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January/February 2004
A 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” (, 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.


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