Our dogs are like a very important part of the family. That means that it is incredibly important to choose the best diet for them in order to keep them fit and healthy. However, thousands of dog owners are inadvertently risking their pet’s health by serving them up commercial dog food that does not meet their unique nutritional needs. This can result in a whole host of health problems for your dog.
One of the best ways to avoid these problems is to feed your dog natural dog food that is formulated to offer all of the nutrients that dogs need in order to thrive. Let’s take a closer look at what natural dog food is and why it is a better choice for your dog than most commercial pet food brands.
What is natural dog food?
Natural dog food is essentially food which only contains natural ingredients and no chemically synthesized products. However, due to the limited amount of regulation on dog food, simply having natural on the label does not guarantee it is good quality food.
There are suggested guidelines laid out by the Pet Food Committee of AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) which states that the word natural (in relation to pet food) should be defined 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.
Don’t be misled with words such as ‘gourmet’ or ‘ premium’ on dog food packages. That doesn’t mean that the food is natural. These are just terms dreamed up by marketers to make ordinary dog food seem more appealing. This is regular dog food with a little extra gravy or bigger chunks of meat to make it seem better quality and therefore more expensive.
Even if the name contains the word natural, the food inside may not be what it appears since this is not regulated either – it could simply mean no artificial additives have been added. Instead, look for the actual ingredient and nutrition information – the only section of the label that is actually regulated.
Natural dog food vs commercial dog foods
The big difference between natural dog food and most commercial brands is simply the ingredients. A truly natural dog food should not contain any animal by-products such as blood, waste, gristle, hooves etc. It should also be totally free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.
However, it is important to check the label to see if the food contains some herbicides, pesticides or antibiotics. The only way to ensure that none of these are present in the food you buy is to look for organic food for your pet.
If you’d like to see a real comparison between the dog foods you find at the store, please read our article on what the best dog food is.
Is natural food really better for your dog?
It is a commonly asked question that many pet lovers ask – is natural dog food really better for my dog? The short answer is that yes it is, but let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why this is the case.
For starters, one thing that people are always shocked to learn is that commercial dog foods are not actually regulated by the FDA like human foods are. Often, commercial brands contain some pretty shocking sources of meat including road kill, slaughterhouse waste, meat from diseased farm animals, dead zoo animals and even in some cases euthanized cats and dogs. This can’t possibly be considered healthy for your dog, and even if it was – do you really want your beloved canine feasting on this sort of food?
There are also some health considerations to think about. Dog food often contains chemical preservatives which can have some nasty effects for your dog. These include allergies, canine diabetes, obesity, hair loss, chronic diarrhea, metabolic stress and many other conditions. While these may not affect all dogs, it is important to understand that they are possibilities, so if you are using commercial dog food products and your dog is in poor health one of the first steps you should take is switching to a natural diet in order to see if the food is one of the contributing factors.
We can condense the reasons for choosing a natural dog food into just a few points by looking at the advantages that are associated with a natural diet:
- Dogs are less likely to be overweight since the food is nutritionally superior meaning they need to eat less of it.
- Natural food is far less likely to cause digestive issues.
- Your dog will have shinier coat and much healthier skin when eating natural food.
- Naturally fed dogs have less allergies.
- Dogs fed on a natural diet live longer and have a better quality of life.
Choosing the best options
In order to choose the best natural dog food for your pet, you need to know what to look for. Understand, that dogs have nutritional needs that are driven by their biological make up and the food you feed them needs to reflect that. Here are some ingredients to look for:
- Meat — Your dog is a carnivore – not a vegetarian! This means that the first ingredient you need to look for is meat and lots of it! Dogs thrive on a meat based diet and have no biological need for carbs. Often dog food contains grain as filler because it is cheap but this has no nutritional value to your canine. Meat needs to be the first ingredient listed on the packaging. You also need to make sure that the ingredient is identified by species. Good natural dog food is going to list turkey, chicken, lamb, salmon – not generic ingredients like meat, animal, poultry or fish.
- Meat meal – After meat, the next ingredient listed should be some form of meat meal (again it should be species specific, for example chicken meal). This is a decent source of protein assuming that it is high quality meal. It is made from meat products which are cooked and dried to create a protein rich powder.
- Vegetables – The remaining ingredients are likely to be made up of vegetables and whole grains. These are not a required source of food, but they are included as filler. You are unlikely to find a completely meat based dog food unless you opt for a raw diet. Look for grains such as brown rice and avoid ‘grain fragments’. You should also avoid foods containing corn and wheat.
Keep in mind that there are some human foods that should not be added to your dog’s diet. To see what those are, please read our article on the best human foods for dogs and what to avoid.
In addition to understanding what ingredients should be in your dog food, knowing those you should avoid will also help you to choose the best natural dog food. As noted, corn should be avoided as it is a cheap filler with no nutritional value and is a common allergenic for canines. Soy is also something to avoid since it is documented to negatively impact the endocrine system.
We have already mentioned that meat should be listed by the species, so avoid animal by-products, especially where no species is mentioned. These are likely to be ground up hair, feet, feathers and even tumors. Some by products do have nutritional value, but you have no way to know what is in the mix so avoid it altogether. When choosing natural dog food it should also go without saying that you do not want to select any brand that contains artificial color, flavor, sweetener or preservatives.
Understanding the ingredients listed on pet food labels can be very confusing, but with a little practice you will soon begin to understand what you are looking for and it will become clearer. It is well worth spending some time learning about labelling procedures so that you can make the most informed decision about what to feed your four legged friend.
He (or she) deserves to have a healthy and nutritious diet that will help him (or her) to thrive. We often refer to our dogs as our babies, so ask yourself if you would take care about what you would feed your child? Your dog deserves that same amount of concern and effort!
Homemade natural menu options
When you look at the potential ingredients of commercial dog foods or the confusing labelling on natural dog food you may feel as though the best natural dog food option is a home-made diet. This is a viable option because there is going to be nothing hidden in the food that could hurt your dog, but there are of course some drawbacks to choosing a home-made diet. Let’s go over those first and get it out of the way:
- Preparing your dog’s food yourself is going to take lots of extra time.
- You need to educate yourself on which foods are safe and nutritious for your dog. There are potentially fatal foods out there including grapes, chocolate and avocado.
- It is necessary to source different recipes and t may take some trial and error to find those that your dog will actually like.
- Your home-made meals must be nutritionally balanced so you have to learn about the right balanced diet for your particular dog since this can vary between breeds.
None of these ‘disadvantages’ are really deal breakers. If you want to feed your dog the best possible diet then it is surely worth the extra time and effort you need to spend in order to achieve it. The benefits will far outweigh any perceived disadvantages.
When it comes to actually preparing your own natural dog food, you will be able to find plenty of different recipes on the internet. However, you will want to follow the same general conventions that we discussed above when we spoke about choosing the best natural dog food – Meat, Meat Meal, Veggies! One easy recipe that serves as a good example of a basic home-made natural dog food would be as follows:
- 4 cups of water
- 1 pound of ground turkey
- 2 cups of brown rice
- 1 cup of carrots
- 1 cup of green beans
- 1 tablespoon of fish oil
This particular recipe has plenty of goof protein from the turkey and added vitamins from the green beans and carrots. It uses brown rice as a filler and the fish oil adds a boost of omega 3 which is good for your dog’s coat and teeth.
It may take time to find recipes that your dog prefers, but once you have a couple of good stock recipes you will find it gets easier to prepare these meals. You can even do so in bulk and freeze portions so that you always have some on hand for times when you have not got time to start from scratch. As a general guideline meat should make up 50% of your dog’s diet,you can then supplement this with eggs (one per day), fruits and vegetables, starchy vegetables and fish. Whole grains can be included if your dog can tolerate them although many have allergies.
But this isn’t the only great recipe we have. You can read more about making dog food in the comfort of your home.
5 basic facts to remember
There is a great deal of information out there about dog food and it can get very overwhelming so here are 5 basic facts that you should keep in mind when choosing the best natural dog food for your pet.
- The dog food recommended by your vet is not always the best option. While this is likely to be a slightly better choice of food than most commercial brands, you do need to be aware that most vets are affiliates for pet food suppliers and will push the products that earn them more commission.
- It is not true that ‘people’ food is bad for dogs. There is a common misconception that feeding your dog ‘people’ food is unhealthy. This is not actually the case, in fact the best natural dog food brands use human grade meat. No-one is suggesting you feed your pet curries or chocolate cake, but if you are using whole foods like fresh vegetables and meat then this is perfectly safe for your dog. Look for natural dog food that contains meat as it’s main ingredient.
- Complete and balanced might not mean what you think it does. When you see the proclamation that a particular dog food brand is ‘complete and balanced’ you might assume that it contains everything that your dog needs nutritionally speaking. However, what it really means is that it contains the minimum nutrition a dog needs to survive. You don’t want your pet to only survive, you want it to thrive and that means they need an optimum amount of nutrients in their diet, not just the bare minimum.
- Most commercial dog foods are the equivalent of fast food. You wouldn’t be particularly healthy if you lived on nothing but fast food every day, so you cannot expect a dog to be at his or her best on a diet of only commercial pet foods. Look for a good natural pet food brand and your dog will be happier and healthier.
- A varied diet is essential for good nutrition. Just as a human would not eat only the same meal day after day, neither should a dog. Your dog needs a varied diet in order to get the best nutritional value. Introduce new foods gradually to avoid any stomach upsets.
In conclusion, choosing a natural dog food for your pet is the best way to make sure that they live a long and happy life. You will be offering them food which is much more suited to their nutritional needs and which does not contain any potentially harmful chemicals or suspect ingredient. A small word of warning is required. If your dog has been eating commercial dog food then you need to make the switch to natural food gradually.
In fact, the same goes whenever you are changing a dog’s diet so even if your dog eats natural food and you want to move to a home-made diet you still need to take a gradual approach. Taking things slowly is the best way to ensure that your dog will not experience any digestive upset during the change of diet.
Switching to a natural dog food diet is going to take time and effort, but given the benefits that come along with it you will find that it is entirely worthwhile in the long run.