Veterinary researchers have identified more than 40 essential nutrients for cats and dogs, including vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, protein and amino acids. Most commercially prepared pet foods are “complete and balanced,” meaning each serving meets a pet’s total nutritional needs and provides essential nutrients at the proper levels. An ingredient in a pet food recipe can serve as a source for many of these nutrients.

Pet food makers choose from a wide range of ingredients—such as beef, pork, lamb, poultry, alligator, bison, shrimp, fish, corn, wheat and other grains, peas, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables, fruit, animal and vegetable oils, and vitamins, minerals and individual amino acids—based not only on nutrient content, but also such characteristics or functions as:

  • Digestibility;
  • Tastiness or “palatability” (i.e., flavor, texture, freshness);
  • Ability to hold shape;
  • Pet owner preference; and
  • Availability and cost.

Pet food is regulated at both the federal and state level, and ingredients must meet key criteria before they are approved for use in a pet food recipe. Click here for more information about the regulation of pet food ingredients.