Comparing Pet Nutrition Products- Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate Content

Pet food manufacturers are required to list the minimum percentages of crude protein and crudeProtein, Fat, Carbohydrate and Pet Nutrition fat and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture.  Other nutrients may follow the moisture content, but do not need to be listed unless it is listed elsewhere on the pet nutrition product label (e.g. “contains L-carnitine” or “contains omega-3 fatty acids”).  This information is guaranteed and serves another method of evaluating the quality of the diet. The nutrient profiles for canine and feline pet nutrition products is located in the AAFCO handbook.

Comparison of pet nutrition products based on protein content

The protein content of pet nutrition products is typically calculated based on the nitrogen content in the product.  The amount of nitrogen, which can be easily measured, is multiplied by a factor of 6.25 to obtain the percent crude protein.  This calculated value represents an estimate of the protein in the diet and assumes that all nitrogen present is protein in origin and that all the protein is digestible in nature.  Neither of these assumptions is true.

Crude protein is not the best method of determining the protein quality in a pet nutrition product.  It provides little information on the nutritional value of the protein.  The best method is to determine the amounts of essential amino acids in the diet and compare it to what is needed by the animal. Dogs have 10 and cats have 11 essential amino acids.  These are amino acids that cannot be produced by dogs or cats and must be supplied in the diet.  The most reliable pet food companies provide the essential amino acid values for the pet nutrition products they manufacture. The digestibility of the protein is also very important.  Protein that is easily digested is more available for absorption and use by the pet.  As protein quality increases, the amount of protein needed in the diet decreases.

Comparison of pet nutrition products based on fat content

The crude fat content of pet nutrition products is most commonly measured quantitatively by either the acid hydrolysis method or ether extraction method.  These procedures give no information regarding the type of fat or fatty acids present.  Fats have more than twice the energy density of protein and carbohydrates.  The higher the crude fat in the product, the more energy dense the diet will be.  Fats also help with absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.  Increasing the fat content of a diet generally improves the palatability of the diet.

The n-3 and n-6 fatty acid families are considered essential fatty acids because animals cannot synthesize them.  Members of the n-3 fatty acids family include alpha-linolenic and eicosapentaneoic acid.  Members of the n-6 fatty acid family include linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid and arachidonic acid.  Fish oils have gained much attention for their potential benefits for a variety of disease processes due to their high concentration of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids.

Comparison of pet nutrition products based on carbohydrate content

The primary purpose of carbohydrates is to supply energy, but they also are important in pet food processing.  Many commercial pet nutrition products use starches (a type of carbohydrate) to give structure, texture and form to the product.  Fiber is a carbohydrate and is necessary to maintain the health and function of the intestinal tract.

The carbohydrate content of a pet nutrition product is referenced as the crude fiber and includes cellulose and other complex polysaccharides.  It is a quantitative measurement determined by an acid-alkali extraction procedure.  It is not a good reflection of the quality of the fiber in the diet and usually underestimates the true fiber content of the diet.  It is an estimate of the indigestible portion of pet nutrition products.

To learn about ingredient lists and product label terms in pet nutrition products, click here.

To learn about ingredient statements an guaranteed analysis in pet nutrition products, click here.

To learn about dry matter and moisture content in pet nutrition products, click here.

To learn about the caloric content in pet nutrition products, click here.

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Dr Stephen Atwater

Stephen W. Atwater, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (oncology) is a board-certified veterinary oncology specialist. His professional interests include utilizing emerging therapies for difficult to treat cancers.

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