Consumers have become increasingly aware of the link between food and health, which was recently confirmed by a PetfoodIndustry.com survey that found that owners were interested in “green” pet foods. These products were most often defined as being natural and containing no artificial ingredients.
Manufacturers of premium pet foods have responded, formulating new products that emphasize quality, natural ingredients. The approach is often termed “holistic,” but what exactly does that mean? Dr. Katy J. Nelson, an associate emergency veterinarian at the Alexandria Animal Hospital in Alexandria, Va., and Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams, shed some light on the matter and explain how the approach goes beyond food.
Natural, Holistic Dog Food
“Holistic simply means supplying a complete and balanced diet that supports the entire animal,” says Dicke. Adds Nelson: “Only natural sources are used for the ingredients: no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives and no fillers.”
The holistic concept first gained strength among medical professionals. Holistic health holds that all aspects of an individual’s needs, including psychological, physical or social, should be taken into account and seen as a whole. In terms of your dog, the food that it eats may therefore affect all aspects of its life, since the same nutrition fuels every thought and activity.
If you take a look at the ingredients list for new pet food formulas, you’ll probably see quite a few ingredients that you’d include on your own shopping lists. You might also see other nutrients, like FOS, which have more of a medical sound to them. In that particular case, FOS is a prebiotic often derived from fruits and vegetables that can benefit your dog’s digestion and immune system. FOS is found in some foods that you might eat too, such as certain yogurts.
Here are a few other ingredients to be on the lookout for:
Protein from meat Dogs are not carnivores like cats, but they do love and crave meat. Real, whole protein from meat sources is therefore a great food source for your pet. Beef and fish are possibilities, but you’ll often see chicken as the meat source these days. “Chicken, like all meat proteins, can provide all the essential amino acids,” explains Dicke. Chicken is a high-quality, lean protein source that is easily obtainable and inexpensive. It can then be the basis for a “nutritionally superior diet that is very affordable,” says Nelson.
Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants These important nutrients are found in familiar ingredients, such as apples, spinach, eggs and more. “Natural sources of vitamins are used for overall health,” says Nelson. High levels of vitamin E are sometimes included to help boost your dog’s immune system.
Oils for skin and coat health Omega fatty acids, such as those from fish oils, “are extremely important for skin, coat, GI and joint health,” says Nelson. “Obtaining them from fish oils and flaxseed is preferred to synthetically produced sources.” Again, there’s a crossover to human health, since flaxseed is often now included in many breads, breakfast cereals and other products.
Holistic Means More than Just Food
Nelson advises that you should extend the holistic and natural mindset outside of feeding time. She provides the following three tips:
1. Consult with your veterinarian about ways in which your dog’s exposure to chemicals and drugs can be decreased. Many veterinary practices now include alternative medicines or nutrition-based treatments based on natural ingredients.
2. If you have an arthritic dog, perhaps acupuncture could help you decrease the amount of medication required to keep your pet comfortable.
3. Instead of monthly preventatives, discuss with your veterinarian newer products on the market, which may only have to be used every six weeks to every six months.
Dicke believes that the holistic approach can be applied to the entire experience of owning a pet. “A pet needs quality nutrition; health care; a stable, safe and interactive environment; and love. That is holistic pet ownership,” she says.