The Maillard reaction can occur during processing of pet foods. During this reaction, the ε-amino group of lysine reacts with reducing sugars to become unavailable for metabolism. The aim of the present study was to determine the reactive lysine (RL; the remaining available lysine) to total lysine (TL) ratio of commercial pet foods and to evaluate whether RL levels meet minimal lysine requirements (MLR). Sixty-seven extruded, canned and pelleted commercially available dog and cat foods for growth and maintenance were analysed for proximate nutrient composition, TL and RL. RL was expressed on a metabolisable energy basis and compared with the MLR for maintenance and growth. In dog foods, average RL:TL ratios were 0·87 (se 0·02) for extruded, 0·97 (se 0·02) for canned and 0·85 (se 0·01) for pelleted foods, with the lowest ratio of 0·77 in an extruded diet for growing dogs. In extruded and canned cat foods, the average ratio was 0·91 (se 0·02) and 0·90 (se 0·03), respectively, with the lowest ratio being 0·67 in an extruded diet for growing cats. Variation in the RL:TL ratio between and within processing type indicate that ingredients rather than processing might be the key factor influencing RL content in pet foods. Eight dry foods for growing dogs had RL contents between 96 and 138 % of MLR, indicating that RL has to be between 62 and 104 % digestible to meet the MLR. Considering the variability in RL digestibility, these foods could be at risk of not meeting the MLR for growing dogs. Ingredients and pet foods should be characterised with respect to the RL content and digestibility, to avoid limitations in the lysine supply to growing dogs.