Monday, December 13, 2010

How to Know if Your Pet’s Food is Truly Natural or Just Exploiting Pet Food Trends

As people seek healthier foods for their pets, it is not surprising that more and more pet foods are being introduced and marketed as “natural.” A recent internet-based survey, conducted by Pet Business magazine, looked at current sales trends for pet foods and other nutritional products. The publication found, “Over 85 percent of retailers surveyed said that they sell natural foods in their stores, and over 50 percent indicated that products labeled as being ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ products make up over half of their food selection.”¹

The study targeted independent pet retailers, not the large pet chains, grocery stores, or other mass retailers where pet food and supplies may also be purchased. Independent retailers are those pet supply stores that serve only your local area, typically with anywhere from one to 15 physical locations. In the pet food business, these smaller retailers tend to carry the highest-quality foods and have a more educated staff to help answer questions about nutrition, ingredients, and other pet health topics.

What is “Natural?”

Marketers of all kinds of products use the word “natural” in an attempt to appeal to consumers who are healthy, environmentally-conscious, or otherwise inclined to buy products with that word somewhere on the label. But when it comes to pet food, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)
regulates the industry and determines how the term “natural” may be used in pet food marketing claims. Below is a summary of the AAFCO guidelines for natural claims on pet food: ²
  • “Natural” means all of the ingredients, and components of all the ingredients, must NOT be chemically synthesized.
  • Exceptions are allowed for chemically-synthesized vitamins, minerals, or other trace nutrients, as long as disclaimer is used. The disclaimer should be “natural with added vitamins, minerals, and other trace nutrients.”
  • An exception is also allowed when the term “natural” is used only in reference to a specific ingredient, such as “natural flavoring,” even when the product as a whole does not meet the AAFCO definition of natural.
How Does This Affect My Pet?

Whether a pet food is truly natural, or just “natural with exceptions,” can have implications for your dog or cat’s health. If your pet’s food contains chemically-synthesized ingredients, it also may contain some hidden, unwanted ingredients:

  •  Many man-made forms of fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are preserved with BHT that is present when these vitamins are added to pet foods. But you won’t see BHT as one of the ingredients listed on the pet food because it is part of the chemically-synthesized “added vitamins” the manufacturer used when making the food. For more about added vitamins and minerals, go to:
  • Nearly all flavorings added to pet foods with labels stating “Natural Flavoring” or “Liver Digest” are created by protein hydrolysis. This chemical breakdown of proteins results in the formation of monosodium glutamate (MSG). When added as part of the “natural flavoring,” the pet food labels are not required to list MSG as an ingredient. For more about hidden MSG in pet food, go to
What Should I Look For?

If you are looking for a truly natural pet food, ignore the marketing language and pretty pictures of meat, fruits and vegetables on the package. Instead, read the ingredient labels carefully. Choose pet foods that are made from…well…food. Below are two examples of actual ingredient labels on pet foods:


The bag on the left, Brand X, contains 45 ingredients, but only 20 of them can be recognized as food. Compare this to Nature’s Logic on the right, which contains over 40 natural and whole food ingredients. Nature’s Logic never adds chemically-synthesized vitamins or minerals. Instead all nutrients come from natural sources. For more about Nature’s Logic dry, canned and raw/frozen foods, please visit
¹ “Food for Thought,” Pet Nutrition, Supplement to Pet Business, November 2010, p.8.

² “Official Publication 2008,” The Association of American Feed Control Officials, p. 129. 

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