How natural is your pet’s diet?

Published 12:51 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2015


The word natural on pet food labels is everywhere you look. When pet parents see the word natural, they generally think they are buying a good quality food that their dogs and cats will do well on. The truth is, most natural products allow your pets to survive, but never thrive.

Michelle Nelson

Michelle Nelson

According to AAFCO (the group that regulates animal feeds), the term natural is defined as a lack of artificial flavors, artificial colors or artificial preservatives in the product, except for vitamins, minerals and other trace ingredients. Companies can stretch the above definition and apply it just to a single ingredient, not the whole product, for example natural chicken.

Email newsletter signup defines natural as “existing in or formed by nature, to mimic what would occur in nature.” This definition takes the term so much deeper. It no longer is just about the ingredients alone, but the act of how those ingredients in nature would be consumed.

Before dry food existed, dogs and cats hunted and scavenged for their food, such as rabbit, chicken, venison, etc., along with some occasional fruits and vegetables. In nature, they would have never gone to a field of wheat, corn or soybeans that was ready to harvest and start eating. Yet today, these grains are abundant in the majority of grocery store brand foods that are claiming to be natural. Yes, by AAFCO guidelines they are natural, but by the true definition of natural, they do not qualify.

One of the biggest marketing ploys is the use of fancy pictures of fresh meat, like a sizzling, juicy steak with a large helping of beautiful, perfectly ripe vegetables on the front of the bag. Pictures like this make consumers feel like they are feeding their pets a natural food, but when you flip the bag over and look at the ingredients, often times this is the furthest thing from the truth. Those foods are typically full of corn and soybean meal along with unhealthy dyes and other poor quality ingredients. And yes, the beef is buried in that list of ingredients somewhere, but it is not equivalent to the juicy steak on the front of the bag. That heaping portion of vegetables is down at the bottom of the ingredient list that accounts for less the 2 percent of the overall food.

There is no perfect bag of dry food on the market as your pet’s digestive system was designed to consume and digest raw food, but for most pet parents, they are willing to sacrifice some quality for the convenience of feeding a dry food.

Remember, your pets are relying on you to buy them the very best. Do not continue to be fooled by the overused and misused term natural.

Michelle Nelson is the owner of Ranch & Pet Supply in Albert Lea.