A collage of images displaying various common ingredients that are used in pet food recipes.

Pet Food: Is It Functional?

Pet parents recognize the important role nutrition plays in their overall health and want the same for their furry family members. Consequently, it’s not surprising that human food trends influence pet food trends. The idea of eating food with special nutritional benefits — functional foods — is no exception.

Let’s take a closer look at functional foods — or in the case of pet food, functional ingredients — and why you might want to feed your pet a food made with them. We’ll also identify some of the ingredients used in making Diamond-brand pet foods that could be considered functional ingredients.

What is a functional food?

All food is essentially functional because it provides energy and nutrients to maintain life. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no official definition for functional foods, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) defines them as “whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence.”


Basically, functional foods are foods that provide health benefits in addition to macronutrients (e.g., water, protein, fat and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals). Growing evidence shows that some food components (like fiber) which aren’t nutrients in the traditional sense help prevent and reduce disease. In human nutrition, these functional foods include fortified foods (e.g., iodized salt), phytonutrient-containing fruits and vegetables (e.g., tomatoes, blueberries, carrots and spinach), fermented foods (e.g., yogurt), fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna and herring) and chocolate. Studies have shown these foods have benefits such as better digestive function, improved satiety and greater antioxidant activity.

So what are functional ingredients?

When it comes to pet food, functional ingredients are those ingredients that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition when used as part of a complete and balanced diet. Similar to human nutrition, functional ingredients in pet food include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, flaxseed and fish oils for key omega fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics.

Functional ingredients have been fundamental to therapeutic and specialty health-focused pet foods for decades. Today, an ever-expanding list of functional ingredients can be found in many dog and cat foods.

How do I know if my dog’s or cat’s food contains functional ingredients?

The FDA mandates that all ingredients used in a pet food be listed in order by weight and by their common or usual name. If a pet food contains a functional ingredient, the ingredient list on the label is where you’re sure to find it. Some functional ingredients will be easy to recognize. But there may be some that you don’t recognize, like L-Carnitine which is supplemented in Diamond CARE Weight Management Formula for Adult Dogs to help support the use of fatty acids for energy without compromising muscle tissue during weight loss.

What functional ingredients are found in Diamond-brand pet foods?

Many Diamond pet food formulas include functional ingredients. For starters, most Diamond CARE formulas provide a guaranteed amount of proprietary probiotics (the exception is Diamond CARE Urinary Support Formula for Adult Cats), as do all dry dog and cat formulas in the Diamond, Diamond Naturals, and Diamond Pro89 formulas.

For more examples of functional ingredients used in Diamond pet foods and their functions, check out the chart below (this is not an all-inclusive list).

An interior graphic that lists out all of the ingredients used in various Diamond Pet Foods formulas and their associated function in a pet's diet.

If you ever wonder about an ingredient in a Diamond-brand dog or cat food and why it’s there, be sure to check out our ingredient glossary, send us an email or call our customer service team at 866-214-6945.


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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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