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As pet owners become more discerning about the nutritional content of their dog’s food, they are increasingly turning to holistic dog food as the solution. But what does this mean? We will help you answer this and many other questions around this somewhat confusing category including what makes a dog food holistic, the difference between holistic versus grain free, and why holistic foods may be better for some dogs. We will also provide our recommendations for the best holistic dog food brands for you and your furry friends.
What Is Holistic Dog Food?
Holistic dog foods are foods that are balanced. Not only to provide dogs with optimal nutrition, but also to support overall well-being. Ingredients are selected with their unique purpose in mind. Whether it is to provide high levels of fatty acids or to include more digestible proteins. Since every individual dog has different nutritional needs, there is a significant degree of variation among types of holistic dog food blends.
What’s the Difference Between Holistic Versus Low-Quality Dog Food
Feeding a dog a holistic food versus feeding a low quality “kibble” (aka dog food) is akin to eating at a nice restaurant versus eating at a fast food chain. Lower quality dog food options focus on low-cost production costs which result in lower quality ingredients. And similar to people, when poor quality food is consumed, overall nutrition is poor and general health suffers. So when dogs are fed diets filled with poor quality ingredients and excessive fillers, the results will soon begin to show. Dogs fed low-quality kibble may appear to have dull eyes, a flat non-shiny coat, a lack of energy, excessive defecation, flatulence and digestive complaints. These symptoms (when not caused by another mitigating factor) result in a dog not receiving adequate levels of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Excessive defecation can also be the result of excessive levels of food fillers or an inability to process specific carbohydrates such as corn or wheat. On the other hand, a dog that is being fed a high-quality kibble (whether holistic or not) will be much happier and healthier (we’ll discuss more specific benefits of holistic dog food below).
Is Holistic the Same as Grain-Free?
Not all holistic foods are grain-free foods and not all grain-free foods are holistic foods. Many people are under the assumption that all grains are bad for their dogs, this is not the case. Grains can be beneficial in limited quantities. (The exception to this rule is, of course, dogs with grain allergies, in which case grain free foods are the best option). Learn more in our Grain-Free Dog Food article.
How Much Does Holistic Dog Food Cost?
Just like human food, you get what you pay for in most circumstances. Holistic foods are made up of higher quality, and more often than not, human grade ingredients which often times makes them more expensive. Lower quality kibble often includes ingredients that are not fit for human consumption, including insects and mold. To add to the low quality of ingredients, quality control is generally less important overall which can lead to mass food recalls such as the dog food recalls of 2007. While you may pay more for this dog food, you will likely pay less in veterinary bills and medications for food induced illnesses and health conditions. In addition to better health, dogs that are fed better food often experience a much longer lifespan – something that no money can buy.
Benefits of Holistic Dog Food
With the added expense that often comes with feeding holistic dog food, most dog owners want to better understand the benefits of holistic dog food. Here’s a list of these benefits.
Better Coat Health
A dog that has better coat health will have a shiny coat (unless their breed standard dictates otherwise) and they will shed less. One ingredient that helps considerably with overall coat health is fish oil and many holistic foods contain added fish oil for this purpose. Even dogs that naturally experiencing shedding will have less hair loss when their food contains healthy supplements and fewer fillers.
Improved Skin Health
Oils that are found in better balanced foods help to keep the skin hydrated and prevent drying. If you have a dog that experiences dry or flaking skin you may find that a holistic diet or a raw food diet works best to reduce and eventually eliminate this problem. Fish oil and vitamin E are great ingredients to look for in holistic foods to maintain overall skin health.
Sharpened Eye Health
Holistic dog foods often contain more antioxidant-rich ingredients which are not only good for the dogs overall health, but are also very beneficial for healthy eyes. As dogs age, many will experience trouble with their eyesight. Additionally, some breeds have a natural tendency towards eyesight trouble. Feeding a holistic dog food that supports eye health can help to minimize these types of concerns.
Greater Heart Health
Holistic dog foods tend to pay particular attention to the quality of the proteins that go into their foods. With leaner proteins, dogs experience much less weight-related issues. Much like humans eating lean meat rather than fatty meat, a dog that eats leaner ingredients will have a stronger and healthier heart.
Superior Intestinal Health
A dog that is fed holistic food tends to have much better intestinal health because these foods frequently contain probiotics. These types of ingredients are formulated to help healthy bacteria flourish in your dog’s intestines which aids in healthy digestion. Dogs that are prone to diarrhea and upset stomach from traditional commercial dog foods quite often experience better intestinal health after being switched to a probiotic-rich natural food.
Fewer Bowel Movements
One common “side effect” of switching your dog to a holistic food (most commonly a grain-free holistic food) is fewer and/or smaller bowel movements. This happens because the vast amount of fillers found in lower quality food contributes to more frequent bowel movements (as this “waste material” is simply passed through the dog’s intestines without absorption). Switching a dog to grain-free holistic food can reduce bowel movements to once or twice a day.
The digestion of a dog on a better diet will be noticeably healthy, while lower-quality dog diets can lead to diarrhea, poorly formed feces and constipation (Assuming that these matters are not the result of other health conditions such as parasites or infection).
This is similar to how humans naturally have more energy when they eat healthier foods. When a dog eats poor quality food, the body has to expend more energy breaking it down to obtain the nutrients needed to function. When more energy is expended in breaking down food, less energy is available for play and other day to day activities. In a higher quality food the nutrients are more readily available for use.
While this is not true for all dogs, some dogs that have allergies thrive more on holistic and healthier foods. This is particularly true for dogs with grain sensitivities that switch to a grain-free diet. These types of allergies can contribute to dry and itchy skin, hot spots, excessive licking, chewing at the skin/fur/feet, hair loss, scaly skin and flaking skin. Finding a holistic food that is rich in fish oil and vitamin E is beneficial when healing these types of skin afflictions that result from food allergies.
Where Do I Buy Holistic Dog Foods?
Now that you’re thinking that holistic is probably the way to go, you might be wondering where you can get your paws on some? If you are looking to save the most money on a holistic dog food, the best option is to shop online. Here are some of our recommended brands which are all available on Amazon (however there are lots of variables including flavor and age/size of dog). If you decide to buy from Amazon, keep in mind that you can save when you sign up for a subscription (“Subscribe & Save”).
Our Favorite Holistic Dog Foods
- Holistic Select Natural Dry Dog Food (packaging to the right) – View on Amazon
- Solid Gold Holistic Dry Dog Food – View on Amazon
- Merrick Grain Free Recipe Dry Dog Food – View on Amazon
- NUTRO MAX Natural Adult Dry Dog Food – View on Amazon
Video: Holistic Select Health Support System
This 30-second video illustrates many of the benefits of Holistic Select’s Unique Digestive Health Support System pet food.
Is Holistic Food The Way To Go?
If you make the switch to holistic food, then you (and your dog) will notice a significant difference, particularly if your dog currently eats lower-quality food with fillers. Not all dogs will thrive on a holistic diet, but many dog owners have been pleasantly surprised by switching their dog from a megastore brand to a holistic product.
Keep in mind that switching your dog’s food should be a gradual process and you may not see improvements in your dog’s health immediately. It can take weeks for poor quality food to leave your dog’s system and for nutrient levels from the new food to reach optimal levels.
We highly encourage you to consider holistic dog food as the additional cost is easy to justify when you experience fewer veterinary bills due to allergy and other symptoms of poor nutrition.
Has your pet jumped on the holistic dog food bandwagon?