Few Words About “Natural” Pet Foods
By Catherine Clyne
The word is appealing, so when faced with endless brands
of pet food to choose from, a label bearing “natural” may
tip the scale for some. But be wary. There is no regulation regarding
the use of this description. And some pet foods labeled as “natural”
are owned by major corporations, which may not have the same scruples
as some of the smaller companies.
If you feed your companions pet food and want to explore the best options,
here are some suggestions.
The trick is to learn to read labels carefully and comparison shop.
The API checklist is a good guide to start with. Another great tool
is Natura’s “Comparison Wizard” (www.naturapet.com),
which lists brand ingredients side-by-side so you can compare.
If the first five or so ingredients are “whole” meats, like
chicken, beef, salmon, you’re in pretty good shape. If it starts
off with meals, by-products and digests, red flags should pop up. Same
if corn is the primary plant food listed. (According to API, corn is
of little nutritional value to dogs and cats, while rice, for example,
is more nutritious and more easily absorbed.)
It’s surprising how many brands labeled “natural”
or providing a “complete” diet have basically the same primary
ingredients. We found several premium brand cat formulas, for example,
beginning with chicken meal or by-products, followed by ground corn
and/or rice. These include well-known names like Natural Choice
and Max (both owned by Nutro—not to be confused
with Natura), and Nature’s Recipe (owned by Del
Monte). Smaller companies also use meals and by-products and corn, such
as Breeders Choice, Felidae and “all
natural holistic” Flint River Ranch. With all
meat, meals and by-products, quality is impossible to discern—the
term to look for is “human grade,” which is what some of
these companies say they use. Although PetGuard’s dry is similar
to the above, their canned foods contain whole meats; they also make
a veggie dog food.
We did a very informal survey of some New York pet food stores and veterinarian
offices to find their most popular or highly recommended brands. The
brands most often cited were Innova, owned by Natura
(which also makes California Natural and HealthWise), and Wellness,
made by Old Mother Hubbard. According to their website, Wellness pet
foods contain “human grade deboned chicken and fish, hormone-free
lamb, healthy grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables.” A lesser-known
brand deserves mention, Natural Value, which also uses
whole foods in their products.
There’s a new kid on the block: Newman’s Own Organics,
which appears to one-up the others with their line of pet foods, as
they are antibiotic-, chemical- and GMO-free. Their chicken flesh comes
from Bell & Evans, who say their chickens are fed “only a
100 percent natural, all-vegetable diet,” and that they’re
“raised in abundant fresh air and provided plenty of clean water.”
There’s also the well-known Wysong, an organic holistic pet food
system based on the Optimal Health philosophy of veterinarian Randy
L. Wysong (which also has a veggie dog food).
For those who do not want to give their loved ones processed pellets
or anonymous gloop from a can, but aren’t ready to prepare gourmet
meals every day, Sojourner Farms makes a blend of grains, herbs, ground
nuts, and sea vegetables to mix with meat and veggies to create raw,
homemade meals for dogs and cats.
This is only a glimpse of the different options out there. Go see for
yourself and let us know what you come up with.