Jargon Buster: A Guide to Understanding Packaging

In this section we’ll use the Pets at Home Complete label as a reference point to highlight what you should be looking out for on your pet food label. You should be able to get a fair idea of what the main ingredients are within products as these are listed in order of quantity, with the highest amount first.

Click on one of the links below to view each section:

Important nutrients at a glance

Nutrient Good for: Look on the packaging for:
Protein Hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and the immune system.
Protein also plays a main role in hormone production.
Animal protein such as egg, chicken, lamb, fish and beef.
Fats Growth and development, especially of the brain; helping your dog to maintain healthy skin and coat; keeping joints supple.
Fats are also important for heart health and supplying energy. They also make healthy pet food taste great!
Animal fat, chicken fat, corn oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, fish meal, fish oils and flax or linseed.
Carbohydrates Carbohydrates are made up of starch and fibre. Starch provides energy for body tissues, while certain fibres aid digestive health. Starches: cereals and grains such as barley, maize, rice and sorghum.
Fibres: sugar beet pulp and rice bran.
Vitamins Growth of new cells (such as new skin cells) and a strong immune system. Vitamins A, B, C, D3, E.
Minerals Strong teeth and bones. Calcium and phosphorus.
Water The most critical component for survival. Without it, the body cannot transport nutrients, digest nutrients for energy, regulate temperature or eliminate waste. From the tap will do! Clean, fresh water should accompany your pet’s meals and be available at all times.

Why is animal protein important to my dog's diet?

Animal protein (such as egg, chicken, lamb, fish and beef) is one of the most digestible protein sources available, and helps promote good health. Protein has many functions in the body, one of the most important of which is to supply amino acids to build hair, skin, nails, muscles, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Animal protein can be split into the following label definitions:

  • Fresh meat or fish: Fresh meat or fish is from sources deemed suitable for human consumption. There are a number of advantages of fresh meat, including higher digestibility, palatability and nutritional value.
  • Rendered meat or fish: Rendered meats are commonly listed as ‘meat meal’ or ‘poultry meal’ on the ingredient label. They are the cooked and processed remains of the leftovers in meat, fish and poultry processing. This isn’t to say they are poor quality, as the European Community states the source animal must be deemed suitable for human consumption. However, every time you process meat you do run the risk of destroying some essential nutrients.
  • Animal derivatives: this is the broad category name which encompasses all animal ingredients. The broadness of the category means that these could be products left over after most of the meat has been used, and may include feather, hoof, hair, bone, blood and fatty tissue.

Why is it important for dog food to contain animal fats?

Fats are found in meat, fish and plant oils. Fat is the most concentrated energy source per gram, as it provides more than twice the energy of protein and carbohydrates. The main components of fats are fatty acids, which are extremely important for growth and development as well as helping your dog to maintain a healthy heart, joints, skin and coat. To see what fats are contained in your dog’s food, look out on the ingredients panel for animal fat, corn oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, fish meal, fish oils and flax (otherwise known as linseed).

Why are carbohydrates so useful?

Carbohydrates are included in a pet’s diet as a source of starch (which provides a quick energy boost) and as a source of fibre. Look out for cereals and grains such as barley, maize and rice on the ingredients panel as these are common carbohydrates found in dog food.

Dogs may find foods with high cereal content less palatable and digestible. Certain fibres promote a healthy digestive system by providing enough bulk for firm stools and maximum absorption of nutrients. Look out for fibres such as sugar beet pulp and rice bran, as these help to support optimum intestinal health. Be aware that oats, although an excellent balanced fibre source, may cause dry stools in some cases; and that the fibre lactulose can result in a very gassy dog!

Why are vitamins important to my dog's health?

Vitamins are required for converting food to energy and for growth of cells. Some vitamins, such as Vitamin E, are antioxidant vitamins, which play a vital role in keeping a dog’s immune system healthy. Antioxidants help prevent the destruction of key components such as vitamins and fatty acids which are all essential for health, growth and development.

Why are minerals important?

The minerals calcium and phosphorus are essential for maintaining strong teeth and bones. While other minerals such as iron and copper are vital for proper functioning.

Why is water important?

Water is vital; your dog needs it to allow their body to regulate temperature and transport nutrients around the body. You should make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water at all times - especially so when it's warm.

Why is it beneficial to have no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives in my dog's food?

Artificial colours, flavours and preservatives are added to foods to improve characteristics or appearance of the food, yet provide no nutritional value. If you're looking for a more natural option, food that contains no artificial additives will say so on the label.