What’s in Your Pet Food? Ingredients Explained
From just plain Chicken to Sodium Tripolyphosphate, let’s take a closer look at pet food ingredients.
Have you read the back of a pet food package recently? Pyridoxine Hydrochloride? Bifidobacterium Bifidium? DL-Methionine? What exactly is all that stuff? It’s not what you think!
When you read the ingredient label on your dog’s or cat’s food, you will almost certainly come across ingredients that you can’t identify or pronounce. While you may have heard that ‘if you can’t pronounce it then why is it in your pet’s food,’ that isn’t always the case. Many vitamins are listed by their scientific name, which can make them very hard to pronounce, but they’re still healthy supplements for your pet.
Pyridoxine Hydrochloride is a form of vitamin B6, an essential micronutrient for animals. It is used to support the proper metabolism of protein.
Bifidobacterium B ifidium is a probiotic. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the intestinal tract of animals and help to keep the population of bad bacteria in check. This supports the intestinal wall and therefore aids digestion.
DL-Methionine is an essential amino acid for all animals. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. DL-Methionine helps to improve the overall balance of protein in the food. Because Methionine contains sulphur, it can also acidify the pet’s urine to help prevent urinary crystals.
On a pet food label, the ingredients are listed in order by weight. This is required by U.S. law. The food will contain a larger amount (based on weight) of the ingredients listed first and a smaller amount of the ingredients listed at the bottom.
However, you can’t always take things at face value. For example, tomatoes provide the antioxidant lycopene. Fresh tomatoes might weigh more than dried tomatoes due to water content, so they would be listed higher in the ingredients. There is no way to know whether one brand of food containing fresh tomatoes contains more lycopene than another brand made with dried tomatoes.
When the ingredient panel lists chicken or lamb, those ingredients naturally contain a high percentage of water the same way human muscle is up to 75% water. (Anyone who has done laundry knows that wet things weigh more than dry things.)
Fresh chicken sometimes appears before chicken meal simply because chicken is heavier with the water weight. Of course, by weight, one pound of fresh chicken is the same as one pound of chicken meal, because one pound is one pound.
Chicken (or lamb, turkey, or any other meat) is a great first ingredient in pet foods. Meat, whether fresh or frozen and thawed, supplies great taste and nutrients that dogs and cats require. At the same time, chicken meal (or lamb meal, etc.) is also a healthy, concentrated source of protein. Many great foods contain both meat and meal.
*This ingredient list contains examples of common ingredients found in pet food. This is not an exhaustive list and the ingredients included do not represent any one particular food.
What’s in a Name?
Look for specifics when you’re reading pet food labels. Named ingredients like Chicken Fat tell you exactly what the ingredient is, and you know that it’s the same each time. In comparison, Animal Fat on the ingredient list could actually be chicken fat, but it could also be pork fat or it could alternate with each batch of food. In most cases, animals will not show any adverse reaction to a slight change in formula, but it’s something to watch for when you’re reading and comparing ingredients.
In the end… All pet foods sold at Pet Valu stores are formulated to be complete and balanced according to AAFCO standards. AAFCO, which stands for Association of American Feed Control Officials, is an advisory group. Their recommended nutrient profiles have been widely accepted as standards throughout the pet food industry and as state laws in the U.S. You can also find cans labeled 100% meat that are actually treats or supplements, and not complete meals. Technically, only complete and balanced formulas can be labeled ‘food.’
The first goal is a happy and healthy pet. If you’re achieving that, then you’re on the right track. If you need assistance understanding what makes a great food, talk to the pet experts at your Pet Valu store.
Meat & Other Protein Sources
Chicken is the clean flesh from chickens, without any feathers, heads, feet, or internal organs. Chicken is a source of highly digestible protein and adds palatability to foods. Other meat or fish ingredients have a similar definition, but specific to the animal (such as lamb, turkey, salmon, venison, etc.)
Chicken By-Product Meal is the cooked and dried product from a combination of clean chicken flesh, skin, and internal organs, with or without accompanying bone, heads or feet. It is derived from the parts of whole carcasses of chicken, and does not include feathers.
Dried Egg Product is made by dehydrating whole eggs without the shells. Egg is often referred to as ‘nature’s most perfect protein source’ as it provides all the essential amino acids required for growth and muscle development. It is also a good source of fat energy and naturally occurring vitamin E.
Lamb Meal is clean lamb flesh, cooked and dried to remove moisture. ‘Meal’ ingredients are cooked and dried ingredients. Lamb meal provides essential amino acids, minerals (especially calcium and phosphorus) associated with healthy muscle and bone development, and energy. It is a highly digestible protein ingredient, and an excellent alternative protein source for pets that are sensitive to beef or chicken.
Potato Protein is protein that is extracted from natural potato.
Brown Rice is rice that still has the outer layer of bran. It is a source of high quality, easily digested carbohydrate energy. It’s also a source of essential B vitamins and trace minerals, as well as both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
Pearled Barley is barley which has had the fibrous outer hull removed. Dehulled or pearled barley is a good source of carbohydrate energy, B vitamins, and insoluble fiber associated with colon health. It is also an excellent source of soluble fiber that has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.
Yellow Corn is the entire corn kernel (usually ground or chopped). Corn has the highest concentration of energy of the common grains used in pet foods. It is a very economical source of carbohydrates, contains relatively low level of proteins, but good levels of the essential fatty acid linoleic acid (Omega-6).
Canola Oil is a fat source that is high in unsaturated fats. Although Canola Oil contains both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, compared to other plant oils it is a particularly good source of Omega-3s, which benefit skin and coat health.
Chicken Fat is a highly digestible animal fat source. It is obtained from the tissue of chickens in the commercial process of rendering or extracting. Chicken fat is high in both energy and the essential fatty acid linoleic acid (Omega-6). In addition to being a source of nutrients, chicken fat increases the palatability or tastiness of dry pet foods.
Flaxseed is an important source of the Omega-3 fatty acid, linolenic acid. Linolenic acid plays a critical role in the production of healthy skin, and provides the body with anti-inflammatory properties.
Vegetables, Fruits & Herbs
Alfalfa Meal is the portion of the alfalfa plant that grows above ground, which is then dried and ground. Alfalfa provides both soluble and insoluble fiber, and is a good source of beta-carotene and calcium. Alfalfa is also a good source of vitamin C, folate and iron.
Basil is an herb that is known for its digestive properties, typically aiding the digestion process and the expulsion of gas. Basil also contains the antioxidant monoterpenes, which has been associated with positive cardiovascular health
Beet Pulp is the by-product of the extraction of raw sugar from commercially grown sugar beets. After the sugar has been extracted, the remaining pulp contains very little sugar, but is valuable as a fiber source. This means the fiber from beet pulp has the benefits of adding bulk and moisture to animal stools.
Blueberries contain many powerful antioxidants, including vitamin C. Their blue color comes from anthocyanins which are a major contributor to their antioxidant activity. On an ingredient list, you will also see specific fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, listed as whole, fresh, dried, diced or ground (e.g. fresh cranberries).
Carrots are a source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. They provide soluble fiber as well as the antioxidant beta-carotene.
Garlic contains the powerful antioxidant Allicin. Allicin helps protect against infection by enhancing the immune system, as well as promoting digestive health through its anti-microbial properties. In dog foods, garlic also helps increase palatability. Since garlic can cause anemia in cats, it should not be added to cat foods.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of carbohydrates and contain potassium and B vitamins. They also provide phytonutrients and carotenoid antioxidants which gives them their orange color. Antioxidants help provide protection against potentially cancer-causing free radicals.
Tomato Pomace is the dried pulp of tomatoes after the juice has been removed. Tomato pomace provides a very good blend of soluble and insoluble fiber types. When added to a pet food these fibers provide food for the good bacteria, and help maintain a consistent stool quality.
Biotin is a vitamin that is active in the metabolism of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Because of its involvement in collagen formation when added to foods it is effective in promoting supple skin and a soft coat. Biotin is the most expensive vitamin
Brewer’s Dried Yeast is the dried non-fermentative, non-extracted yeast. Brewer’s Yeast is usually added to foods to enhance palatability, but is also a source of amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
Calcium Pantothenate, also called D-Calcium Pantothenate, is a source of Pantothenic Acid (vitamin B5). Pantothenic Acid is effective in the transformation of carbohydrates into energy and in maintaining a healthy nervous system. It also promotes normal growth and development.
Chicken Cartilage is connective tissue that is used as a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which support mobility by slowing the degradation of the joints.
Chicory Root Extract contains a prebiotic called inulin. A prebiotic acts as food for probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that live in the intestinal tract of animals and help to control the population of bad bacteria.
Dried Kelp is a sea plant with the moisture removed. It’s an excellent source of naturally chelated iodine. Many of the digestive benefits of kelp are related to its many types of soluble fiber. It is also a source of protein-bound (and therefore easily assimilated) alginic acid, bromine, potassium and sodium, as well as many other essential minerals vital to good health.
Green Tea is an extremely versatile herbal supplement rich in Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). EGCG is an antioxidant that has been reported to lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of cancer and inhibit blood clots associated with heart disease.
Ground Psyllium Husk is a dietary fiber that aids in proper elimination. Psyllium is an herb, and ground psyllium husk is the ground-up fibrous outer covering of its seeds.
L-Carnitine is a vitamin-like substance made from the amino acids Lysine and Methionine that helps maintain normal metabolism. L-Carnitine helps the body burn fat for energy by attaching to fatty acids and transporting them into the cellular mitochondria for use as an energy source. This helps mobilize body fat stores.
Lactobacillus Casei is a probiotic. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that help the digestion process by controlling the bad bacteria that can cause diarrhea. Probiotics are also thought to aid digestion and nutrient absorption.
Natural Flavor is a natural ingredient that is applied to the outside of the kibble to enhance the flavor of the dry pet food. It can be from vegetable, chicken, lamb, or pork sources. (It does not contain MSG).
Sodium Tripolyphosphate is a dental additive, used to reduce calcium build-up. Also known as STPP, sodium tripolyphosphate provides phosphorus that basically replaces calcium in the structure of tartar, causing the tartar to weaken and crumble.
Spirulina is a microscopic blue-green algae. Spirulina contains very high amounts of protein and is primarily used in pet foods as a great source of antioxidants.
Streptococcus Faecium is a probiotic with similar attributes to Lactobacillus Casei.
Taurine is an amino acid associated with growth, eye health and cardiac health. It’s essential in the diet of cats as cats cannot produce taurine the way dogs and humans can. Recent studies have shown that extra taurine is imperative for cardiovascular health in dogs, especially in large and giant breeds.
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin required in pet diets. Vitamin E is an antioxidant, which helps to maintain health by protecting the body’s tissues from free radical damage. Free radicals are damaged cells that contribute to many diseases and ailments. Vitamin E is also used as a natural preservative in the form of mixed tocopherols.