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What’s My Pet Eating? Understanding the Micronutrients Your Pet Needs
Many pet parents watch their furry friends’ diets as closely as they watch their own these days, and pet food companies have responded with a variety of offerings that give natural ingredients the center-stage treatment they deserve. When you’re reading the ingredient list on the back label of your pet’s food, most of the ingredients sound familiar and wholesome, like wild-caught fish, whole-grain rice, and farm-fresh eggs.
At the end of the list, though, pet foods still have a lot of long, complicated-sounding additions. What is pyridoxine hydrochloride? Should your pet be eating thiamine mononitrate? Fortunately, these ingredients aren’t as strange as they sound. They’re the scientific names for the micronutrients your pet needs in small amounts to be healthy: vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Read on to demystify the world of micronutrients and master the ingredient list once and for all.
Minerals: Essential for Healthy Coats, Hearts, and Brains
Minerals are naturally occurring solid chemical compounds. In nature, they’re often found in their pure form within other rocks. The best-known edible mineral is table salt, or sodium chloride, and though excess salt isn’t healthy for people or animals, a little bit is key for survival. Sodium and chloride are both common electrolytes, which support muscle function, nerve signaling, and skeletal health. Different forms of calcium, potassium, sodium, and zinc are all minerals included in pet foods to keep your pet’s natural electrolyte balances in check, and to support other healthy body processes.
How do minerals end up in food? Pet food makers use mineral supplements to ensure their foods meet standards for healthy animal diets. These supplements are extracted by breaking large, naturally occurring chunks of minerals into fine powders and granules, usually through industrial grinding processes. The results are mixed into pet foods to provide the essential minerals pets need.
Vitamins: Important Supplements for Animals (and People)
The technical names for vitamins can be a mouthful, but you might be more familiar with them than you think! The ingredients mentioned in the introduction, thiamine mononitrate and pyridoxine hydrochloride, are both vitamins, better known as vitamin B6 and B1. The B vitamins, which also include niacin, riboflavin, and cyanocobalamin, are crucial for healthy brain function in humans and animals. Vitamins also help your pet metabolize food, grow protein structures like fur, toenails, and muscles, and maintain a healthy immune system. Besides B-complex vitamins, other important ingredients in this category include vitamin D3, vitamin K, and vitamin E.
Pet food makers can source vitamins from their natural origins, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. They can also use nature-identical synthetic vitamins, which are grown in lab settings to match naturally occurring vitamins atom for atom. No matter how the vitamins are included, you can be confident that your pets are getting all the nutrition they need.
Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Protein
Almost every critical process in your body, and your pet’s, relies on the presence of amino acids, which is why pet foods often contain supplemental quantities of these compounds. While pets’ bodies can produce about half of the amino acids they need, another ten are essential, which means that they must be consumed in food. Taurine is one of the best-known amino acids because it is essential for cats and found only in meat, fish, and eggs, but there are several others that are often supplemented, including carnitine, methionine, and cysteine.
Although some amino acids are added to food directly, they also occur in the natural ingredients that make up the bulk of most pet food recipes, so inclusion of quality protein sources is a good sign that the food you’re buying contains enough essential amino acids. If your pet’s food is certified nutritionally adequate by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, abbreviated on packaging as AAFCO, you can be sure your pet’s food contains sufficient amino acids.
If you’ve wondered what the micronutrients in the ingredient label on your pet’s food are, be assured that all of the minerals, vitamins, and amino acids brands include are important parts of your pet’s health! You can feed them confidently knowing that you’re supporting a healthy, active life for your pets for years to come.
Mikkie Mills, is a freelance writer who often writes about family, home improvements and the occasional DIY project.