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Nutrients and ingredients: Veterinary guidelines for understanding pet food labelling

Nutrients and ingredients: Veterinary guidelines for understanding pet food labelling

It can sometimes be confusing to interpret pet food labels and determine whether a diet is suitable or not. Thus, the presence or absence of particular ingredients is prominently displayed, while the nutritional content of the diet may take a back seat.

With this in mind, European Veterinary Specialist in Veterinary and Comparative Nutrition and member of the European College of Veterinary and Comparative Nutrition, Sarah Dodd, has explained in an article published by the University of Guelph some factors to consider.

She insists that it is important to determine the difference between ingredients and nutrients when evaluating pet foods, as “there are no essential ingredients and pet foods can be prepared from a wide range of different combinations of ingredients”.

In this regard, he reminds that nutrients are essential but also non-essential elements and compounds that the body uses to manufacture all cellular structures, tissues, signalling molecules and metabolic components.

Essential nutrients are those that must be provided in the diet, while non-essential nutrients can be provided in the diet or produced in the animal as long as the appropriate precursors are available.

“Nutrients may be required in relatively large amounts (usually measured in grams), known as macronutrients. Examples of essential macronutrients are protein, fat or calcium,” he says.

On the other hand, there are nutrients required in relatively small amounts (typically measured in milligrams or micrograms), known as micronutrients. Examples of essential micronutrients are selenium, vitamin B12 and arachidonic acid.


However, the veterinarian points out that sometimes when looking at labelling there is a tendency to focus more on ingredients than nutrients. These can be more effective in attracting the attention of some owners.

However, remember that, regardless of the ingredients used, all commercial foods controlled by the feed authorities have nutrient profiles that conform to similar target ranges for the given species and life stage. “With few exceptions, the ingredients of a pet food are of less interest than the nutrients,” he insists.

Thus, only in cases such as dietary hypersensitivity, where the aim is to feed only hydrolysed or new protein-rich ingredients, is it necessary to focus on the ingredients.

However, he points out that, although there are known nutrient requirement profiles for healthy animals at different life stages (i.e. growth and development, gestation and lactation, or adult maintenance), animals, like people, are individuals with individual needs, especially if they are unhealthy.

In these cases, veterinary nutritionists work in research and development to produce foods that have appropriate nutrient profiles for different health conditions. “These nutrient profiles can be tailored to prevent, control and, in some cases, even completely resolve nutrition-responsive diseases,” he reminds.

Therefore, he concludes that, with the exception of a few specific cases, the focus should be predominantly on nutrients, not ingredients, to ensure the health and nutrition of pets.

“Nutrients are the building blocks of the body, while ingredients are the food sources of those nutrients,” he concludes and recommends that when buying a pet food you should read the nutritional information, making sure that the diet fits the recommended profile for the pet it is intended for.


When it comes to developing diets for pets, companies such as Champion Petfoods, manufacturer of the Orijen and Acana brands, distributed in Spain by Masale, have teams of nutrition experts and veterinarians to provide animals with food that meets their nutritional needs.

Thus, as recommended by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), Orijen and Acana have a team of experts in dog and cat nutrition, who continually seek to improve the nutrition and welfare of pets, implementing the latest scientific advances.

“Beyond meeting all applicable international pet nutrition guidelines, Orijen and Acana recipes undergo an additional validation process to meet our superior standards: the Champion standard,” the company explains.

The Champion standard, they note, ensures that their recipes push the boundaries of what optimal nutrition for dogs and cats can be, as also recommended by the WSAVA, “By working with academic institutions around the world, our team of experts has access to the best researchers and a diversified approach to support the most advanced pet nutrition possible,” they say.

In fact, Champion Pet Food collaborates with the University of Guelph in promoting the study of pet nutrition science.