Ingredient vs Nutrient

2016 | Nutrition & Health | Scientific Services Team, Royal Canin Australia

Proper nutrition is essential for the health and wellbeing of dogs and cats A balanced, high quality diet can actually increase their life expectancy! Our ability to feed the correct diet involves a basic understanding of the nutrients they require, what these nutrients do and how they are obtained in the diet. Cats and dogs require about 40 essential nutrients, each in the right form and in the right amount to deliver complete nutrition. An essential nutrient is one that can only be obtained in the diet; that is, it cannot be made by the body. A complete and balanced diet delivers the right amount of every essential nutrient within the daily energy needs of the cat or dog, whether the pet food is wet, dry or semi-moist.

Manufacturing a nutritionally balanced food for cats and dogs is a science in itself, requiring expertise at all stages of production; from sourcing raw materials to blending the vitamin and mineral mixes, understanding the role of processing for each pet food format and knowledge of the specific nutrient and energy requirements of cats and dogs.

Ingredients vs Nutrients

Pet foods often have an ingredients list and a nutritional analysis available on the packaging. It is important to understand that ingredients and nutrients are very different things! An ingredient is a raw material in the diet (e.g. poultry meat), whereas a nutrient is the component of food that is used by the body and supports life (e.g. protein). Simply put, an ingredient is the raw material that acts as a “vehicle” to deliver the vital nutrient to the body.

Below are some examples of common ingredients in pet foods and the primary nutrients they deliver:




Chicken meal


Fish Oil



Fat (specifically omega 3 fatty acids)

Ingredients and nutrients are both very important, however it is the nutrient that is absorbed by the body, not the ingredient. Nutrients are essential for life; below are a list of nutrients and the health benefits they provide our pets.
  • Fats: animal fats and essential fatty acids ensure a healthy skin and coat in our pets, and improve the palatability of the diet.
  • Proteins: important for growing animals, muscle tone and development and healthy skin and coat.
  • Carbohydrates: a necessary source of energy, vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrates are also an excellent source of fibre to help nourish the good bacteria in the gut, ensure formed healthy stools and in some cases, help with weight management.
  • Vitamins: important for many bodily functions including clotting of blood, vision and mineral metabolism.
  • Minerals: necessary for the healthy function of muscles and nerves.
The quality of a diet should not be determined by the ingredient list. Premium quality diets ensure the correct ingredients are selected to provide the optimal nutrient blend for your pet. No single ingredient is superior to another; the sum of all ingredients in a diet delivers the overall nutritional profile. The quality of the ingredients may however differ, and can help explain the price difference between a premium diet and a more economical product. The better the quality of the ingredient selected in a diet, the easier it is for the cat or dog to absorb and use the nutrients.

Royal Canin scientists and nutritionists are constantly furthering their knowledge in order to develop nutritional formulas precisely adapted to meet the needs of pets.  The Royal Canin diets are formulated to a  nutritional profile that supports the lifestage, size, breed and/or any sensitivities of the cat or dog. High quality ingredients are then sourced to ensure a precise combination of nutrients vital to the animal’s health.  

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