The pet food market abounds with choices for dogs and cats alike. Pet foods come in a variety of flavors, and many have special formulas to prevent joint problems, hairballs, and bad breath. Some can even help your pet lose weight.
With many pet owners changing their own diets to include more natural and organic foods, natural pet foods are on the rise as well.
What does "natural" mean? In the most common use of the word, a "natural" food contains no artificial colors, flavorings or other additives. "Natural" is sometimes confused with "organic," which often refers to food that is grown without pesticides or herbicides. Many major brands of pet food contain colors, flavorings, binders or preservatives that are synthetic rather than derived from natural sources.
Artificial colors or flavorings are often less expensive than natural ones, and may have a stronger color or flavor. Binders and preservatives make food easier to produce, ship and store. These substances are added to inexpensive food that is easy to ship and store to ensure a pleasant appearance and a flavor that is attractive to pets. Natural pet foods do not use synthetic ingredients. They use plant-derived colorings and natural preservatives like vitamin C.
Some pet owners and veterinarians alike have become concerned that artificial ingredients might have detrimental health effects. To that point, more people are switching to natural pet food formulas or those with fewer artificial ingredients. Natural pet food can now be purchased in most pet supply stores. Kibble can be ordered online in bulk, and many veterinarians now stock all-natural foods. For those who prefer a home-cooked meal, recipes are available that provide a nutritionally balanced meal for dogs or cats using human-grade food that you prepare yourself. These diets range from combining cooked vegetables and meats to feeding an entirely raw meat diet. Many books and websites are devoted to the benefits of an all-natural diet, whether prepackaged or prepared at home.
What should you consider before switching your pet to an all-natural diet? First, bear in mind that "natural" does not necessarily imply that it is appropriate for your pet. Remember that "natural" only signifies that there are no artificial ingredients; the term has no official meaning according to the FDA.
It is important to ensure that the food you have chosen still has the proper balance of protein and other ingredients for your pet's needs, and does not contain any ingredients that your pet might be allergic to. Not sure how to read dog food labels? Check out our article on the subject here. If your pet has specific health concerns that require a special diet, you should consult your veterinarian before switching foods.
Natural food is slightly different from other types of pet food in a few ways. The natural preservatives might not be as effective as synthetic ones, meaning that you might need to buy smaller bags more often to avoid food going bad in storage.
Natural formulas are often considered premium foods and sometimes cost more than non-premium brands. Finally, older pets that have been fed solely processed food with large amounts of artificial ingredients might be reluctant to try their dinner after the switch. As with any changes in diet, it pays to research the best options and monitor your pet for digestive problems or other issues. Although feeding a natural diet is best done with research and care, it can be a positive change for you and your pet.