Pet Food Ingredients: Deciphering The Label

pet food ingredientsThere are so many misconceptions about pet food ingredients.  Dr. Anna Coffin will discuss common ingredient terms seen on pet food labels so that you can make an educated decision about what to feed your pet.

One important misconception is that pet food ingredients contain human grade products.  Everything starts off as human grade food, but once the product leaves the USDA inspection facility, it is considered pet food.  Nothing that goes into pet food is human grade.


Dogs are omnivores, which means that they derive their nutrition from animal and plant materials.  Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that their nutritional needs are met by eating animal based proteins.  Therefore, protein is the most important pet food ingredients within pet food.  Because of the differences in dogs and cats, it is important to look at the label to see how much of the protein in the diet is animal vs. plant based.  In cats, 30 to 40 percent of the diet should be made up of protein.  In contrast, dog food should consist of 20 to 30 percent protein.

Pet Food Ingredients:

  • Meat: Muscle tissue that may or may not include fat and portions of the skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels.
  • Meat byproducts: Most of the parts of the animal other than the muscle tissue, including familiar parts such as livers, kidneys, and tripe, but also udders and lungs.
  • Poultry: The parts of the bird as you would find if you purchased a whole chicken or turkey.
  • Poultry byproducts: This includes most of the parts that are not included in a dressed bird such as the heart, gizzard, and liver, but also other internal organs, heads, and feet.
  • Meat meal: This is a product made from mammal tissues that have been cooked to destroy any harmful bacteria and to remove most of the water and fat, leaving the protein and minerals.  Meal products are ground to form uniform sized particles.
  • Animal byproduct meal: Similar to meat meal and meat and bone meal, but may include additional byproducts.
  • Poultry byproduct meal: Poultry byproducts that have been cooked to destroy any harmful bacteria and to remove the water and fat, leaving the protein and minerals.
  • Poultry meal: A whole chicken/turkey that has been cooked to destroy and harmful bacteria and to remove most of the water and fat, leaving the protein and minerals.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Here are some common names that you may not recognize as important vitamins and minerals
    • Cholecalciferol: Vitamin D from animal sources
    • Ergocalciferol: Vitamin D from plant sources
    • Riboflavin supplement: Source of Vitamin B2
    • Alpha-Tocopherol acetate: Vitamin E
    • Thiamine mononitrate: Vitamin B1
    • Pyridoxine hydrochloride: Vitamin B6
  • Chemical preservatives: Commonly used ingredients include ascorbic acid, benzoic acid, butylated hydroxyanisol (BHA), butylated hydroxyltoluene (BTH), calcium ascorbated, citric acid, ethoxyquin, potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfate, and mixed tocopherols.
  • Conditioning agents, thickeners, emulsifiers, sequestrants, flavors, and seasonings: Commonly used ingredients include carrageenan, propylene glycol (prohibited in cat food), sodium hexametaphosphate (this helps reduce dental tartar in dogs and cats), agar-agar, and guar gum.

If you have any questions about pet food ingredients or pet food labels, please contact us at Guthrie Pet Hospital.  Nutrition is the key factor to your pet’s health and vitality.

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