, liquid or paste form
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
Ingredient: 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
A diet rich in salmon, which is (of course!) full of fish oil and natural DHA. Also contains a minimum of 70% salmon!
A supplement made with all natural ingredients including fish oil, to support joint health and movement.
The first two ingredients are fish: an obvious and natural source of fish oil, and therefore beneficial omega fatty acids.
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.
Ingredient: 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.
Ingredient: Fresh meat (including offcuts)
What is it?: Animal meats 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
What is it?: A species of onion
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)
Ingredient: 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
Ingredient: 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
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 mature, large breed and breed-specific diets.
A highly recommended powder supplement that contains green lipped mussel powder, shark cartiledge and abalone powder.
Inspired by the paleo diet, this meat-rich cat food contains green lipped mussel powder along with plenty of tasty seafoods that have their own health benefits.
Contains highly concentrated Green Lipped Mussel powder in a measured capsule dose.
Ingredient: 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
This water additive (along with many other Tropiclean dental products) utilises green tea extract to help freshen your pooch's breath!
Savourlife dog food contains a number of specialty ingredients, including green tea and rosemary extracts.
A number of Original Greenies dental treats contain decaffeinated green tea extract.
As a natural pet food company, Ivory Coat focuses on natural ingredients including green tea to promote the wellness of your cat.
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
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
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
Ingredient: 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
Meat meals are the #1 ingredient in all Instinctive Bite foods, which also contain a minimum 50% meat content!
Canidae's limited ingredient diets contain plenty of meat meals, with the first three ingredients of often being meat.
All of Black Hawk's diets contain high-quality Australian meat meals.
Taste of the Wild foods contain meat meal, and plenty of it!
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
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
What is it?: A fragrant herb
Purpose/Benefits: A natural preservative and a powerful antioxidant
Drawbacks: Large amounts may cause dietary upsets
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
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
Ingredient: 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
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
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
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
Ingredient: 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
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.