Dog owners want what is best for their pets and for many people that means feeding an all natural dog food. There are two varieties of all natural dog food: commercially produced and raw. Depending upon your budget and the time you have to devote to your dogs diet, one of these may better suit your needs than the other.
Why Feed an All Natural Dog Food?
Choosing to feed your dog an all natural diet is a personal choice, below are some of the reasons why people choose to go with all natural dog food.
All Natural Dog Food is a Healthier Option
Just as humans thrive on diets without fillers and artificial ingredients, so too do dogs. All natural dog foods eliminate the additives and artificial ingredients that many manufacturers include to “improve the taste”, prolong the life of their products or simply add more inexpensive weight and bulk to the bag to justify the consumer price. On the other hand, all natural foods mimic the natural diet of wild canines and provide a more balanced approach to nutrition.
All Natural Dog Food Helps to Eliminate Allergies
For dog owners that must cope with canine allergies, all natural dog foods are a good option. Whether a dog suffers from skin or food allergies, all natural diets help to improve overall health and boost the dog’s immune system naturally. The majority of dogs that experience food allergies have trouble processing grains or specific protein sources, both of which are found commonly in mass market, non-natural dog foods.
All Natural Dog Foods Promote Better Digestion
Where many non-natural dog foods contain products that were never “designed” to be eaten by dogs, all natural foods contain only natural products that wild canines eat and process effectively. Many commercially produced dog foods contain a significant amount of fillers that can cause constipation and flatulence, as they create roadblocks to digestion.
Natural Foods Are Environmentally Friendly Products
Many all natural dog foods are considered organic because they are created without the use of antibiotics and without pesticides that can be harmful to the world we live in. Not only does feeding this type of organic dog food mean that the environment suffers less, but it also means that dogs consume less chemical traces and antibiotics.
Dogs Fed All Natural Foods Have Fewer Food Related Vet Visits
All natural dog foods are created with a balance of nutrition in mind rather than a maximization of profit. Nutritionally balanced foods result in fewer incidences of diabetes and joint concerns as well as a healthier weight because of the inclusion of daily required vitamin and mineral complexes in addition to more natural and regular digestion. Dogs who have experienced upset stomachs are often aided significantly by transitioning to an all natural dog food.
Spotting Commercially Produced All Natural Dog Food
Commercially-produced all natural dog foods are always noted as being “all natural” on the packaging. A small selections (but growing) of natural foods are available at large pet store chains like Petco and PetSmart, but are more widely available in boutique stores, vet clinics, specialty pet stores and online merchants like Wysong. When these products are available in larger pet store chains, they are usually stacked together in a specific section of the store.
Checking Ingredients of All Natural Dog Foods
All natural dog foods will always be marked as such simply because it is a selling point for the companies that make them. Even if a dog food is labeled as “all natural”, it is still important to carefully check the ingredients of each food to look for potential allergens. High quality dog foods of all types will always list real protein sources in the top three ingredients. Real protein sources are not vague references such as “chicken meal” or “chicken by-products,” they should be listed as “chicken.” Healthy foods never include by-products or anything labeled as “meal” or “digest” because these are references to mystery meat products. Most all natural dog foods are also grain free as grains are fillers like rice or corn that are not found in the wild.
Understanding Nutritional Balance in All Natural Dog Foods
All dog foods claim to be nutritionally balanced with your dog in mind; however, not all nutritional balances are equal. It is important to research the nutritional needs of your dog based upon their special dietary needs (check with your vet) and their life stage in order to find a good food match. Some all natural foods have higher levels of protein than your dog may be used to, others may have higher carbohydrate or fat contents – these are all things to consider.
- Protein: Pregnant dogs, lactating dogs, performance dogs, sled racing dogs and puppies all require higher levels of proteins than the average adult dog. Dogs battling illness also benefit from higher levels of protein, the exception to this is dogs with kidney disease. Dogs with kidney disease should be on a protein restricted diet to lessen the effects of their condition. It should also be noted that puppies require a unique blend of nutrients that should be obtained through a specialty blend puppy formula.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy sources and fiber. While in the wild dogs diets contain less than 10% carbohydrates, commercial dog foods cannot be formed without the inclusion of carbohydrates. It is important to look for high quality carbohydrates rather than corn and wheat. Since carbohydrates are not a significant part of a dog’s natural diet, there is no data concerning how much carbohydrates are beneficial.
- Fat: Racing sled dogs and performance dogs have higher fat requirements from their foods than other dogs. Lactating or pregnant dogs and puppies also have slightly higher fat requirements than the average adult dog.
Good Protein Sources in Commercial All Natural Dog Foods
There is a wide variety of whole protein sources available for commercially produced dog foods, depending upon dogs unique needs one source may be a better choice than another. If a dog has experienced allergies to food products in the past it is generally better to go with a single source protein food.
- Fish: Fish protein sources provide an array of natural oils and vitamins that help improve a dogs coat and joint mobility.
- Bison: Bison is a very digestible protein source that is a good option for dogs that experience allergies to other protein sources.
- Kangaroo: Kangaroo is an easily digested protein source and another good choice for dogs with allergies to certain protein sources. Kangaroo is an expensive protein source however making it cost prohibitive for many dog owners.
- Beef: Beef is one of the more common protein sources for dog foods; however, it is also one that many dogs with allergies react to.
- Chicken: Chicken is the most popular protein source but it is also the most common allergen as far as protein sources go.
- Lamb: Lamb is a more commonly available protein source for dogs with chicken or beef allergies.
- Venison: Venison is an easier to digest protein source recommended for dogs with allergies and it is less cost prohibitive than other options.
- Duck: Duck is a common protein ingredient in “hypoallergenic” dog foods; it is easier to digest than chicken and is more affordable than other easily digested protein based foods.
Good Carbohydrate Sources in Commercial All Natural Dog Foods
Carbohydrates are another common source of allergies and while they are not necessary as a staple in a dog’s diet, they are necessary to create “kibble.” A dog’s tolerance to specific grain types will vary from individual to individual. All of the carbs listed below are gluten-free.
Grain Free Carbohydrates
- Potatoes: Potatoes are commonly included in grain free foods as a carbohydrate source.
- Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are an alternative carbohydrate source for grain free foods. This is a good carbohydrate option for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
- Tapioca: Tapioca is an alternative carbohydrate that can be found in many grain free food options.
- Peas: Peas are a non-grain carbohydrate and are commonly found in grain free foods.
- Barley: Barley is a substitute for corn or wheat and is considered to be a grain.
- Oats: Oats are often used as a substitute for corn or wheat. Oats are considered a grain and will not be found in “grain free” foods.
- Rice: Rice is a low gluten carbohydrate that is considered a grain. Dogs requiring a grain free diet will not thrive on this carbohydrate but dogs needing a low gluten diet may.
Good Fat and Oil Sources in Commercial All Natural Dog Foods
Fats and oils are a necessary part of all dogs’ diets; they help with brain development, bodily processes and skin and coat health. Just as with people, it is important to find high quality fat and oil sources that are not high in saturated fats and that provide as many fatty acids as possible. When looking at fats and oils in all natural dog foods there are a few things to look for:
- Fats and oils should have a specific source such as: sunflower oil, flax oil, chicken fat and herring oil. Non-specific fat and oil sources should be avoided, these include: poultry fat, generic fish oil, animal fat and vegetable oil.
- A minimum ration of 7:1 of Omega-6s to Omega-3s should be present or a fish oil supplement should be provided.
- Mineral oil should be avoided.
The Cost of All Natural Dog Foods
For many the cost of all natural dog foods is prohibitive. While feeding this type of food is generally preferable and results in better overall health and fewer vet visits, it is not always possible to stretch the budget to accommodate all natural foods. In cases where natural dog foods are cost prohibitive, dog owners can still make informed choices and select the best affordable dog food brand. Some good options for families who can’t afford to purchase all natural foods include the following:
- Find a food that offers high quality protein sources in the first three ingredients.
- Try to avoid foods with grains or find foods that offer alternatives to wheat and corn. There are plenty of grain free food choices that are not all natural.
- Single source protein foods are the best choice for dogs with allergies.
What is Raw Feeding?
Raw feeding is another all natural approach to feeding your dog. Unlike commercially produced kibble, raw feeding centers on feeding dogs items that would be found in the wild. Raw feeding is also known as the BARF diet or Biologically Approved Raw Foods or Bones and Raw Foods; however, BARF is just one variety of raw feeding. The second type of raw feeding is known as the “prey model”. The principle of both of these types of diets is to feed uncooked meats, edible bones and organs.
The BARF diet is made up of 60 to 80% raw meaty bones and 20 to 40% fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, offal (internal organs or entrails) or dairy food. Raw meaty bones are bones that have 50% meat on them and include chicken back, wings and neck.
The Prey Model
The prey model diet is designed to replicate the natural feeding proportions that animals experience in the wild. This diet is comprised of whole prey animals such as chickens, turkeys, hens and rabbits. Around 80% of the prey model diet consists of meat, 10% bone and 10% organs (5% of this is liver.) Those who focus on this method of naturally feeding do not believe that dogs require vegetation or carbohydrates and as such they simply focus on feeding meat from a number of different “prey animals.” There are some people who feed the prey model that also supplement with vegetable matter to provide more vitamins and minerals. Additionally some feeders of the prey model add fish oil to food items to increase fatty acid intake.
The Importance of Balance in Raw Feeding
To many, raw feeding may seem as easy as throwing a few pieces of raw meat in a bowl and feeding; however, balance in raw feeding is very important. A significant portion of the balance in raw feeding comes from variation in protein sources. By switching protein sources not only do dogs receive varied nutrients from the meat but they also receive varied stomach contents which make up a portion of carbohydrate and vegetation intake. Many opponents to raw feeding believe that obtaining a balance in raw feeding is not possible and rely upon research to back up their claims.
Research in to Raw Feeding
The Association of American Feed Control Officials is responsible for establishing pet food standards that ensure pet foods are nutritionally balanced. A study conducted on three varieties of “homemade” feeding and two commercial raw food diets found that there were multiple imbalances that caused concern. Three of the five diets tested proved to have abnormal calcium to phosphorus ratios which can contribute to fibrous osteodystrophy and hyperparathyroidism in puppies. With that said, many who support raw feeding also recommend support from a veterinarian to ensure that the raw diet being fed contains adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals.
Benefits of Raw Feeding
There are a number of purported benefits to raw feeding including:
- Dogs that raw feed are exposed to less pesticides and antibiotics than commercially fed dogs (not including all natural commercial dog foods.)
- Raw fed dogs have much cleaner and healthier teeth as a result of feeding on raw meaty bones.
- Tainted pet food recalls such as the one in 2007 do not affect dogs being fed a raw food diet.
- Raw fed dogs have fewer issues with food and skin allergies.
Drawbacks to Raw Feeding
- Raw feeding can be expensive.
- Nutritional imbalance can occur when dog owners are unfamiliar with how to properly balance raw food. These imbalances can lead to long term health conditions and in few cases even death.
- Consumption of bones can cause intestinal blockages and cracking of teeth. It should be noted however, that even dogs that are not raw fed consume bones and have an equal likelihood of experiencing these complications.
- Raw food has the potential for infecting a dog with a variety of parasites, bacteria and viruses. Commercially produced pet food is heated to such a degree that any potential harmful organism is destroyed completely.
- Humans handling raw food and dog feces resulting from a raw food diet also pose a risk of infecting humans with a variety of bacterial pathogens – most commonly salmonella.
How Do Veterinarians Feel About Raw Feeding?
While dog owners are somewhat split over the health benefits and risks of feeding a raw food diet, most veterinarians agree that raw feeding has more risks than benefits. Most vets believe that the risk of humans contracting disease from feeding their dog’s raw meat is too significant to overlook. The idea of feeding raw meaty bones to dogs is not completely off the table however, since the dental benefits of bone feeding are obvious. Most veterinarians agree that feeding a raw meaty bone a couple of times a week is a good solution to keeping teeth clean. But Milk Bones or Greenies will do the trick in a much safer way.
Should Veterinarians be Trusted?
While veterinarians are educated in treating our pets for illness and issuing preventative medications, many people question whether they should be trusted in advocating specific feeding methods. The biggest bone of contention for dog owners that advocate raw feeding is the fact that many veterinarians receive funding and “bonuses” from pet food manufacturers. Many vet schools across the nation are funded at least in part by pet food manufacturers and vet offices receive support from these companies as well. With that in mind, many question just how unbiased veterinarians can be when advocating specific diets. But at the same time, they likely became vets because they love animals. Find a vet who truly loves your pet and you will never find reason to question their recommendations for your loved one.
What All Natural Dog Food Option is best For Your Dog?
There are pros and cons to feeding any type of food to your dog and deciding which diet is best is a personal decision. There are many factors to consider including cost, medical research, veterinary advice, food allergies and availability. With all of these things in mind it is important to simply make the best decision you can for your dog and your family and make any adjustments as they are needed.