Ingredient Deck Definitions

Glossary of terms to help you better understand ingredients. 


The Association of American Feed Control Officials.

Amino Acid

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They are used in every tissue, organ and cell in the body to build the proteins necessary for everyday function and survival. There are 22 amino acids, but only 10 are essential for dogs, and 11 for cats. This means that these must be acquired from the diet.


An ingredient with anti-inflammatory properties is one that is known to reduce swelling.


Antioxidants are molecules that combat “free radicals” within the body. A free radical is an unstable molecule with an odd, unpaired electron that is eager to become stable by gaining a new electron. As a result, it tries to bond to or steal electrons, ultimately destabilizing other molecules. Free radicals can occur when the body undergoes stress (exercise, pollution, disease, etc.…) and will react with other compounds causing damage to the cell and its DNA. Antioxidants donate an electron to the free radical to stabilize it, ending the chain reaction.


An ingredient with antimicrobial properties is one that helps kill or deter the growth of bacteria, fungus and moulds in the feed.

Beta-Carotene (Carotenoids)

Beta-Carotene is a pigment that is found in many plants, like carrots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes. It a source of Vitamin A, which is important for vision, bone development, reproduction and skin/coat maintenance.

Biological Value

The biological value is the proportion of a food that once ingested, is absorbed and used by the body. Typically applied to protein, it is a measure of digestibility.


Bran is the tough outer layer of a grain. Although variable from grain to grain, it is typically a great source of essential fatty acids (omegas) and dietary fibre.


Calcium is a vital nutrient for growth and sustained pet health. It is a principal structural component of bone and teeth, facilitates blood-clotting binding-proteins, serves as a key conductor of nerve signals, initiates muscle contractions, activates select physiological enzymes, and buffers pH changes.  See “Calcium-Phosphorus ratios” for more information on the importance of calcium in the diet


Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fibre. Carbohydrates are not essential for dogs and cats like they are to humans, but they do have a physiological place in their diets. Carbohydrates provide a quick source of glucose (energy) that can be readily used by the cells, providing supplemental energy for protein and/or fat breakdown.

Complex carbohydrates (think: whole grains), like starches, are broken down and absorbed by the body more slowly than highly processed/refined carbs (think: sugars). Whole grains contain unrefined starches with lower glycemic indexes, minimizing the effect on blood glucose levels.


A chelated mineral is one where metal irons are bound to amino acids (protein) allowing them to be more readily absorbed by the body. 


Coenzymes are molecules that help chemical reactions occur within the body.


The role of Copper is tightly tied to that of Iron within the body of your pet. Copper is necessary for the absorption and transport of ingested iron, and is crucial for the proper functioning of hemoglobin.  Copper is also important for skeletal development and is a necessary component of some antioxidants.  Naturally, it is found in high concentrations in organ meats.


The endosperm is the tissue layer that surrounds the germ (embryo) in seeds and grains. It is typically filled with starches, but can contain some protein.

Extracellular Matrix


Fats, such as chicken fat and herring oil are highly digestible and provide twice as many calories to the diet as protein. Fats are beneficial as they are a rich source of Omega-3’s or 6’s, are a dense source of energy, and aid in vitamin absorption and transportation throughout the body.

Fatty Acid

A fatty acid includes omega-3’s and omega-6’s. They are important for many reasons, including maintaining healthy cells and proper nerve functioning.

Free Radical

A free radical is an unstable molecule with an odd, unpaired electron that is eager to become stable by gaining a new electron. As a result, it tries to bond to or steal electrons, ultimately destabilizing other molecules. Free radicals can occur when the body undergoes stress (exercise, pollution, disease, etc.…) and will react with other compounds causing damage to the cell and its DNA. Antioxidants donate an electron to the free radical to stabilize it, ending the chain reaction.


Fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate that is required in the diet to promote normal gastrointestinal tract functioning and health.


The germ (embryo) of a grain is the part that is capable of growing into a plant. As an ingredient, it is the fatty portion of the grain.


A type of molecule that attracts water and can be used as a lubricant within the body. Chondroitin and Glucosamine are Glycosaminoglycans. Chondroitin and Glucosamine may help to reduce inflammation and promote cartilage repair in joints.


Glucose is the base unit of a carbohydrate. It is a simple sugar, and what circulates through the bloodstream as blood sugar. It is used as the primary energy source for all reactions within the body, including digestion.

Glycemic Response (Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load)

The glycemic response is the effect a food has on the blood sugar (glucose) of an animal.  It is a measure of the speed at which a response is observed (glycemic index) and the overall increase in glucose (glycemic load) that occurs after eating. Different food sources have different glycemic responses in cats and dogs.


Hemoglobin is a protein in the red blood cells that binds oxygen from the lungs and transports it throughout the body. 


Insulin is used to help regulate the breakdown and use of carbohydrates, fats and protein by helping tissues absorb glucose into their cells. It helps regulate blood sugar levels and restore them to normal after eating.


Malting is a process where grains are soaked in water and allowed to germinate. Once germinated, the grains are dried and ground into flour. This process is referred to as “malting”. Malting decreases the starch content and creates a sweet malt taste. 


The term “metabolism” is used to refer to chemical processes within the body of your pet. It is usually used in reference to the digestion of foodstuffs and conversion into molecules that are used by the body.


A term used to refer to bacteria, fungus, and moulds.


Minerals are chemical compounds that are necessary in small quantities for the body to function properly. They include things such as calcium, iron, phosphorus and sodium.

Omega-3 Fatty Acid

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for normal breakdown and uptake of food within the body (metabolism). They are an essential fatty acid, meaning they must come from the diet. They may also reduce inflammation, aid in joint health, and contribute to heart health. Ingredients high in omega-3’s include fish oils and flax seed.

Omega-6 Fatty Acid

Omega-6 fatty acids are important in normal brain functioning, growth, and development, and promote healthy skin and coat. They also promote inflammation in the cells. Although typically thought to be a negative thing, inflammation is a crucial step in the recovery response after cell trauma. Foods rich in omega-6’s include plant-derived oils (ex: safflower, sunflower) and chicken fat. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for cats and dogs.


A food that is tasty to your pet.


Alongside calcium, phosphorus is a main component of bone. It is also important in many chemical processes throughout many tissues in the body.


A prebiotic is plant matter that cannot be digested by an animal, but is food for the bacteria that live within the gut. Prebiotics promote growth and activity of bacteria in the intestine that benefit your pet by aiding in the digestion of fats and nutrients that otherwise would not be available to your pet.


Protein is required for the majority of body functions. For example, the production of hormones and enzymes, carrying oxygenated blood, and immune system functions are all fueled by protein. The body is constantly creating and breaking down proteins for these and a variety of other functions. Animals need to consume protein so that their bodies have the building blocks to replace any damaged proteins or molecules.


A process that removes certain unwanted parts of an ingredient, typically a plant. When it comes to sugars, they take “raw” sugar and remove impurities and coloured components, leaving the familiar white powdery substance we know well. Refined sugars induce a quick increase in blood sugar level and have a high glycemic index, which is not great for many pets. Whole grains contain unrefined starches, reducing the overall effect of many carbohydrates on blood glucose levels.


Rendering is a cooking process that uses low heat and pressure to remove the moisture and fat from a food, while maintaining amino acids intact. Typically rendered ingredients are ground into powder form once dried. “Meal” in the ingredient deck of a food means it has been through the rendering process.


Starch is the carbohydrate found in whole grains. It is more complex than simple sugars and can have lesser glycemic indexes than their refined counterparts.


Steroids are a type of hormone that are important for signaling messages from one cellular component to another, and are part of cell membranes.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, also known as Cobalamin, can only be synthesized by microorganisms and is the only vitamin that contains a trace element: cobalt. It is vital in many biochemical reactions within the body, and is important in carbohydrate and fat metabolism. It is found naturally in foods of animal origin, mainly meat, poultry, fish and dairy.


Yeast is a type of cultivated, single-celled fungus