Conscientious dog owners want to feed their companion animals a healthy diet. But is there really a difference between processed and organic dog food? Are the benefits worth the cost?
Natural refers to the way the foodstuff is processed with no artificial preservatives or chemical additives. Organic is the way plants are grown, with no fertilizers or pesticides, or raised, with no antibiotics or growth hormones.
Canines are natural carnivores. Meat should be the first ingredient. Meat byproducts and animal protein are not synonyms for meat. Byproducts are made up of any unused part of an animal and can include the head, feet, ligaments, lungs, spleen, and leftover fat, as well as meat from diseased, dead, dying, or disabled animals. There’s no way to measure the nutritional value of byproducts and each batch will be different.
A note about labels. Meat can only refer to cows, pigs, goats, and sheep, and only includes specified muscles and tissues. If labeled “beef dog food”, the product must by 95% beef. If labeled “beef dinner” it must by 25% beef. A label of “dog food with …” requires 3% meat. Flavor can be any trace amount of offal or byproducts.
Most dog fare lists grain as a primary ingredient. Grains have to be cooked at a high temperature to render them digestible. Few nutrients remain. They’re empty calories leading to weight gain.
Artificial preservatives give a shelf life of 12 months to a bag of food. With natural preservatives, shelf life is a more than adequate 6 months. There have been few studies regarding the long term health effects of artificial preservatives. Propylene glycol was banned in cat cuisine because it causes anemia in cats but it’s still allowed in dog products.
Some experts say dry product should not be mixed with water, milk, canned or other liquids. Although high heat kills bacteria, additional bacteria can be picked up during drying and packaging. Liquids allows the bacteria to multiply. Wet fare is a recommended part of a healthy diet, just feed it on a separate plate. Always check the expiration date when purchasing. Don’t use any product that has a rancid odor. Dry foodstuff should be stored in a tin or other sealed non-porous container.
Some dog owners are concerned about the cost of an organic diet because they don’t realize how much filler is in other food products. Grains and other fillers are mostly empty calories that pass through the intestines without absorption. Nutritious meals will be absorbed. Dogs will eat less, have smaller stools, more energy, healthier bodies and coats.
It’s always advisable to check with a veterinarian before switching diets, especially if your pet has health issues or allergies. To switch your dog to a new diet, mix 1/4 of the new with 3/4 of the old diet. Each day increase the new. Purchase small amounts of a couple different brands in case your dog doesn’t like the new taste.
Organic dog food is available in traditional meat-based formulas, vegetarian formulas, and raw meat diets. Purchase at a veterinarian’s office and most pet stores. Many online companies ship the food right to your front door. Dogs benefit from a nutritious diet with increased health and energy, less digestive problems, natural weight control, and a healthier skin and coat.
Jamie is a canine health practitioner who specializes in grain free, raw dog food.