Is Your “Natural” Dog Food Truly Natural?

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Is Your “Natural” Dog Food Truly Natural?

For dog owners like Carol Davis of Fairfax, Va., the sight of a synthetic or chemical ingredient listed on a pet food label leads to the following conclusion: I wouldn't feed that to my dog. "I usually avoid it," says Davis, who has a 5-year-old English springer spaniel named Lana. "I feel like if she eats healthy now, she'll stay healthier and we'll have fewer vet bills later."

Like Davis, you are probably more concerned about putting "natural," or minimally processed, foods on your dinner table, and that standard now extends to what’s in Fido's bowl. Davis says she looks for recognizable ingredients, such as chicken and carrots, when choosing commercial food for Lana. However, there’s still some confusion about what constitutes a "natural" dog food.

"Natural" Dog Food Labeling Rules
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) regulate labeling of dog food in the United States so that companies can't make claims about pet food products that aren't true. The FDA doesn't define the term "natural" for the pet food industry, but the AAFCO definition says natural food is “… derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources … not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.”

Most commercial dog foods do contain some synthetic sources of essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids in order to meet AAFCO's requirements that the food be "complete and balanced" to satisfy a dog's nutritional needs, says Amy Dicke, DVM, a Dayton, Ohio-based veterinarian who has worked with teams of nutritionists and researchers. "If a product says it is all natural and has not pulled out 'with the inclusion of vitamins, minerals and amino acids,' then in truth, they may not be practicing proper marketing," Dr. Dicke says.

Ingredients in a "Natural" Food

  • Protein Dogs are classified as either carnivores or omnivores. Either way, they are best fed a diet high in animal protein. Meat and/or poultry sources -- such as chicken, lamb or eggs -- should be listed within the first three ingredients in a natural dog food, says Katy J. Nelson, D.V.M., an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., who has worked on dog nutrition.

  • Byproducts This term has gotten a bad rap. Meat or plant-based byproducts fit the definition of "natural" under the AAFCO regulations. "Good, high-quality pet food byproducts don't need to be a four letter word," Dr. Nelson says. Organ meat and tissue help provide dogs with needed minerals and amino acids.

  • Grains Natural sources of carbohydrates, such as brewer's rice, whole grain barley and ground whole grain sorghum, can provide energy for a dog's active lifestyle, Dr. Dicke says.

  • Fruits and vegetables Spinach, tomatoes and peas are rich in vitamin E and antioxidants to help your dog build its immunity; apples are a great source of fiber; carrots help keep your dog's vision healthy.

  • No added artificial colors, flavors or preservatives
    "Natural" dog foods should not have synthetic fillers, artificial colors or flavors or man-made preservatives. Natural flavors and colors are okay. Some preservatives are naturally occurring, such as vitamin E and tocopherols (TCP), which are fine to help preserve food.

When deciding on a food, talk to your veterinarian about your dog's individual needs. In addition, some pet food companies list toll-free phone numbers on their packaging so you can call and speak to a nutritionist.

Experts caution that there is no scientific agreement yet that natural foods provide more safety or nutritional value than traditional dog foods. "I don't want people to expect health miracles from feeding a natural food," says Dr. Dicke. "It's a personal choice. It's another feeding option." For some dog owners, however, "natural" is the way to go.

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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Posted on March 11, 2012

Rached says: I'd love to see those folks try their praise and rock star eunhciqets on my Siberian Husky. She'd laugh in their faces and go off to do her thing. Siberians in general, and mine in particular, are extremely food motivated and when asked to learn or change behaviors, couldn't care less about a human's rock star attitude or the good dog routine. These people must've only worked with herding breeds. Or they're just dumb.Sheesh. Some people.

Posted on March 11, 2012

Suren says: At five months your Akita is still a baby and your'e not going to see the vrtoectipe side of him for quite some time yet.My sister has one. He is very friendly out walking and if you come into her house he tries to slime you to death and jump in your lap.He is now about 2 1/2.He has been to obedience class just the basic one. Akitas are not known for being good at obedience. They do not excell at it.They are naturally vrtoectipe and most will stand their ground against a stranger but not until they get older.If you want your dog to be vrtoectipe get into some classes with him/her now and get a good handle on the basic stuff.The vrtoectipeness should show up on it's own about 12-15 months.Akitas are not barkers. They usually will make a low rumbleing growl but many do not bark hardley ever. My sisters dog is not a barker but you can hear him growl from about 20 feet away.

Posted on March 10, 2012

Cami says: Also, there is a training oemhtd that is UNFORTUNATELY spreading rapidly across Canada founded by Brad Pattison (and then people take a course from him and lead classes themselves) based on the notion that food=evil and that dogs should be doing something FOR YOU rather than food. It's scary stuff.Lots of Millan fans can't stand Brad either. Which is saying something!

Posted on January 24, 2010

leon eagle tail says: I found three dogs on I 90 on just on the top of Pryor creek off ramp on 1/22/010. one large breed and two small breed, Id and please take them home they appear to be from the same home.

Posted on December 31, 2010

BP says: So there's no scientific evidence that natural foods provide more safety or nutritional value than the mass market CRAP that can and does contain anything even remotely considered "animal protein"? Maybe so but I'd rather not take the chance.

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