Natural Pet Food
Many people are confused about what constitutes natural pet food. Feeding your cat or dog a natural pet food doesn’t mean sharing the remains from your own dinner, even if you are adamant about eating all-natural and organic foods yourself. For one thing, your dog (or cat) does not need the additional spices and fats. For another, the ratio of protein to carbohydrates is likely to miss the mark in terms of your pet’s nutritional requirements.
Further confusion stems from pet food manufacturers spending millions of advertising dollars each year in the US to convince consumers that their product is a natural pet food. But, is it?
When is a ‘Natural Pet Food’ Not Natural?
Making this determination depends on your ability to decipher labels and ingredients. Toward that goal, you must first learn to recognize common marketing ploys.
Ignore the word ‘natural.’
The regulatory definition for this term is quite liberal and manufacturers may use it even though the product may contain artificial ingredients. It’s also common to include ‘natural’ or ‘nature’ in a product name for eye-catching appeal. (Note, however, that the term ‘organic’ is another matter, being firmly regulated by the USDA National Organic Program.)
Don’t put too much stock into the terms ‘human grade’ and ‘USDA inspected’ ingredients.
These catch phrases are also poorly defined for the pet food industry. The meat source may have been human grade prior to being processed for human consumption, but has since been reduced to slaughterhouse offal (entrails, feet, etc.). Until AAFCO comes up with regulatory definitions for these terms (which it is currently in the process of doing), caveat emptor, or buyer beware, applies.
Don’t fall for the chicken before the by-product tactic.
Ingredients are listed by predominant weight and since chicken may contain up to 75% water, it weighs far more than powered meal. Therefore, it may head the ingredient list even though there may only be a negligent amount of real chicken in the product. A better way to determine the primary ingredients is to look for those listed before the first named source of fat or oil.
Know What Other Hazards to Look Out For
There are certain ingredients that should never make an appearance in the ingredients list of a natural pet food. These include, but are certainly not limited to:
A meat byproduct (of any kind):
This is often powdered offal derived from a 4D animal—dead, diseased, disabled or dying. In the case of diseased or dying (very possibly from disease), cancerous or decayed tissue may be included.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), or ethoxyquin (sometimes listed simply as ‘E’):
Common preservatives associated with reproductive, liver and kidney disorders in animals.
Despite being removed from the US FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list, it is still permitted in pet food. It has been banned in Europe due to causing anemia in cats.
Studies have shown that even low levels of this sweetening agent can significantly deplete iron liver reserves in as a little as 14 days.
How Can I Tell if a Pet Food is Really Natural?
Learning how to recognize a truly natural pet food doesn’t have to be complicated. To illustrate, the following is a label comparison of partial ingredients between two typical pet food formulas—one natural, one not. Note the position of the first named animal fat in each and the quality of ingredients preceding it.
A ‘premium’ commercial pet food may contain:
Ground yellow corn, meat meal, chicken fat, ground wheat, chicken byproduct meal…
A natural pet food may contain:
Turkey, chicken, turkey meal, chicken meal, potatoes, chicken fat, carrots, tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts…
Of course, there may be a difference in quality between one brand of natural pet food and another. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian to review and compare natural pet food brands with you.