What is the difference between natural and organic dog food?
We are all extremely conscious of what goes in our bodies, and frequently are opting to consume food that is as natural and organic as possible, so why not be as conscious about what we feed our dogs? Just like with human food, dog food is full of brightly colored bags and cans, claiming that their food is “all natural”, “organic”, “grain free”, “by-product free”, and so on and so forth. How do you know what to choose to make sure that you are picking the most wholesome food for your dog?
Just like with human food, dog food is full of brightly colored bags and cans, claiming that their food is “all natural”, “organic”, “grain free”, “by-product free”, and so on and so forth. How do you know what to choose to make sure that you are picking the most wholesome food for your dog?
First, let’s talk about what it means for dog foods to be labeled organic or all natural. AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) which is the governing body of what goes into all animal food, whether they are pets or livestock, defines the word “natural”, when used to describe a pet food as: “A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subjected to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”
So, just because a food is labeled as “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice to feed your dog. Natural essentially means that the ingredient has been minimally processed and was grown in a “natural environment” (ie. outside versus in a lab). Natural foods can still contain fillers, including grains, glutens, and soy. By-products that have been minimally processed may also be included in the food; however these foods are produced without the use of artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Most premium pet foods are considered to be all natural and no longer use chemical preservatives in their foods. Some kind of preservative is needed to stabilize the fat in dry pet food, preventing it from becoming rancid. Natural preservatives such as vitamin E and vitamin C (Mixed Tocopherols) and rosemary are used to preserve dry pet food. Canned food requires no added preservative as the can itself acts to stabilize the contents.
For a food to be termed as “organic”, a food must be grown without the use of pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides. However, these products may be used as a “last resort” in dire circumstances, and non-organic fertilizers may still be utilized in some instances. Organic meat must come from animals that were never administered antibiotics or growth hormone. Having said that, keep in mind that an “organic pet food” may not be entirely comprised of organic ingredients. Read the ingredient label to determine how “organic” the food actually is. A pet food only needs a percentage of the ingredients to be organic for the company to claim it is an organic food.
If you can find a pet food that is mostly or entirely organic, chances are you’re buying a quality food, but you’ll still want to look out for grains and other fillers. If you want your pet to be on a 100% all natural or organic diet, the only way to be completely sure of that is to make your own pet food, which is not as daunting as you may think. The hardest part is figuring out how many calories your dog should consume in a day, but a phone call to your veterinarian can help you with that. They can also help you formulate a recipe for your dog that is nutritionally balanced to fit your dog’s needs.
There are a plethora of recipes on the internet, but please run them by your veterinarian before you start feeding your pet a homemade diet. You can also purchase the book, “Home Prepared Diets for Dogs and Cats” written by Dr. Donald Strombeck, DVM. If you would like to learn more about canine and feline diet and nutrition I highly recommend this book. If you are able to find the first addition, I highly recommend it over the second addition. If your dog is elderly or has specific restrictions such as food allergies, kidney disease, diabetes, etc., please consult with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist before changing your dog’s diet.
Now, even if you go the route of homemade diets, you still have to be conscious of what you feed your dog since many human foods can be toxic to dogs. Below is a list of foods that you should never feed your dog. If your dog happens to get into any of these foods, please consult your veterinarian immediately.
- Chocolate (all forms)
- Coffee (all forms)
- Onions & onion powder
- Macadamia nuts
- Alcoholic beverages
- Moldy/spoiled foods
- Fatty foods
- Gum, candies, or other foods sweetened with xylitol
- Tea leaves
- Raw yeast dough