Most Common Pet Food Ingredients

Common Pet Food Ingredients

From A to Z

 Ingredients with an asterisk (*) before the name have an official AAFCO definition.       To see the full AAFCO definition, click on this AAFCO link.

Not all ingredients have AAFCO definitions 

A   B   C   D   E    F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W    X   Y   Z





Alfalfa is a member of the legume family

Alfalfa sprouts are an excellent source of key nutrients, including vitamin C, iron, magnesium & manganese. Best if used fresh.


Clean, rendered, dried & ground tissue of anchovies and/or their parts

Excellent source of protein and omega 3’s; Use fresh raw anchovies for optimal benefit


A cooked-down broth made from unspecified parts of unspecified animals

The animals used are obtained from various sources, so there is no control over quality or batch consistency; Not recommended


Animal fat is a necessary

nutrient in pet food, but …

….since the source is not named it could be from any animal. There is no control over quality and batches differ greatly; Not recommended


Animal blood from meat

This is a controversial ingredient. Some tout its benefits as a natural ingredient while others express great concern about sourcing and BSE


A pome fruit which is actually a member of the rose family

Very nutritious in its whole fresh form containing soluble fiber, vitamin C and some beta carotene


This is an unnecessary additive to pet food. Color only appeals to pet owners.

FD&C Red No. 40 is a possible carcinogen but is widely used to keep meat looking fresh. Blue No. 2 is thought to increase dogs' sensitivity to viruses; Not recommended

A tropical fruit

High potassium, magnesium & many vitamins


A member of the grass family, Poaceae; This is a cereal grain and animal feed crop

A complex carbohydrate; One of the more nutritious grains providing protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals; an allergen to some pets


Soft, finely ground & bolted barley meal; consists of the starch & gluten of the endosperm

This is inferior to whole barley. The most beneficial nutrients were removed during the milling process.


The clean flesh derived from slaughtered cattle

Free-range, grass-fed beef is the purest source. Any human grade beef product is considered high quality. 


This is the moisture content of beef.

Water substitute used for flavor. It has no real nutritional value.


Beef minus any water content and finely ground.

This is a rendered animal protein meal but because the animal is specifically named, there is better quality control.


This incorporates the entire cow, including the bones, but the quality cuts of meat are always removed.  

This is an inexpensive, low quality, rendered ingredient used mainly to boost the protein percentage in inferior pet foods; Not recommended


Rendered fat from cows; Commonly used to make soap and candles.

High in fat & cholesterol; difficult to digest  


A root vegetable

Whole beets are high in plant protein, potassium, iron, folic acid & fiber. Leaves are high in calcium.

*BEET PULP Or Dried Beet Pulp

Pulp is what is left after the sugar is extracted from the sugar beet. Commonly used in horse feed.

The ingredient is controversial to some people. Its main role in pet food is a source of fiber.  It can also benefit overall colon health by working in conjunction with normal intestinal bacteria. 


AKA Buffalo

Lean red meat; excellent source of protein


A beneficial fruit containing powerful antioxidants 

Antioxidants fight free radicals. Blueberries are a source of fiber, manganese and vitamin K. Best fed fresh to canines as a healthy treat.


A dangerous chemical preservative banned by many countries, however still used in the USA in foods for pets & people! 

Known to cause cancer and tumors; It is unnecessary because there are safer non-chemical preservatives on the market. It accumulates in tissues and does long-term damage DO NOT USE!


Undecomposed bones, sterilized by cooking, dried & ground

Grease, gelatin, meat fiber may or may not be removed. Product can vary greatly from batch to batch; not recommended


Small fragments of rice kernels obtained during the milling process.

An inexpensive form of carbohydrate, and does not contain the full nutritional benefits of whole grain rice; Not recommended


The whole rice kernel including bran, minus hulls  

Source of carbohydrates; contains B vitamins, magnesium & fatty acids


This is a product of the milling of brown rice

Not harmful, but contains no real nutritional value.


Canola or LEAR oil (Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed)

Please do your research on Canola oil before feeding pet foods containing it. It is considered controversial & usually is a genetically engineered ingredient.


AKA locust bean gum

Used as a gelling agent & emulsifier


A seaweed extract used as a gelling agent & a vegetarian alternative to gelatin.

Safe in small amounts, large amounts have harmed the colon in test animals 


Presumably carrots

Carrots provide beta-carotene and vitamins A, D & K. They are more digestible if pureed.


Particles of breakfast cereals obtained from processing

Inconsistent and often inadequate nutrition;

Not recommended


A pulp from fibrous plant materials such as dried wood

Used to add bulk & consistency to cheap pet foods; Poorly digestible; Not recommended 


Clean chicken flesh and skin with or without the bone  exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails

A high quality ingredient but keep in mind that even chicken for human consumption is often injected with hormones, salmonella vaccine and antibiotics. 


This is the moisture content of chicken.

Water substitute used for flavor. It has no real nutritional value.


Consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines

By-products are the parts of a chicken that is not fit for human consumption. The source is ‘named’ so you know the product is from chickens, however each batch could be considerably different from the next making quality control impossible


Obtained from rendered chicken

Chicken fat is from a named animal source and is beneficial when preserved naturally.


Ground chicken livers


Organ meat is necessary for balanced nutrition, however fresh is superior to meal


A rendered product of chicken minus all moisture and ground into a fine powder

The animal source is named. Chicken meal provides condensed animal protein. Fresh is more nutritious.


AKA maize; A major source of starch; Corn products are difficult for pets to digest

Often genetically modified plant; GMO’s have NOT been proven safe to people or the environment. Corn is inexpensive & readily attainable.


Outer coating of corn kernel

Primarily used as a source of dietary fiber


This is a by-product of the milling industry after corn grits, corn meal & other corn products are manufactured

It is an inexpensive source of protein which is commonly used in low quality pet foods to boost the protein level; Not recommended


Gluten is a by-product after the manufacturing of corn syrup.  

A binder and protein booster. Plant protein provides less benefit to pets than animal protein; Not recommended


Corn Gluten Meal or CGM is a by-product of corn processing and can be used as an organic herbicide

CGM is an inexpensive protein source for pet foods. It is used for a binder or thickening agent in canned foods. One of the more common grain allergens; Not recommended  


Flour ground from dried maize or American corn

Corn is highly prone to a deadly mold (aflatoxin);

Not recommended


AKA glucose syrup;

Concentrated corn juice

Used in pet food and treats as a thickener & sweetener


Cracked oats or steel cut oats are only the inner portion of the oat kernel.

Cracked oats are high in protein


Dehulled, steam processed & sliced barley (cereal grain)

Contains 8 essential amino acids; Protein from animal sources are more beneficial to pets


A fruit commonly used in juice drinks and sauces. High in antioxidants

Has moderate levels of Vit C, manganese & dietary fiber; Antioxidant properties fight tooth decay, cancer & heart disease; Good for the urinary tract.


Dried poultry eggs freed of moisture by thermal means

Eggs are a good source of protein. Whole, fresh eggs are the perfect protein.


A cooked-down broth made from beef tissues.

A flavor enhancer only; no real nutritional value; Not recommended


A cooked down broth made from all clean unrendered parts of cattle with the exception of the meat, hair, horns, teeth or hooves

A flavor enhancer made from beef by-products;  An inferior ingredient; Not recommended


A broth made from cleaned unrendered chicken heads, feet & viscera minus fecal contents

By-products make this an inferior ingredient; only useful as a flavor enhancer with no real nutritional value; Not recommended


Dried material made from unspecified animal tissue

Very inferior ingredient that could be from any mammal; Not recommended


Dried seaweed

Natural source of trace minerals such as iron; source of vitamin A, D, B12 & folic acid; source of beta-carotene


AKA Casein; the primary milk protein in milk

A good source of amino acids


A product from cheese manufacturing; the watery part of milk that separates from curds 

Contains protein, lactose and minerals


Dried, non-fermented yeast

Good source of Vitamin B; potential allergen for some pets


Water fowl

Duck is an excellent source of animal protein 


Rendered & ground duck flesh & skin with or without accompanying bone

Excellent source of condensed protein; Fresh duck is even more beneficial

Presumably whole eggs

Excellent source of protein & amino acids


Ethoxyquin is a chemical preservative used to prevent fat from becoming rancid; it is also a pesticide.

Potentially very harmful for a pet to eat on a daily basis; Manufacturers like it because it extends pet food shelf life; Naturox, natural preservatives Vitamin C & E are better alternatives. DO NOT USE!


A meal product from the manufacturing of rolled oats

This is a grain fragment missing many of it’s nutritional qualities; Not recommended


Type of fish is not named

Pet owners should feed only animal proteins from a specifically named source


Rendered & ground fish or fish cuttings. According to US Coast Guard regulations, all fish not destined for human consumption must be preserved.  

The type of fish is not specifically named meaning there is a lack of consistency from batch to batch. The preservative most often used for fishmeal is ethoxyquin.


Oil from rendering whole fish or pieces from canneries

Un-named type of fish; not a recommended ingredient


AKA Linseed

A source of Omega 3 fatty acids, high in dietary fiber


Ground product from the seed of the flax plant

This provides some omega-3 fatty acids. 


Obtained by extracting oil from the flax seed

Carnivores more efficiently metabolize animal-sourced essential fatty acids, but this is by no means a bad ingredient.

OR Garlic Powder

A species in the onion family commonly used for culinary or medicinal purposes

Controversial; Some pet owners report allergies to garlic


A translucent, colorless,  tasteless substance; Derived from prolonged boiling of  animal skin, tissue & bones.  

A collagen; Used as a gelling agent in food; No nutritional value


The edible offal of a fowl, typically including the heart, gizzard, liver, other visceral organs and neck

High quality nutrition if the bird is named, such as chicken or turkey


Sweet tasting viscous liquid

Used to enhance palatability & retain moisture; no real nutritional value


Entire barley kernel ground or chopped

A complex carbohydrate & nutritious grain providing protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals 

Good source of calcium; easily digested

Ground Bone

Often seen in prepackaged raw pet meals

This is used to balance the calcium to phosphorus ratio

Ground Brown Rice

The entire product obtained by grinding the rice kernels after the hulls are removed

Rich in Vitamin B; also a carbohydrate


Entire kernel, ground or chopped,  minus husks

Corn is often a GMO & used to boost protein values. Cats & dogs do best with animal-based proteins.  


AKA Ground Oat Groats; ground clean oats with hulls removed. 

Good source of Vitamin B; also a carbohydrate

Ground Oat Groats

AKA Oatmeal

Good source of Vitamin B; a carbohydrate

Ground Rice

White rice, ground or chopped

Plentiful & inexpensive; ideal for making kibble; one of the more digestible grains; not a natural part of a carnivores diet


Entire wheat kernel, ground or chopped

A better product than wheat bran, flour or middlings; still a frequent allergen to pets


AKA Ground Brown Rice

Entire rice kernels minus hulls

Good source of Vitamin B; a carbohydrate

Ground Whole Grain Corn

Entire corn kernel, ground or chopped

Often genetically modified; GMO’s have NOT been proven safe to people or the environment. 

Ground Whole Grain Sorghum

Ground grain of the sorghum plant (see Sorghum)

Possibly genetically modified

*Ground Whole Wheat

Entire wheat kernel, ground or chopped

A better product than wheat bran, flour or middlings; a frequent allergen to pets

*Ground Yellow Corn

Ground yellow ear corn minus husks

Corn is inexpensive and readily attainable; often a source of allergy to pets

Guar Gum

The ground endosperm of guar beans, the legume family

Used as a thickener, stabilizer or emulsifier in pet food; not much nutritional value

An oily fish found in North Pacific & North Atlantic oceans

An excellent single source protein, rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA, DHA & Vitamin D


Sweet, viscous fluid produced by bees


Useful properties for baking, but sweeter than table sugar

OR Norwegian Kelp

A type of seaweed

Natural source of trace minerals such as iron; source of vitamin A, D, B12 & folic acid; source of beta-carotene


Cooked crack corn

Highly processed and low nutrient content


The organ in the body responsible for excreting waste products of metabolism

Provided the animal source is named, this is a high quality ingredient especially when fed raw in small amounts


The meat of domestic sheep

Muscle meat high in animal protein


Undecomposed lamb bones, sterilized by cooking; dried then ground  

Grease, gelatin, meat fiber may or may not be removed.


A cooked-down broth made from lamb tissues.

No real nutritional value; a flavor enhancer only; at least the protein source is named


Obtained from lamb tissues in the process of rendering

This is a quality animal fat high in linoleic acid, beneficial to skin and coat health

*Lamb Meal

Rendered product from lamb tissues

A named meat source & condensed protein product; Fresh lamb meat is superior to meal


AKA flaxseed meal

This provides some omega-3 fatty acids. Pets metabolize fatty acids best from animal sources. This is by no means a bad ingredient.

Liver is the hepatic gland. *The role of the liver is to filter toxins, therefore can be controversial.    

Liver is a nutrient rich organ meat. As long as the source is named (chicken, beef, lamb, etc) this is a beneficial ingredient.  

Food fish of the North Atlantic

An excellent single source protein rich in essential fatty acids; Best served fresh


AKA corn

Pet food manufacturers often use this term to distract the customers attention that the product contains corn


AKA maltodextrin; This is a sugar made from corn

Improves shelf life and provides a sweet taste but it not recommended nutritionally

*Meat and Bone Meal

Rendered “mammal” tissues with bone

This is probably one of THE WORST ingredients in pet food; extremely low quality; could be the tissues of any animal

*Meat By Products

Non-rendered parts of slaughtered mammals with the exception of meat

Lungs, kidney, spleen, brain, blood, etc. from any kind of mammal; very inferior; Not recommended

*Meat Meal

Rendered mammal tissues

Meal made from any mammal and is very low quality; Not recommended

Menadione Sodium Bisulfate

Synthetic version of Vitamin K; a controversial ingredient

This is an unnecessary ingredient not approved for long-term use. It has been linked to many serious health issues.


Clean, dried, ground tissue of whole fish or fish cuttings

High in protein and essential fatty acids


An essential amino acid in pet food

Promotes palatability in the cat diet; may benefit urinary function


A small-seeded grass species of cereal crops or grains

Not commonly used in pet food. It may be beneficial if a pet is allergic to corn or wheat.

Mixed tocopherols

A natural preservative

This is a source of Vitamin E


A thick by-product of sugar processing

Can artificially inflate protein content but is most used as a sweetener. Small amounts are ok in treats


Flavor ingredients that do not contain synthetic or artificial components

Flavor enhancer only, no real nutritional value


All natural, free-flowing antioxidant used to preserve oils, fats & other oxygen sensitive ingredients

Often this is not on the pet food label, but hopefully soon more companies will realize pet owner want to know ethoxyquin is NOT used in our pet’s food.

Dry ground product of clean oats with hulls removed

Often used as a binder in pet foods. Rich in B vitamins; a carbohydrate

Oat Bran

The outer covering of the oat kernel

Low nutritional benefits

Oat Fiber

A white fine grained dietary fiber obtained from the processing of oats

A carbohydrate that enhances food texture

Ocean Whitefish

Refers to a number of fish, including tilefish and Atlantic whitefish.

High in Omega 3’s EPA & DHA 

Organic Quinoa

A grain-like crop grown primarily for its edible seeds

Quinoa contains a balanced set of essential amino acids; plant protein. A good source of dietary fiber & phosphorus; high in iron



A source of plant protein and Vitamin A

Pea Fiber

Fiber derived from pea hulls

A source of fiber


90% peanuts, no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives & fats

Usually found in treats rather than food

Peanut Meal

Ground peanuts

Ingredient subject to deadly mold (aflatoxin)

Pearled Barley

De-hulled barley (cereal grain)

Provides carbohydrates and fiber; reportedly more digestable than whole barley

Pork MEAl

Dry, rendered product from the clean flesh & skin, with or without accompanying bone of pigs – exclusive of heads, feet & entrails

High in animal protein; Fresh unprocessed lean meat is most nutritious


Tuberous plant

A carbohydrate high in starch; whole fresh potatoes are more nutritious; Provide Vitamins B, C, zinc, niacin & potassium


Potato pieces, peelings and culls

Left-overs from the human food processing industry

Potato Protein

A concentrated extract from the potato tuber  

This is a fairly new ingredient for pet food often used in single protein, single grain diets

*Poultry Fat


“primarily obtained from the tissue of poultry in the commercial process of rendering”

The source of poultry tissue is not named specifically, therefore lacks consistency and quality control; Not recommended

*Poultry By-Product Meal

“necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines”

A rendered product from an unspecified poultry source; Not recommended


A cooked-down broth made from poultry tissues.

Poultry source is not specifically named. This is mainly used for flavor; Not recommended


Produced from the “pulp from fibrous plant materials”

No nutritional value; Not recommended


Prawns are shrimp

High in protein, omega 3s and vitamin B12

Propolyne Glycol


Compound used as a solvent, antifreeze, coolant and de-icer among other things

GRAS for use in dog food; Prohibited for use in cat food due to a species-specific reaction. Veterinary data indicate that propylene glycol is toxic to dogs with a 50% chance of being lethal at doses of 9mL/kg; DO NOT USE!


A gourd-like squash plant

Rich source of alpha & beta carotene, fiber, vitamins B & C

A botanical fruit of an herb plant

Treated as a grain in cooking; high in plant protein

Small mammals in the Leporidea family

High in protein; Can be fed raw or processed


Unless listed as brown rice, it is known as white rice

Without being enriched with vitamins, white rice can be very lacking in certain nutrients

*Rice Bran

This product of the milling industry contains a major portion of the nutritional value

Good source of dietary fiber and vitamins

Rice Flour

Flour made from finely milled rice

Essentially contains starch and gluten


Soft, finely ground bolted meal obtained from milling rye kernel

Lower gluten content than wheat flour


Oil from safflower seeds

An omega 6 fatty acid; Possibly a GMO


Marine & freshwater fish

High in protein and long chain Omega 3’s

Salmon Meal

Rendered and ground clean tissue from salmon

High in condensed animal protein


Oil extracted from the cannery refuse of salmon

Excellent source of EFA’s


Clean, rendered, dried, & ground tissue of sardines & sardine parts

Excellent source of protein and essential fatty acids; Best if served fresh


Sweetener, used for moisture retention in some treats

Too much sorbitol can cause loose stools in pets


A grass raised for grain, fiber and fodder

Possibly genetically modified (GMO)


Sodium Chloride

A required nutrition in proper quantities

Soy Flour

Heat processed, finely ground soybean meal

Over two-thirds US soy crops are GMO or genetically modified organisms. 

Soy Oil

AKA “vegetable oil”


Soy Protein Concentrate

Soybean protein with water soluble carbs and hulls removed

Soy protein & soy flakes contain natural plant estrogens, chemicals akin to mammalian female hormones & having some of the same effects. When these chemicals were injected into immature female mice, they caused damage to the mice's uteruses.

Soy Protein Isolate

Isolated protein of soybean with carbohydrate fraction removed


Outer covering of the soybean

Not a high quality ingredient; often found in low end pet food

*Soybean Meal

Grind of soybean flakes once oil has been removed

“Long-term feeding of a soy diet to cats could induce chronic low level hyper stimulation of the thyroid gland which could lead to formation of thyroid adenoma and feline hyperthyroidism in middle-aged aged cats.” Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM


Soybean hulls and whatever bean meat sticks to them during the milling process

Soybean Oil

AKA soy oil or vegetable oil

Spray Dried Chicken


A flavoring made from chicken broth and or meat parts

Can be an acceptable ingredient if derived from fresh slaughtered chicken but usually this is not the case 


Crystallized carbohydrate obtained from sugar can and sugar beet

Sugar is often added for palatability however can stress the pancreas, cause hyperactivity, aggravate diabetes and more

Sunflower Oil

Oil extracted from sunflower seeds

High in linoleic acid, good for the skin and coat

Sweet Potatoes

A starchy root vegetable

Contains antioxidants, vitamins & minerals

A rendered form of beef or mutton fat

Hard for pets to digest; high in cholesterol

Tapioca & Tapioca Meal

A starch extracted from the root of the cassava plant; Ground tapioca

This complex carbohydrate, when broken down in the body, converts to a high amount of sugar making this ingredient controversial.    


Naturally occurring amino acid in meat and seafood; Not readily available from plants

A very important essential amino acid for cats; Insufficient levels of taurine can lead to blindness and cardiac problems  


Inexpensive by-product of tomato manufacturing

A mixture of tomato skins, pulp and crushed seed; High potential for pesticide residue


Sea water fish

A high quality protein with beneficial omegas


Clean turkey flesh & skin with or without bone exclusive of feathers, heads, feet & entrails

A high quality meat however, keep in mind that even turkey for human consumption is often injected with hormones and antibiotics.  

Turkey By-Product MeaL

Consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered turkey, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs & intestines

By-products are the parts of a chicken that is not fit for human consumption. It is ‘named’ so you know the products are from chickens, however batches vary greatly making quality control impossible


A rendered product of turkey minus all moisture and ground into a fine powder

The animal source is named. Turkey meal provides condensed animal protein. Fresh is more nutritious.


A product obtained from vegetable origin by extracting oil from edible seeds or fruits

This is another term for soybean oil. Soy products are most often GMOs; animal fats are more beneficial to pets


Deer meat, hunted or farmed

Not USDA inspected, but still high quality game meat with very little fat content

* Bran

The hard outer layer of wheat

High in protein, vitamin D & omega 3 fatty acids

*Wheat Flour

Wheat flour together with fine particles of wheat bran, wheat germ & offal from the “tail of the meal”

More nutritious than refined white flour; higher oil content & shorter shelf life

*Wheat Germ Meal

Wheat germ together with some bran, middlings or short

An inexpensive filler and by product of the human food industry

Wheat Gluten

A sticky substance found in wheat composed of the proteins gliadin & glutenin

*Wheat gluten is the product from China that was tainted with melamine in 2007 causing many pets to become sick or die

*Wheat Mill Run

Course wheat bran, shorts, germ, flour and offal from the “tail of the mill”

An inexpensive filler with no real nutritional value

Wheat Protein Isolate

A wheat protein that has been chemically processed to remove most of the starch

This soluble product is 85% plant protein; carnivores thrive best when fed animal proteins



Fluid obtained by separating the coagulum from milk

Source of protein and fat


Several types of deepwater fish are used

Preferable that the fish type is named; Good source of Omega 3 fatty acids

Whole Egg

Eggs from hens with shells removed

Whole eggs are the perfect protein source that all other proteins are measured against

Whole GrAIN Brown Rice

Rice grain with hull removed

More nutritional than white rice

Whole Grain Wheat

The entire wheat kernel

Adds carbohydrate, plant protein, some vitamins to the diet

Whole Oat Groats

The entire oat grain without processing

A source of carbohydrates and vitamins

Whole Wheat Flour

 Derived by grinding mashing the wheat’s whole grain


More nutritious than refined white flour; higher oil content & shorter shelf life


Against The Grain Pet Nutrition is a company that does things differently. We are a small business that is excited about offering pet owners better choices in pet nutrition. We believe that choosing appropriate pet food (be it commercial, raw or home prepared) is the most important factor in any pet's preventative health, convalescence and longevity.  Our name - Against The Grain - reflects our strong passion to provide pet owners with the knowledge to make healthy decisions about pet care even if we go ‘against the grain' of popular thinking.

To contact us:
1024 County Road 109
Montevallo, AL 35115

Phone: 205-665-9026
Fax: 205-665-5683
[email protected]