Ingredients in Pet Food

The food you feed your pet is the most important thing for their health. Pets need a wide range of nutrients to maintain healthy body function, which is why it's important you pay attention to the ingredients in pet food to ensure you are providing all of these nutrients in your pet's diet. 

For optimal health, your pet needs a diet which is nutritionally balanced and palatable. To achieve the right balance of nutrients, manufacturers blend mixtures of ingredients in pet food including meat and fish, vegetables, cereals, vitamins and minerals to produce foods that will satisfy the nutritional requirements of your pet.

Pet owners who feed a complete commercial pet food, produced by a member of UK Pet Food, can have confidence they are addressing their pet’s nutritional needs. 

Pet Food Nutrition Guidelines

UK Pet Food Members

UK Pet Food members must only use ingredients that are legally permitted and sourced from registered suppliers. The Feed Hygiene Regulation (183/2005) requires feed business operators to be registered with the enforcement authorities. Individual companies may also require their suppliers comply with their own Supplier Approval Schemes.

FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines

Over the decades pet food manufacturers have developed the nutritional expertise to ensure they incorporate the latest advances in pet nutrition. Pet food manufacturers produce products in line with the FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines. These guidelines are regularly reviewed by independent nutrition experts throughout Europe and the United States.


There is also strict legislation governing what ingredients can be used in the manufacture of pet food. This legislation is laid down by Europe and also applies to imported commercially prepared pet foods.

The broadening knowledge of pet nutrition and food technology has transformed the pet food industry remarkably over the years. It is now widely recognised by the veterinary profession that pets are living longer, healthier lives as a result of improved nutrition.

Characteristics of a satisfactory pet food

Complete – provides adequate amounts of all the required nutrients
Balanced – the nutrients are present in the correct proportions
Digestible –  your pet is able to digest the food and absorb the nutrients
Palatable – appealing enough to be eaten
Safe – free of toxins or anything which could harm a pet

Pet Food Ingredients

Ingredient is a general term used for raw materials and additives used in pet foods. Typical pet food ingredients include protein sources such as poultry, beef and fish, vegetables, cereals, vitamins and minerals, combined for a balanced diet.

Animal-based Ingredients

Animal-based ingredients are by-products of the human food industry and are also strictly regulated by law to ensure safety. Farmed animals are primarily bred for the human food industry; however those parts that are not required can be utilised as nutritious ingredients for pet food. For example, whilst some cultures shy away from offal as human food, others use it as everyday food or even regard them as a delicacy.


Meats are generally good sources of protein, essential fatty acids, iron and some B-group vitamins. They also increase the palatability of a product and have a high digestibility.

UK Pet Food members use by-products of the human food industry from animals slaughtered under veterinary supervision. These materials meet the very high safety and quality criteria laid down by regulations.

Members only use materials from species generally accepted in the human food chain, such as beef, lamb, poultry, pork, fish, rabbit and game. 


Fish is a good source of high-quality protein. Fish muscle contains iodine. Because bones are frequently ground when preparing the fish, a good source of calcium and phosphorus is also provided. The flesh of oily fish contains vitamins A & D and omega 3.

Fish are commonly divided into two groups; white fish - e.g. haddock, plaice, cod, whiting and sole; oily fish - e.g. herring, pilchards, mackerel, sardines, tuna, salmon and trout. If you would like to find out more about the specific fish used in a particular pet food, please get in touch with the manufacturer.

Dairy & Eggs

Dairy products and eggs provide high-quality and digestible protein. Dairy products also provide calcium and several vitamins. Examples of dairy products used in pet food include cheese and milk products.


Vegetables provide a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Soya beans are commonly used to provide a source of protein and energy, omega 6, B vitamins, fibre and minerals.

Cereals & Cereals By-Products

Cereals provide an essential source of energy, a proportion of protein and other nutrients, including thiamine and niacin. 

Good sources of carbohydrates in pet foods are usually cereal-based such as corn (maize), rice, wheat, barley or sorghum. Certain fibres, for example - moderately fermentable fibres such as beet pulp or rice bran, can also have additional beneficial effects on the health of the digestive tract.

Although cats have no absolute dietary requirement for carbohydrates, good sources present an excellent energy source in an easily digestible form.

Fats & Oils

Fats and oils provide a supply of energy and essential fatty acids. They can be from vegetable or animal sources and are important for optimal health, including kidney function, reproduction and a glossy coat. There are 2 different types of essential fatty acids (EFAs) – omega 3 & 6. Some fats also supply a source of vitamins A, D, E & K.

Vitamin & Mineral Supplements

A supplementary supply of vitamins and minerals may be added to ensure pets are receiving the required daily dietary intake.

Sodium & Chloride

Sodium is an essential nutrient and, along with chloride, is important for fluid balance in the body. Good sources of sodium in pet food include meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Sodium may also be included in prepared pet foods in the form of table salt (sometimes listed on the ingredients panel as salt) to enhance the taste.

NB: The National Research Council lays down guidelines on sodium levels for dogs and cats. Although sodium levels in human food can present a human health issue due to the risk of hypertension, sodium levels in prepared pet food are not a cause for concern in healthy adult dogs and cats.

The physiological makeup of an animal is quite distinct from that of a human. Healthy dogs and cats are actually able to consume diets with higher sodium levels than those found in most prepared pet foods without any adverse effects such as increased blood pressure or gain in body water.

While a higher sodium intake may cause increased thirst and water consumption, the extra sodium is excreted without a problem in the urine. In pets with disorders like heart or kidney disease, reduced salt diets may be advised. Such conditions must be discussed with a vet, and appropriate dietary advice must be followed.

Various Sugars

The term "various sugars" is a category description which may refer to sucrose (cane sugar, commonly known as table sugar), fructose and glucose, all of which are natural products present in fruit, vegetables and cereals.

Some manufacturers may add sugar to pet foods as an energy source. Dogs and cats can easily convert sugar into usable energy through normal digestion.

Manufacturers may also add very small amounts of sugar to assist with the cooking process. When sugar is cooked along with meat, it results in browning of the meat and the production of natural sugars (just the same as those produced in the cooking of the Sunday roast). This provides a pleasing colour and enhances palatability.

If sugar is included in addition to that which naturally occurs in the ingredients, levels are carefully controlled to ensure nutritional balance and palatability.


Additives which can be used in pet foods include vitamins, flavours, preservatives, antioxidants and colours. Most of the additives used in pet food are also used in our foods. UK Pet Food members only use legally permitted additives in the smallest amounts necessary.


Preservatives can be artificial or natural, but either way, they work by preventing the spoilage of food ingredients, just like in our food. It is, therefore, critical to have methods to prevent this deterioration and maintain high-quality, nutritious, and palatable foods. Canned pet foods are protected from spoilage by their airtight storage in the can, but dry foods, even with modern packaging, must include preservatives to maintain the quality and safety of the food.

Natural preservatives, tocopherols (vitamin E) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), are the most commonly used in pet food. 


Dietary antioxidants play a substantial role in the long-term health and well-being of pets. Some manufacturers may add biological antioxidants, e.g. vitamins C & E and selenium, to pet foods to help support good health and neutralise free radicals.

More On Ingredients in Pet Food

Any pet owner interested in obtaining further information on the ingredients of a specific pet food product should look at the label on the packaging. Many of the additives present will be indicated here.

The enquirer can also contact the company directly, using the name and contact details on the packaging, to ask which additives it contains.